Muhammad Ali Was This Close to Portraying Superman in the 1978 Film

Boxer and honoree Muhammad Ali arrives at the 20th Annual ‘Midsummer Night’s Magic Awards Dinner’ on July 13, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo: Amanda Edwards (Getty Images)

Muhammad Ali floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, but he almost flew like a DC Comics superhero.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the heavyweight champion was on the shortlist to become Superman in the 1978 film of the same name, which ultimately starred Christopher Reeve.

“One of the conditions with DC Comics was I had to make a list of actors to play Superman that they had to approve,” said producer Ilya Salkind, in an interview to commemorate the film’s 40th anniversary. Superman originally debuted in theaters on Dec. 15, 1978.

“I had a made a list ... that was absolutely hilarious because they had approved people like Cassius Clay then, they had approved Al Pacino, they had approved Dustin Hoffman,” he continued. “They had approved them, they could play Superman.”

Wow, imagine a Cassius Clay Clark Kent. Not even the white man’s racist saltiness could be his kryptonite.

That same year, Muhammad Ali did end up appearing in a collector’s item comic book released by DC entitled, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, which was a big fucking deal.


As writer Todd Steven Burroughs wrote for The Root in 2016:

Ali trains Superman at the Fortress of Solitude and then, in a massive arena packed with beings from different galaxies (and a universe-wide television audience), kicks the Man of Steel’s white, red and blue ass! Then the champ takes on the alien, who looks like a cross between, well, the Hulk and Hulk Hogan, and wins! Super black power, baby! Power to the people! The Earth was saved by the Greatest in the universe, in fact and fiction!


I mean, Ali was already a superhero—cape or no cape—but that definitely would’ve been fire. Not only would we have had a black superman on the big screen, but the blackest superman.

And the Greatest.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter