The New York-born actor passed away eight years ago of heart failure. He would’ve been 60 years old today. Hearing the Superman theme the other day I suddenly thought of the man behind that heroic role. My admiration for Christopher Reeve went as far back as 1978 when I was only a wee girl. It’s no secret that the first movie I saw was Superman: The Movie. And I’ve shared in this post that Mr. Reeve is the ONLY actor I have ever written to in my entire life and from whom I’ve gotten not one but TWO autographed photos from.
He’s also proven to be a hero in real life as well. Following his horseback-riding accident that left him paralyzed in 1995, he became a champion for people suffering from spinal cord injuries through his Christopher and Diana Reeve Foundation. But even before the accident, he had already been involved with many charity organizations such as Make-A-Wish Foundation and Save the Children.
Just like Sean Connery will always be associated with his James Bond role, Reeve will always be known as Superman. But did you know that he turned down a whole bunch of roles? Here’s a sampling according to Wikipedia: American Gigolo, The World According to Garp, Splash, Fatal Attraction, Pretty Woman, Romancing the Stone, Lethal Weapon and Body Heat. He also refused to be typecast as an action star by Hollywood, “I found most of the scripts of that genre poorly constructed, and I felt the starring roles could easily be played by anyone with a strong physique.”
Over the years, I’ve seen about a dozen of his films and the Juilliard-trained actor proves that he’s so much more than just Superman. I often think that good looking actors—and standing at 6’4″ with piercing blue eyes, he’s as handsome as they come—they have to work harder to get roles that didn’t merely exploit his good looks. These five roles should show you he’s much more versatile than you think:
Superman (1978 – 1987)
Obviously his physique plays a big part in getting the role, but there were other equally tall, dark and handsome actors who auditioned for this role. So clearly, it takes more than just good genes to pull off such a challenging role, but Christopher Reeve not only did so with charm and grace but he also made it iconic. To me, he shall always be my favorite Superman—no offense to even Henry Cavill whom I like a lot and I think is a terrific pick for Man of Steel—but Mr Reeve had such giant shoes to fill. The key to playing Superman is that he’s got to be convincing as both the hero AND the reporter alter ego, and I think Reeve does that with aplomb. I love his bumbling Clark Kent, the nervous gestures, awkward mannerism, even his voice is such a contrast to the cool and collected Kryptonian demigod.
Now, I’ve already posted my favorite Superman scene of all time, that is the chopper rescue scene. But this time, I’ll post the scene that feature BOTH Supes AND Clark, my favorite scene from Superman III which you could say is the saving grace of the whole movie.
Somewhere in Time (1980)
I had just rewatched this movie not too long ago so it’s still fresh in my mind. Reeve did this the same year as Superman II and the love-lorn Richard Collier is such a far cry from the calm-and-collected superhero. I love his earnest, soulful performance… he strikes a delicate balance of being an annoying lovesick puppy to someone who’s deeply tormented by a mystifying crush he just can’t shake.
His chemistry with Jane Seymour is incredible… but what people didn’t know is, there’s also a lot of humor in this film which displays Reeve’s decent comic skills. Seymour ended up being a personal friend of Reeve’s in real life, she even named one of his sons after him. This is one of the cutest scene in the morning that Reeve’s character traveled back to 1912.
For serious thespians, what they dread most is being typecast. Reeve is no different, especially after playing the ultimate superhero do-gooder. This twisty thriller directed by Sidney Lumet is an actor’s dream in which he said “I’ve had a lot of training as an actor, and I want to use it.” [per IMDb]. The film is based on Ira Levin’s play of the same name, it’s a must-see for fans of intriguing whodunnit stories.
I saw this ages ago but I remember Reeve was quite memorable as Clifford Anderson, a student of playwright Sidney Bruhl in a scheme that keep you guessing up until the end. It’s a scene-stealing role for Reeve, and it’s quite a feat considering Bruhl was played by Michael Caine! Too bad Reeve doesn’t get to do this kind of bravura performance again in his relative-short acting career. The dialog is really the best part of this film. Here’s a clip where Sidney gives Clifford a pair of Houdini’s handcuffs.
Street Smart (1987)
I must admit that the only reason I rented this was because of Reeve as the story isn’t my cup of tea. Here Reeve played a reporter who, in attempt not to get fired from his job, fakes a story of a pimp in a hard-hitting story of prostitution. Of course he ends up getting in trouble when his story resembles a real-life pimp wanted for murder.
You could say the real star here is Morgan Freeman as Fast Black, in an Oscar-nominated role not usually associated with the actor later in life as he seems to play mostly heroic, God-like characters nowadays. Reeve was quite good as a journalist who’s driven but nary of a moral compass and well, ‘street smart.’ It proves that Reeve can be quite believable as an unsympathetic character and that he could also hold his own against his more experienced co-star. Check out the trailer below:
The Remains of the Day
This is one of those movies I really need to rewatch again soon as my memory of it is a bit hazy. I like this genre and it’s got sooo many great actors I LOVE, I mean Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, it’s even got my fave Bond villain Drax, er I mean Michael Lonsdale! 🙂 Christopher Reeve had a small part here as a retired US congressman Jack Lewis. It’s not a big part but a crucial one. He’s certainly got the gravitas and sophistication required for the role, the forthright speech he gave at the dinner scene is one of the highlights of his performance.
According to this site, apparently Reeve himself asked James Ivory after the premier of Howard’s End if he could get a part in his next film. It’s a bit sad watching the clip as this is the last role in a major film he did before the horse-riding accident.
Christopher Reeve will always hold a special place in my heart. So now I turn it over to you, what’s your favorite role(s) of his?
