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Neat Stuff Hall of Fame - Superman (1980)

"You will believe a man can fly, again!"

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator



Superman II is a 1980 British-American superhero film directed by Richard Lester, based on the DC Comics character Superman. It is a sequel to the 1978 film Superman: The Movie and stars Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, and Jack O'Halloran. The film was released in Australia and mainland Europe on December 4th, 1980, and in other countries throughout 1981. Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround.

Superman II is well known for its controversial production. The original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes were shot by second director Richard Lester, who had been an uncredited producer on the first film. However, in order to receive full director's credit, Lester had to shoot up to 51% of the film, which included refilming several sequences originally filmed by Donner. According to statements made by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 2006, a re-cut of the film was released titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, restoring as much of Donner's original conception as possible including deleted footage of Marlon Brando as Jor-El.

The film received positive reviews from film critics, who praised the visual effects and story, as well as Reeve's performance. It grossed $190 million against a production budget of $54 million. Three years after the film's release, a second sequel, Superman III, was released, for which Lester returned as director.

Before the destruction of Krypton, the criminals General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) are sentenced to banishment into the Phantom Zone for insurrection and murder, amongst other crimes.

Years later, the Phantom Zone is shattered near Earth by a shockwave stemming from the detonation of a hydrogen bomb, which had been launched into space by Superman (Christopher Reeve) after foiling a terrorist plot to blow up Paris. The three Kryptonian criminals are freed from the Zone, finding themselves with super-powers granted by the yellow light of Earth's sun. After attacking human astronauts on the Moon and the small town of East Houston, Idaho (which they mistake as being capital city of "Planet Houston" due to NASA's transmissions), the three criminals travel to the White House and force the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) to kneel before General Zod, on behalf of the entire planet during an international television broadcast. When the President pleads for Superman to save the Earth, Zod demands that Superman come and "kneel before Zod!" To complicate things for Superman, Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) suspects he and Clark are the same man and Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) has escaped from prison.

Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, and E.G. Marshall are the only actors who did not participate in the film's reshoots under the direction of Richard Lester. Where additional shots were needed for continuity, Lester used body doubles in place of the original actors. Marlon Brando's scenes were excised entirely, due to the high fee the actor had demanded for the use of his footage in the film.

According to the 2006 documentary You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, Sarah Douglas was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the film and was one of the few actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner-Lester controversy.

Richard Donner briefly appears in a "walking cameo" in the film. In the sequence where the de-powered Clark and Lois are seen approaching the truck-stop diner by car, Donner appears walking "camera left" past the driver's side. He is wearing a light tan jacket and appears to be smoking a pipe. In his commentary for Superman II, Ilya Salkind states that the inclusion of his cameo in that scene is proof that the Salkinds held no animosity towards Donner, because if there were, then surely they would have cut it out. Conversely, Donner has used his inclusion in the scene to debunk praise heaped on Lester around the release of the film where Lester took credit for the intense nature of the "bully" scene in the diner, pointing out that he (Donner) filmed the scene and not Lester.

Production on Superman II was commenced simultaneously with Superman at Pinewood Studios in England under the direction of Richard Donner in April 1977. However, due to off-screen problems with Donner between producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler over the huge shooting schedule and final cut privileges, filming on Superman II was put on a hiatus in October 1977 in order for Donner to concentrate on finishing the first film instead. To ease tension between Donner and Spengler, the Salkinds hired U.K. director Richard Lester, who had previously directed another double-project for the Salkinds; The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), as an uncredited line producer on Superman.

On March 15th, 1979, shortly after the release of Superman, the Salkinds replaced Donner with Lester (left) for Superman II. The exact reasoning and details behind Donner's departure is still constantly debated. At one point, the Salkinds considered Guy Hamilton for director, but he declined.

In his 2006 DVD commentary for Superman II, Spengler claims that Donner was indeed invited back to finish the sequel, but that Donner refused, telling Army Archerd in a March 1978 interview for Variety magazine that he wouldn't be returning to direct as long as Spengler was acting producer. However, Donner told Starlog in 1989 that he was not invited back and that he did not know production had continued on the sequel until he received a telegram from the Salkinds telling him: "Your services are no longer needed."

The decision to replace Donner was controversial amongst the cast and crew. Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz and editor Stuart Baird declined on returning for the sequel in support of Donner; however, Mankiewicz was still credited for the sequel. Actor Gene Hackman, who had already completed many of his scenes under Donner's direction, also declined on returning due to his commitment on Reds and was replaced by a body double. Actor Marlon Brando, who finished all his scenes for both Superman films early into production, successfully sued the Salkinds for $50 million over grossed profits gained from the first film. In response, the Salkinds cut Brando from Superman II, replacing his scenes with actress Susannah York. John Williams also did not return as composer for Superman II due to scheduling commitments with Lucasfilm. However, Williams granted the Salkinds permission to use his original themes and even recommended composer Ken Thorne, a personal friend of Williams, to compose the film's score.

