‘Supergirl’ (1984) Review

‘Supergirl’ (1984) starred Helen Slater as The Girl of Steel. It was released on 19 July 1984 in the UK and November 21 1984 in the US. It was critically panned as it failed to impress critics and audiences alike and would became a box office bomb only grossing $14.3M on a $35M budget.


We all know the story of Superman. Kal-El, as a baby, His parents sent him to Earth in a rocket ship upon a natural cataclysm that destroys his home planet of Krypton. After his arrival on Earth, he was found and raised by Johnathan and Martha Kent. He ultimately grows up believing that he is the last — and only — survivor of a dead planet.

Supergirl made her first appearance during the Silver Age of Comics in Action Comics #252 dated May 1959. Supergirl has an extremely similar origin story to Superman with a few differences. Kara Zor-El is the older biological cousin of Kal-El. She is around sixteen years older and was also put into a rocket ship by her parents upon the destruction of Krypton. However, Kara’s rocket didn’t make it to Earth at the same time Kal-El. She ends up getting caught in what is known as “suspended animation” and arrives on Earth after Kal has grown up and became Superman. Reactions to the character were positive and she was able to garner up a fanbase of her own, which kept the character appearing regularity in back-up stories in Action Comics for many years.

But even though Supergirl (1984) wasn’t received with critical acclaim, the film was able to achieve a type of notoriety of its very own. Not only that of a box office bomb, — but that of a trail blazer. Long before the days of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Xena: Warrior Princess (Lucy Lawless), there, up in the sky, was Supergirl (Helen Slater). Never before was there the likes of a teenage super-powered heroine such as Supergirl on either the big or small screen, which made her very presence nothing shy of a revelation.

Plot Summary

The movie seemingly starts off with Krypton having already been destroyed for that of an undetermined amount of time. Kara is living with her parents Alura In-Ze (Mia Farrow) and Zor-El (Simon Ward) as well as a large majority of Kryptonian’s in a place known as Argo City — an isolated Kryptonian community that survived the planet’s destruction — which has a very similar look and feel to that of an extremally gated community type of thing.

While on Argo City, Kara meets up with a much older Kyptonian named Zaltar (Peter O’Toole). They seem to be friendly and they both seem to share a sense of curiosity. Zaltar is mucking about with something called the Omegahedron — a classic example of what Alfred Hitchcock would call a “McGuffin” — a round circular object that powers Argo City.

While Zaltar is distracting Kara’s mother, the McGuffin — err — the Omegahedron ends up in Kara’s hands and as she beings to much about with it for a few moments, she ultimately ends up losing it. It springs to life all on its own and shoots out of a plastic wall that is encasing Argo City, and flies its way to freedom. This begins to worry the residents as it is the source of power and without it — they shall surely die! While everybody is arguing, Kara sneaks away onto a ship and decides that she will be the one to set out in search of it.

The Omegahedron ends up on Earth, landing in the presence of a woman named Selena (Faye Dunaway), a witch — or a faux sorceress — who studies the mystic arts. It’s unclear as to what exactly Selena plans to do with it, as it’s an alien object that she isn’t able to control nor does she know exactly how it works. Kara arrives on Earth shortly after, (already in her Supergirl attire), she immediately begins to track down the Omegahedron.

… and this’s basically the essential plot.

There is, of course, a lot of character moments that happen with Kara and Selena in their own right, both individually and with their own supporting cast of characters. But nothing that is too important before Kara is finally able to track the Omegahedron to Selena’s whereabouts and demanding that it be returned — which Selena refuses to comply with.

Supergirl is ultimately sent to The Phantom Zone by Selena after she is able to figure out how to use the Omegahedron to her advantage. Kara meets up with a familiar face: Zaltar. Considering he was the one who had initially stole the Omegahedron on Argo City, his punishment is his imprisonment. Zaltar helps Supergirl escape from The Phantom Zone.

