Superman III is a 1983 British superhero
film directed by Richard Lester, based on the DC Comics character
Superman. It is the third film in the Superman film series and the
last Superman film to be produced by Alexander Salkind and Ilya
Salkind. The film stars Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette
O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, and Robert Vaughn. This film
is followed by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, released on July
the film still managed to recoup its budget of $39 million, it was
less successful than the first two Superman movies, both financially
and critically. While harsh criticism focused on the film's comedic
and campy tone, as well as the casting and performance of Pryor, the
special effects and Christopher Reeve's performance as a temporarily
corrupted Superman were praised.
The plot involves Gus Gorman (Pryor), a
chronically unemployed loser who discovers he has a talent for
computer programming and gets a job at the Metropolis-based
conglomerate Webscoe. Gus, dissatisfied with his pay, embezzles from
his employer using a technique known as salami slicing, which brings
Gus to the attention of CEO Ross Webster. Webster is intrigued by the
computer's potential to aid him in his schemes to rule the world
financially. Joined by his sister Vera and his "psychic
nutritionist," Lorelei Ambrosia, Webster blackmails Gus into
helping him. Meanwhile, Clark Kent returns to Smallville for his
high-school reunion and is reunited with childhood friend Lana Lang.
Series producer Ilya Salkind originally
wrote a treatment for this film that included Brainiac, Mister
Mxyzptlk and Supergirl, but Warner Bros. did not like it. The
treatment was released online in 2007. The Mr. Mxyzptlk portrayed in
the outline varies from his good-humored comic counterpart, as he
uses his abilities to cause serious harm. Dudley Moore was the top
choice to play the role. Meanwhile, in the same treatment, Brainiac
had discovered Supergirl in the same way that Superman was found by
the Kents. Brainiac is portrayed as a surrogate father to Supergirl
and eventually fell in love with his "daughter", who did
not reciprocate his feelings, as she had fallen in love with Superman.
Both Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder were
angry with the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard
Donner, with Hackman retaliating by refusing to reprise the role of
Lex Luthor entirely (though he would later be persuaded to come back
for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, with which the Salkinds
had no connection). After Margot Kidder publicly criticized the
Salkinds for their treatment of Donner, the producers reportedly
"punished" the actress by reducing her role in Superman III
to a brief cameo.
his commentary for the 2006 DVD release of Superman III, Ilya
Salkind denied any ill will between Margot Kidder and his production
team and denied the claim that her part was cut for retaliation.
Instead, he said, the creative team decided to pursue a different
direction for a love interest for Superman, believing the Lois and
Clark relationship had been played out in the first two films (but
could be revisited in the future). With the choice to give a more
prominent role to Lana Lang, Lois' part was reduced for story
reasons. Salkind also denied the reports about Gene Hackman being
upset with him, stating that Hackman was unable to return because of
other film commitments.
Following the release of this movie, Pryor
signed a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures worth $40 million.
As with the previous sequel, the musical
score was composed and conducted by Ken Thorne, using the Superman
theme and most other themes from the first film composed by John
Williams, but this time around there is more original music by Thorne
than the Williams re-arrangements. To capitalize on the popularity of
synthesizer pop, Giorgio Moroder was hired to create songs for the
film (though their use in the film is minimal).
William Kotzwinkle wrote a novelization of
the film published in paperback by Warner Books in the U.S. and by
Arrow Books in the United Kingdom to coincide with the film's
release; Severn House published a British hardcover edition.
Kotzwinkle thought the novelization "a delight the world has yet
to find out about." However, writing in Voice of Youth
Advocates, Roberta Rogow hoped this would be the final Superman film
and said, "Kotzwinkle has done his usual good job of translating
the screenplay into a novel, but there are nasty undertones to the
film, and there are nasty undertones to the novel as well. Adults may
enjoy the novel on its own merits, as a Black Comedy of sorts, but
it's not written for kids, and most of the under-15 crowd will either
be puzzled or revolted by Kotzwinkle's dour humor."
A video game for Superman III was
developed for the Atari 8-bit family of computers by Atari, Inc. in
1983, but was ultimately cancelled. A prototype box for the Atari
5200 version also exists, although existence of the actual game for
this console remains unconfirmed. The game (perhaps intended to be
like Missile Command) would have been loosely based on the plotline
for Superman III.
The total domestic box office gross (not
adjusted for inflation) for Superman III was $59,950,623. The film
was the 12th highest-grossing film of 1983 in North America.
Reviews for the film were mostly negative
in response from critics and audiences. At Rotten Tomatoes, only 26%
of critics have given the film positive reviews, based on 43 reviews.
The summary on Rotten Tomatoes goes as follows: "When not
overusing sight gags, slapstick and Richard Pryor, Superman III
resorts to plot points rehashed from the previous Superman
flicks." A frequent criticism of Superman III was the inclusion
of comedian Richard Pryor. Film critic Leonard Maltin said that
Superman III was an "appalling sequel that trashed everything
that Superman was about for the sake of cheap laughs and a
co-starring role for Richard Pryor". After an appearance by
Pryor on The Tonight Show, telling Johnny Carson how much he enjoyed
seeing Superman II, the Salkinds were eager to cast him in a
prominent role in the third film. The film was nominated for two
Razzie Awards including Worst Supporting Actor for Richard Pryor and
Worst Musical Score for Giorgio Moroder.
Audiences also saw Robert Vaughn's
villainous Ross Webster as an inferior fill-in for Lex Luthor. Fans
of the Superman series also placed a great deal of the blame on
director Richard Lester. Richard Lester made a number of popular
comedies in the 1960s including The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night
before being hired by the Salkinds in the 1970s for their successful
Three Musketeers series, as well as Superman II. Lester broke
tradition by setting the opening credits for Superman III during a
prolonged slapstick sequence rather than in outer space.
The film's screenplay, by David and Leslie
Newman, was also criticized. When Richard Donner was hired to direct
the first two films, he found the Newmans' scripts so distasteful
that he hired Tom Mankiewicz for heavy rewrites. Since Donner and
Mankiewicz were no longer attached to the franchise, the Salkinds
were finally able to bring their "vision" of Superman to
the screen and once again hired the Newmans for writing duties.
Despite such harsh criticisms, Superman
III was praised for Reeve's performance of a corrupted version of the
Man of Steel (above), particularly the junkyard battle between this
newly darkened Superman and Clark Kent. One of the film's positive
reviews was from the fiction writer Donald Barthelme, who praised
Reeve as "perfect" and described Vaughn as "essentially
playing William Buckley - all those delicious ponderings, popping of
the eyes, licking of the corner of the mouth."
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