Production on Superman II officially recommenced with Richard Lester as director on June 1st, 1979. On the first day of filming, set designer John Barry suddenly collapsed on the nearby set of The Empire Strikes Back and died from meningitis. Peter Murton was then hired in Barry's place. Principal photography resumed at Pinewood Studios in August 1979 with a revised screenplay written by David and Leslie Newman. The new script featured several newly conceived scenes including the Eiffel Tower opening sequence and Clark rescuing Lois at Niagara Falls. However, under strict guidelines from Directors Guild of America, Lester needed to re-shoot several scenes Donner had already completed in order to receive full directorial credit. Location shooting took place in Canada, Paris, Norway and St Lucia, while Metropolis (which was shot in New York for the first movie) was filmed entirely on the back lot at Pinewood. Superman II finally finished filming on March 10th, 1980.

Scenes filmed by Donner were included in the finished film. These scenes include all the Gene Hackman footage, the Moon sequences, the White House shots, Clark and the bully, and much of the footage of Zod, Ursa and Non arriving at the Daily Planet. Since the Lester footage was shot two years later, both Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve look different between the Lester and Donner footage. Reeve appears less bulked up in Donner's sequences (filmed in 1977), as he was still gaining muscle for the part. Kidder also has dramatic changes throughout; in the montage of Lester-Donner material, shot inside the Daily Planet and the Fortress of Solitude near the movie's conclusion, her hairstyle, hair color, and even make-up are all inconsistent. Indeed, Kidder's physical appearance in the Lester footage is noticeably different; during the scenes shot for Donner she appears slender, whereas in the Lester footage she looks frail and gaunt.

As John Williams chose not to return to score the film due to obligations with Lucasfilm's The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, instead Ken Thorne was commissioned to write the music upon Williams' recommendation. However, the score contains frequent excerpts from Williams' previous score to the first film. Thorne wrote minimal original material and adapted source music (such as Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces", which appears both in the bar in Idaho as well as during Clark's second encounter with Rocky. The music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at the CTS Studios, Wembley, London in the spring of 1980. The soundtrack was released on Warner Bros. Records, with one edition featuring laser-etched "S" designs repeated five times on each side.

A complete score was released in 2008, as part of "Superman, The music 1978-1988", an 8 CD limited edition box set released by Film Score Monthly.


Unlike its predecessor, Superman II did not open simultaneously around the world and had staggered release dates in an attempt to maximize its box office returns. Originally opening in Australia on December 4, 1980, followed by selected European countries, it would be a further six months before it premiered in America, on June 1st, 1981, at the National Theater, Broadway.

Despite all of the difficulties during production, Superman II received much praise from critics. It holds an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the summary says, "The humor occasionally stumbles into slapstick territory, and the special effects are dated, but Superman II meets, if not exceeds, the standard set by its predecessor." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 87 (out of 100), indicating "universal acclaim". Roger Ebert, who gave the original film very high acclaim also praised Superman II, giving it four out of four stars, writing, "This movie's most intriguing insight is that Superman's disguise as Clark Kent isn't a matter of looks as much as of mental attitude: Clark is disguised not by his glasses but by his ordinariness. Beneath his meek exterior, of course, is concealed a superhero. And, the movie subtly hints, isn't that the case with us all?" Reeve said that Superman II is "the best of the series".

Superman II was a box office success scoring the highest-grossing opening weekend up to that time and became the third highest grossing film of 1981. It grossed $108,185,706 in the US, reaching blockbuster status. The film also received recognition from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. It won Best Science Fiction Film. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were nominated Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Ken Thorne also received a nomination for Best Music.

British cinema magazine Total Film named Terence Stamp's version of General Zod No.32 on their 'Top 50 Greatest Villains of All Time' list (beating out the No.38 place of Lex Luthor) in 2007. Pop culture website IGN placed General Zod at No.30 on their list of the Top 50 Comic Book Villains.

Anti-smoking campaigners opposed the film as the largest sponsor of Superman II was the cigarette brand Marlboro, who paid $43,000, for the brand to be shown 22 times in the film. Lois Lane was shown as a chain smoker in the film, although she never smoked in the comic book version. A prop included a truck sign written with the Marlboro logo, although actual vehicles for tobacco distribution are unmarked, for security reasons. This led to a congressional investigation.

In 1984, when Superman II premiered on television, 24 minutes were re-inserted into the film (17 minutes on ABC). Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. In the ABC-TV version, a U.S. "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor at the end of the film. Without this ending, it appears that Superman has let the Kryptonians die, though Superman has a strict code against killing and their deaths aren't necessary once they are depowered. The ending of the extended cuts also has Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroying the Fortress of Solitude.

Also in the ABC-TV version:

  • Superman passes a Concorde jet on his way to Paris. This is not in the video release and was actually an outtake from Superman: The Movie as a bridge between Superman saving Air Force One and his conversation with Jor-El after his first night.

  • At the end of the film, Clark Kent bumps into a large bald man, which reminds him to go to the diner to face the obnoxious trucker who beat him up earlier.