Supergirl then confronts Selena, but this time ready for whatever she can throw at her and ultimately prevails, which is no surprise. That’s how these types of movies work; good guy fights bad guy, second act looks like the bad guy it about win, but the good guy prevails in the end. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all and the story structure here is no different.


Considering this movie was made in the 80’s, there is a lot that you have to forgive while watching it, especially when it comes to the special effects. You can tell when Supergirl is being pulled around on wires when she flies, you can instantly notice when any of the characters are in front of a green screen and even though the music tries it’s best, the score is nowhere near as iconic as the Superman March from the Christopher Reeves movies.

Much of Supergirl’s source material has either been changed or rearranged for the sake of trying to fit somewhere in or between the previous three Superman movies. Her powers are all there, — invulnerability, flight, superhuman strength, heat vision, x-ray and telescopic vision, super hearing, freeze breath and hand-to-hand combat. It’s uncertain if Kara had been trained to use her powers while she was growing on on Argo City as she appears to be familiar with and able to utilize any and all of them with relative ease. Also in her very early stories, Kara chooses to go by the name of “Linda Lee” for her civilian identity. This continues the double “LL” initials that many of Superman’s supporting characters have.

Superman brings her to an orphanage so that she has a place to live.

You’d wonder why he wouldn’t bring her to live with Johnathan and Martha at their farm, but having Kara, — or Linda Lee, rather — living in a different environment gives her the opportunity to have adventures of her very own. In Supergirl (1984), instead of an orphanage, “Linda” attends an all girls school where she gets bunked up with none other than Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), Lois Lane’s little sister. How convenient is that.

… but these aren’t big changes and certainly nothing to criticize nor claim that this is what truly ruined the movie, because it isn’t. Some of these changes actually make a lot of sense and you have to give credit to the writer’s for doing their homework on the character.

One of the more notable storylines that came from DC Comics is Crisis on Infinite Earth’s (1985-’86). It’s worth noting that Supergirl had been killed off in this series and was promptly retconned out of existence. More often than not, especially in the 70’s and 80’s, female characters were nothing more than plot device that were used solely to further the the story of their male counterpart. Barbara Gordon, the Silver Age Batgirl would be treated in a similar fashion a few years later, getting paralyzed by the Joker in The Killing Joke (1988). It’s a shame that these female characters were treated in this way. There were a few different versions of the Supergirl that would show up during the 90’s, but none of them would be the same one as that of the pre-Crisis incarnation that fans had initially knew her as.

The real Supergirl wouldn’t make a reappearance for another 20 years, getting brought back in 2005 and this time she would get treated with respect. She was given her own comic as well as the writers putting her through her own journey of self discovery and even though she may have started out as a female version of Superman, she has very much come into her own as a character. Still, one has to wonder if the failure of Supergirl (1984) had a helping hand in the decision to kill off the character in the comics all those years ago.


There’s not too much about Supergirl that I would criticize but that could be due to my love for the character and wanting to forgive the odd choices that she makes for the sake of wanting to enjoy her for what she is rather than what I expect her to be. Kara doesn’t seem to show too much emotion and the failure in providing to give Kara some type of emotional or personal connection to that of anything and because of that, it fails to give the audience an opportunity to relate to the character. Whether that be on the surface or on some type of deep down, profound spiritual level. Which isn’t something that I blame on Helen Slater‘s performance, but rather something that falls more so on that of the writers and director.

If I have one criticism, it would be with the Ethan storyline. Ethan (Hart Bochner) is your run of the mill landscaper. He first gets noticed by Selena while he is trimming some branches off of a tree with his shirt off. The ultimate thirst trap. Whereas Lex Luthor wants to rule Earth, Selena wants somebody to love her. Ethan then becomes the connection between Selena and Supergirl and how they ultimately come into conflict with each other. It’s not exactly two women fighting over the same man, but after Selena puts a curse on Ethan with the intention of him falling in love with her, it’s ultimately “Linda Lee” who Ethan falls for which infuriates Selena and this is what begins to drive her to have a grudge against Linda, err — Supergirl.