40 thoughts on “A Birthday Tribute: Top Five Christopher Reeve’s Roles”
Yep, I’d agree with all of these, with the exception of the last (and only because I’ve yet to see the film). Thanks, Ruth.
Thanks Michael. The Remains of the Day is a good drama, I need to rewatch that one soon.
Nice post Ruth. I’d forgotten about some of these films and still haven’t seen Street Smart yet.
So have you seen them all except Street Smart? I think that one is considered an indie, not sure how many people have seen it. I saw a great deal of Reeve’s films as I think he’s quite talented. I still need to see more from him, even the TV movie stuff.
I’ve onl seen some of Somewhere in Time. I caught it on tv years ago but not really my bag to be honest. All the rest ive seen. Street Smart I really want to see though.
Street Smart is worth a watch not just for Reeve but Morgan Freeman in one of his best roles.
He was great in “Noises Off” as well. That film showed that he had terrific comedic timing.
Oooh I haven’t seen that one yet. I’ll be sure to look that up. Yeah, he’s surprisingly quite funny and most people didn’t know that.
NOISES OFF! It’s my favorite performance of every last person in it. One of the most hilarious movies ever.
Christopher Reeves IS Superman!! I think I only saw him in another film only once, though I can’t remember what the title or what it was about. I just remember opening the telly and seeing Superman in a film that was not about Superman.
I like the idea of mailing to a celebrity. It has a certain charm to it. These days we get to interact directly with celebrities through Twitter, but getting mail, doesn’t matter whether it really was from them or an assistant, feels much more personal.
Awww, you need to watch more of him outside of Superman, ahah. He’s quite a versatile actor, I wish he had done more but I guess that Superman role is so iconic it’s impossible to escape it.
Yeah I never thought of writing to any actor anymore but when I was a kid that was the ONLY way to get in touch, esp. since I live in Indonesia. I really appreciate him writing back, I cherish those two photos forever!
Great celebration of Christopher Reeve, Ruth. Love him in the Superman films of course but I’m particularly pleased to see the great Deathtrap featured as it is one of my favourites.
Thanks Dan. Deathtrap was great wasn’t it? Ok so Dyan Cannon probably isn’t a good actress but Caine and Reever were spectacular as truly wretched characters, ahah.
Great post, Ruth. I really need to dig into more of his non-Superman work. His performances in Deathtrap and Street Smart look particularly good.
Thanks Josh! Those two performances are very good indeed.
Great post, Ruth. Confession time: I know who Reeve is and all but I’ve never seen him in anything.
What?? Not even any of the Superman movies??
Not even those!
Oh my!! You need to get on that, man, at the very least Superman: The Movie, arguably the greatest superhero movie ever!
Yes. I’ll definitely check that one out.
Excellent post, and a great tribute to Reeve. I remember really liking Remains of the Day and Somewhere In Time.
Thanks Stephanie. Glad you have seen those two movies and enjoyed them.
It’s so sad what happened to him and his wife, he’s still Superman to me too, unless Cavill can somehow change my mind next summer when Man of Steel opens.
I realized I haven’t seen many of Reeves’ films besides the Superman films. I think I may have seen Street Smart but it was on TV and I was prob in high school when I saw it. I don’t remember much of it.
I think even if I do like Cavill’s performance, I still can’t imagine him topping Reeve’s. I know a lot of people have not seen his other films besides Superman, that’s why I decided to do this post 🙂
Great tribute to Reeve matey!! Happy Birthday sir, where ever you are!!
oh my…that first image is delicious, a treat for female eyes 😉
Too bad I haven’t seen his movies as much as you…from your list above, I have only seen Superman.
I saw a movie of him after the accident, I forgot the tittle…he was a woman with a mystery case. he was already in wheelchair, have you seen it Ruth?
Ahah, he was a truly beautiful man indeed, Nov. It took me a while to do this post as I kept getting distracted by his photos 😉
The movie you’re referring to is called Rear Window, it’s a remake of the Hitchcock movie. I still need to see that one actually.
Awesome tribute, Ruth. I’m a huge Christopher Reeve fan too! He was totally more than just an impossibly handsome face. I love that you included Deathtrap here… I remember catching that on cable one night and being pleasantly surprised. I also loved his post-accident performance in the TV movie version of Rear Window. An amazing actor and amazing person, for sure! (So jealous of your autographed pics 🙂
Thanks Janet! Glad to hear you love him too. He’s just a great man all around, impossibly handsome but also talented and has a big heart.
Great tribute! I still remember seeing a comic strip after he died, it was him going through Heaven’s gates and an Angel was handing him wings and he said “No thanks, I’ll just walk.” It made me so sad.
Oooh I wish I could see that comic strip! What a perfect story and I could totally see him say that. He is Superman after all, he doesn’t need wings to fly 😉
Wow weird I haven’t seen him in anything but Superman I guess. So sad he had to pass away so young 😦
I know Castor… what’s even sadder is that he was starting to get some feelings in his fingers and toes just days before he got cardiac arrest and died 😦
Great article, Ruth. Unfortunately, while I’ve long intended to see more Christoper Reeve films, the only ones of his I’ve seen so far have been Superman 1 & 2 and The Aviator. He was great in all of those, though.
Hi Morgan, I actually only seen The Aviator on Youtube. I need to rent it to watch it properly. As for Superman, good thing you stopped at 2, though the scene I posted from Superman III is worth a watch!
Oh, I’ll be checking out 3 & 4 eventually. I’m a superhero fan, so even if they’re not great, I still have to see them for myself.
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He’s always just been Superman to me. But he also seemed like a hell of a good guy. Perhaps one day I’ll catch some of his other stuff.
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