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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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.
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