It’s a bit of a bizarre plot point and has nothing to do with Supergirl being the hero nor Selena being a villain. At one point, it felt that Selena was going to use the Omegahedron to enslave humanity, the movie suddenly becomes about this weird love triangle with Selena turning into character without any type of real ambition, motivation or inspiration.


This movie reminds me of a combination of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Alice in Wonderland (1951). Whereas both Dorothy and Alice wanted to leave the muddiness of their ordinary lives and found themselves in places of complete chaos, Kara finds herself on planet Earth.

Lucky her.

Even though this world is familiar to us, the audience, it can be quite the quite the crazy and cooky place to somebody who has grown up as sheltered as Kara has. Of course, it doesn’t take her long to find out just how cruel the world can really be. Upon her arrival, she gets confronted by a couple of truckers who seem to want to have their way with her. It seems that this type of plot point goes hand in hand with being a female protagonist. But because we have come to know what Superman is capable of, we know that Supergirl can handle herself in the same way, it comes as no surprise that she is never in any type of real danger.

Once Supergirl reacquires the Omegahedron from Selena, that’s it! She’s back off to Argo City, leaving Earth behind as if it meant nothing to her … which it probably didn’t. Unlike Clark who grew up on Earth since he was a baby and made it his home, Kara is a teenager who has no connection to the planet … so it’s hard to blame her decision to leave, I guess

Maybe she found the adventure that she was looking for, or maybe she realized that the mundaneness of her ordinary life wasn’t so boring after all … and much like Dorothy who put on the ruby slippers and clicked her heels three times and awakened from the dream; both Kara and the Omegahedron learned a valuable lesson: there’s no place like home.


All in all, even with a run-time of 2 hours there is really no filler in this movie. Perhaps some of the scenes go on for a little longer than they should but everything either serves the a purpose for either the story or some character development. Sure, the acting can be a little campy and laughably over the top at times but the performances aren’t the criticism here.

Speaking of performances, it should go without saying that Helen Slater is absolutely adorable in this movie. She always has a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes to show the she is indeed having fun in the role. Which is a good thing, because there is nothing worse than watching a movie with a lead who looks bored out of their mind as if they don’t even want to be there. She comes off as incredibly naïve and able to portray a child-like innocence that is full of hope and wonder, and this more than anything is what makes her performance as Kara one of the more fun parts of watching Supergirl (1984), and she makes you want to stick it out to the very end to see just how her story will ultimately unfold.

That said, perhaps the one good thing that came out of her time as Kara Zor-El this is that Helen Slater was able to form a legacy of her very own with the Superman mythos that followed this one single performance. She appeared as Lara Zor-El, Clark’s birth mother, in Smallville and she played a recurring role as Eliza Danvers — the adopted mother of Kara Danvers — in the Supergirl TV show starring Melissa Benoist as the titular character.

Supergirl (1984) is far from the best superhero movie that has ever been made but as far as I’m concerned, it’s also far from the worst. It mostly suffers from lack of recognizable characters. It has been said many times that a hero is only as good as their villain, and that is a very true statement. Faye Dunaway was excellent as Selena and probably gave us the best performance in the entire movie. But for her to have been an original character that was created solely for this movie — and to be such an insanely vapid one with a silly thin motive to her villainess scheme — after watching it, it comes as no surprise that this movie didn’t resonate with audiences and critics who panned it upon both of its initial releases.

It’s a fun movie but it’s story is one that ultimately lacks any real depth or meaning that delves beyond the surface on a deep down profound spiritual level. It doesn’t make you think, it doesn’t teach you anything and the worst part about it is that there is no universal message or moral to Kara’s journey that teaches her a lesson as to what makes a hero.

Maybe this movie deserved the criticism that it received upon its release, maybe it didn’t. Everything is there in making it a good movie but somehow, it fails to make you feel anything besides slightly drowsy. Maybe some humor would’ve helped to liven up both the characters and the script as it’s a movie that’s good for one watch … but that’s about it.