In the old Superman movies with Christopher Reeve and in Superman Returns, Krypton is portrayed as a planet with not much of an atmosphere on whose surface the Kryptonians obviously live in a very thin air that wouldn't allow for enough oxygen, and Superman often flies from Earth into space himself so there is no question the Kryptonians of the old movies don't have to breathe, but does that mean that Superman and the three banished Kryptonians don't breathe even when in the Earth's atmosphere? Do Kryptonians only breathe when trying to smell something? On Krypton they obviously didn't breathe otherwise. Is there even an official answer to this or does that remain an open question? I specifically mean the Krypton of the original movies.

To clarify: Even when in buildings the Kryptonians aren't sealed off from the outside. When Kal-El (young Superman) leaves Krypton, Jor-El and his wife watch him through a window that has no dish, and before, as the three Kryptonians are banished, the dome opens above them to be caught by the phantom zone outside.

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    Krypton is depicted as airless?
    – Valorum
    Jan 10, 2021 at 13:03
  • Related (but for comics): scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/34440/… Jan 10, 2021 at 13:13
  • 2
    Can you give citations that Krypton had no atmosphere in any of the canon?
    – user931
    Jan 10, 2021 at 13:45
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    If Krypton is airless, how are they speaking? Sound cannot travel in a vacuum.
    – Kerr Avon
    Jan 10, 2021 at 14:25
  • 1
    Superman Returns is a completely different continuity. Do you mean Superman 2: The Adventure Continues?
    – Valorum
    Jan 10, 2021 at 14:35

3 Answers 3


In the 1978 Superman movies, Kryptonians do not need air and don't need to breathe to survive.

Zod, Ursa and Non all walk, talk and survive in the zero atmosphere of the Moon.

The talking part is scientifically inaccurate as sound cannot travel in a vacuum but one astronaut manages to hear and be heard by Ursa.

The villains fly to the Moon, harass the locals for a while before then flying on to Earth.

enter image description here

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    This doesn't prove that Kryptonians don't need to breathe while powerless, as they were on Krypton. It doesn't even prove that they can survive indefinitely without oxygen even with their power... only that they can survive without oxygen for a while. Jan 10, 2021 at 20:00

The evidence suggests Kryptonians do need to breathe...

... some of the time, at least.

Restricting myself to evidence from the older movies only, in Superman: The Movie (1978), when Luthor shoves Superman into a swimming pool, with that chunk of Kryptonite hanging from his neck, we see Superman exhaling bubbles of air while he's underwater.

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We then see him gasping for air when his head emerges from the water, and he appears short of breath, regularly pausing to take in more oxygen, while pleading with Teschmacher to help him save the people endangered by Luthor's missiles.

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Granted, Superman is depowered by the Kryptonite in this scene, but then as far as we know, Kryptonians are also powerless while under a red sun, as they were on their home planet.

There are multiple indications of Superman needing to breathe, even with his powers, in Superman III. For example, when Superman splits into two beings during the junkyard fight, the Clark Kent half of him can be heard gasping for air while being enclosed by the car crusher.

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And he subsequently defeats his other half via strangulation, a tactic which shouldn't be terribly effective against a being who doesn't require oxygen.

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During the climactic battle with Gus' supercomputer, Superman again appears to be gasping for air whilst enveloped within an airtight sphere.

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And you can see and hear Superman breathing at various other points in this movie, like right after the Kryptonite ray is shut off, or when he's digging people out of the rubble a bit later.

The strongest evidence is to be found within Supergirl (1984), which is set within the same continuity as the Christopher Reeve movies. Near the start of the film, a dragonfly created by Kara (using the Omegahedron) punches a hole in the barrier surrounding Argo City -- a Kryptonian city which remains intact on a fragment of the planet Krypton -- and air is clearly shown diffusing from the interior to the exterior, with sufficient force to suck the Omegahedron straight through the hole. Panic ensues until Zaltar reseals the hole.

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The presence of a breathable atmosphere within the city is confirmed by subsequent dialogue:

ZOR-EL: You took the Omegahedron!

ZALTAR: That's not correct, I lost the Omegahedron!

KARA: Oh no, father, I did! I was--

ZOR-EL: No matter who. Without it, this city can't survive more than a few days!

ALURA: Our lights will grow dim, and the very air we breathe, so thin!


Kryptonians breathe and Krypton has an atmosphere.

This image shows the haze of the Kryptonian atmosphere. In an airless world such as Earth's moon, this haze would not exist.

enter image description here

Jor-El himself says that Earth's atmosphere will sustain Kal-El, clearly indicating that Kryptonians breathe.

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  • You can also understand it as (and I did) "Wouldn't the Earth's air pressure squash him?" but you're right that in English it sounds more like the need for an atmosphere. Yes there is a haze but Krypton certainly doesn't seem to have at least 0.06 atm (required amount of oxygen to breathe as stated above). And if we go into hardcore science: the phantom zone wasn't dragged by any air resistance when approaching the banished Kryptonians.
    – user135774
    Jan 10, 2021 at 15:27

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