  • Superman destroys the Fortress of Solitude.

  • The Phantom Zone villains land outside the Fortress of Solitude with Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, trying to figure out how to get in.

  • Extended scenes of the three Kryptonians invasion of the White House, with Zod using a gun and Non frightening a dog.

  • Superman cooks using his heat vision, during dinner with Lois at the Fortress of Solitude.

  • Extended discussion between Zod and Ursa on the Moon.

  • The three Kryptonian villains are arrested in the TV version. In The Richard Donner Cut, Superman reversed the rotation of the Earth to keep the three Kryptonian criminals from being freed from the Phantom Zone.

Much of the added footage was later restored for the 2006 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Also, there were various edits due to content issues such as violence and some language.

During the 1980s, CFCF screened an edition of Superman II that was differently edited to that to the one shown on in the United States on ABC. This particular version has only been screened once in Canada and had an additional few seconds of dialogue as Luthor and Miss Tessmacher were stopped on a snow bank admiring the Fortress of Solitude. In the first U.S. broadcast (the same evening), the scene begins abruptly as Luthor starts the snow mobile immediately after the dialogue sequence.

Scenes seen in the Canadian version but not in the ABC version include:

  • A little girl watching the destruction of East Huston by the Kryptonians on TV.

  • Longer conversation between Lois and Superman after he destroys the Fortress of Solitude.

  • Lex Luthor taking Perry White's coffee during the Times Square battle.

  • Lex and Miss Tessmacher admiring the Fortress of Solitude.

  • Lex's negotiating with Superman after they leave the fortress is longer.

All the footage mentioned that had been added for various network telecasts were incorporated into an even longer cut of the film that aired in some countries in Europe (the other U.S./Canadian cuts were derived from this version). Prepared by the Salkinds' production company, it is this 146-minute version that some Superman fans remastered from the best-possible materials into a professionally made "Restored International Cut" DVD for availability on one of the many Superman fan sites. However, such plans backfired when Warner Bros. threatened legal action against the bootleg release.

During the production of Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer acquired the rights from Marlon Brando's estate to use the late actor's footage from Superman into the film. Shortly after, Ilya Salkind confirmed that Donner was involved in the project to re-cut Superman II using Brando's unused footage. Editor Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, who supervised the Superman II reconstruction. Despite some initial confusion, Thau confirmed that all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered and transferred from a vault in England.

The new edition, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray on November 28th, 2006. In order to make Donner's vision of Superman II feel less incomplete, finished scenes by Lester that Donner was unable to shoot were incorporated into the film as well as the screen tests by Reeve and Kidder for one pivotal scene. The film also restores several cut scenes including Marlon Brando as Jor-El, an alternate prologue and opening sequence at the Daily Planet that omits the Eiffel Tower opening from the original, as well as the original scripted and filmed ending for Superman II featuring Superman reversing time before it was cut and placed at the end of the first film.

Superman's publisher DC Comics published a commemorative magazine of Superman II in 1981. Published as DC Special Series #25, it was produced in "Treasury format" and included photos and background photos, actor profiles, panel-to-scene comparisons, and pin-ups.

Near the end of the film, Clark uses a "super-kiss" to make Lois forget he is Superman. While this was a real power Superman had in the comics (originally displayed in Action Comics #306), it was rarely used, and eventually eliminated after the 1985-1986 reboot of the character following the limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In the film, after attacking the White House, Lex Luthor enters the Oval Office to make a deal with the Kryptonians. By the end of the scene, he is sitting behind the President's desk. In the comics (in the year 2000), Lex Luthor ran for President of the United States and won.

In 2006, the Superman comics themselves adapted elements from the Superman movies, specifically the ice-like look of Krypton, and Jor-El banishing the criminals to the Phantom Zone. Ursa and Non made their first appearances in the comic book continuity. (This was facilitated in the "Last Son" story arc, co-written by Richard Donner.)

In the television series Smallville, much of the imagery and concepts of the first two Salkind/Donner Superman films, has been revived as a conscious homage to the film series by the show's creators. These include the ice-crystal Fortress of Solitude, the spinning square in space to represent the Phantom Zone, and the continued presence of the deceased Jor-El as a disembodied counselor and teacher to young Clark/Kal-El.

Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in the first two films, provided the voice of Jor-El for the series. Christopher Reeve made two appearances on the show as Dr. Virgil Swann, a disabled scientist who had acquired knowledge of Krypton to pass on to Clark, before Reeve's death in 2004. A section of John Williams' Superman theme was included when Reeve made his first appearance, and was later used in the series finale. Margot Kidder, Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), and Helen Slater (Supergirl) have also made appearances on the show. Annette O'Toole (Lana Lang in Superman III) played Martha Kent.

Additionally, in the animated series Young Justice, in the episode "Satisfaction" of its second season, Lex Luthor appears briefly talking to one of his assistants on the phone, who is called Otis, a reference to the character in the films.

What member of the Superman family died in Crisis on Infinite Earths?

Lois Lane
Perry White



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