Examining the Legacy of John Williams’ “Superman March”

When you think of Superman, no doubt a number of actors come to mind depending on how you were introduced to the character: Christopher Reeves, Brandon Routh, Henry Cavill, or George Reeves if you’re going back to the early days of television. A number of actors have played Superman on the big and small screens, to varying degrees of success, but that’s an argument for another day.

The thing is, no matter who you think of as Superman, I can almost guarantee that in all cases you’re thinking of the same piece of music to accompany him, and that’s John Williams’ iconic “Superman March” first written for Superman: The Movie in 1978.

You can check out the “Superman March” in the video below:

Coming a year after Star Wars, the “Superman March” is just as iconic as anything Williams ever wrote for a galaxy far, far away. In fact, its legacy is so massive that it wasn’t until Man of Steel in 2013 that a composer (in this case Hans Zimmer) did not cite the “Superman March” in any way, shape or form in the film’s score. That’s a lengthy shadow for any piece of music to cast, but to be fair, it is one gorgeous piece of music and I thought I would take a closer look to see how John Williams put the march together.

The “Superman March” begins, as a number of John Williams’ themes do, with the brass section. In my experience, the moment that trumpet solo begins, you are sucked into the music, being pulled along wherever it’s going to take you. From a solo trumpet, the music quickly builds in tension until it suddenly explodes into the proper March, the brass symbolically soaring up just as Superman does when he leaps into the sky.

Contrast all of that with the quiet interlude taken up by “Can You Read My Mind?” the well known love theme between Superman/Clark and Lois Lane. This is a technique used by a number of composers, to start with a loud, brassy fanfare/march only to switch into the softer, romantic theme in the middle. In fact, Williams does almost the exact same thing during the Star Wars Overture/Main Theme (the expanded version) with the fanfare and Princess Leia’s theme. What’s great about the detour into “Can You Read My Mind?” is that even though the music sounds different, you can still tell that it’s coming from the same source as the “Superman March”, that driving rhythm is greatly muted, but it’s still there, just waiting for the tempo to pick up again for the finale.

The “Superman March” is an iconic and well-rounded theme that has become synonymous with Superman and always will be, despite recent attempts to distance the character from the theme. While Man of Steel avoids the march entirely, the CW’s hit crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths did not shy away from citing the “Superman March” (and even “Can You Read My Mind?”) when it suited the story.

The “Superman March” is a phenomenal piece of superhero music that deserves to be remembered for all time. I hope this theme continues to live on in the Superman mythos for years to come.

Author: Becky O'Brien

I'm a 33 year old musicologist and blogger and I've had a lifelong obsession with film music, cartoon music, just about any kind of music!