On the planet Krypton, the ruling council praises member Jor-El for exiling criminals General Zod, Ursa, and Non to the Phantom Zone. It disagrees with the scientist’s claim, however, that Krypton will soon be destroyed when its red supergiant sun goes supernova. To save Kal-El, his infant son, Jor-El sends him in a spaceship to Earth, where his dense molecular structure will give him superhuman strength and other powers. Krypton’s sun explodes, destroying the planet.
The ship lands near Smallville, Kansas. Kal-El, who is now three years old, is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who are astonished when he lifts their truck. Taking him back to their farm, they decide to raise him as their own, naming him Clark after Martha’s maiden name. Jonathan tells the boy that he must have been given superhuman powers on Earth for “a reason”.
At age 18, after Jonathan’s death from a heart attack, Clark hears a psychic “call” and discovers a glowing green crystal in the remains of his spacecraft. It compels him to travel to the Arctic where it builds the Fortress of Solitude, resembling the architecture of Krypton. Inside, a hologram of Jor-El explains Clark’s true origins, and after 12 further years of educating him on his reason for being sent to Earth and his powers, he leaves the Fortress wearing a blue and red suit with a red cape and the House of El family crest emblazoned on his chest. Becoming a reporter at the Daily Planet in Metropolis, Clark meets and develops a romantic attraction to coworker Lois Lane.
Lois becomes involved in a helicopter accident where conventional means of rescue are impossible. Clark uses his powers in public for the first time to save her, to the astonishment of the crowd gathered below. He then goes on to thwart a jewel thief attempting to scale the Solow Building, captures robbers fleeing police, rescues a girl’s cat from a tree, and saves Air Force One after a lightning strike destroys an engine. The “caped wonder”, an instant celebrity, visits Lois at her penthouse apartment the next night and takes her for a flight, allowing her to interview him for an article in which she names him “Superman”.
Criminal genius Lex Luthor learns of a joint U.S. Army and U.S. Navy nuclear missile test. He buys hundreds of acres of worthless desert land and reprograms one of the two missiles to detonate in the San Andreas Fault. Knowing Superman could stop his plan, Lex deduces that a recently discovered meteorite is from Krypton and is radioactive to Superman. After he and his accomplices Otis and Eve Teschmacher retrieve a piece of it, Luthor lures Superman to his underground lair and reveals his plan to cause everything west of the San Andreas Fault to sink into the Pacific Ocean, leaving Luthor’s desert land as the new West Coast of the United States. Luthor then exposes him to the meteor piece’s mineral, Kryptonite, which weakens Superman greatly as Luthor taunts him about the second missile, headed east towards the random target of Hackensack, New Jersey.
Teschmacher is horrified because her mother lives in Hackensack, but Luthor does not care and leaves Superman to die. Knowing his reputation for keeping his word, Teschmacher helps him on the condition he will stop the eastbound missile first. After being freed, Superman diverts the eastbound missile into outer space, consequently preventing him from reaching the westbound missile before it explodes in the San Andreas Fault. Massive earthquakes erupt across California, damaging the Golden Gate Bridge and breaching the Hoover Dam. Superman mitigates the effects of the explosion by sealing the fault line.
While Superman is busy saving others, Lois’s car falls into a crevice from one of the aftershocks, trapping her as it fills with dirt and debris. Superman is unable to reach her in time, and she suffocates. Angered at being powerless to save her, Superman defies Jor-El’s earlier warning not to manipulate human history, preferring to heed Jonathan’s advice that he must be here for “a reason”. He accelerates around Earth, traveling several minutes backward in time to prevent Lois’s death while also undoing the damage caused by the missile and earthquake. After saving the West Coast Superman brings Luthor and Otis to prison, and flies into the sunrise for further adventures.