First I was on a Batman movie kick (more on that later), then I got on a Superman movie kick. So here’s the rundown on all of the live-action movies and my not-so-quick thoughts…Superman: The Movie (1978)
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980)
Superman Returns (2006)
Warner Bros. Pictures
I’d never owned the first two Christopher Reeve movies and had Superman Returns on DVD. When I decided I wanted to re-watch all of the live-action Superman movies, I couldn’t pass up getting this Blu-ray triple feature for only $10 on Amazon.
It had been an extremely long time since I’d seen Superman: The Movie and Superman II. I don’t think I’ve watched either in full in over 20 years. I remembered bits and pieces of them (mostly from the sequel) though. I think the first two Reeve movies had a great style to them. It really felt like a comic book come to life and the movies seemed to take a lot of inspiration from Superman’s 1950’s and 1960’s comic book appearances.
Though a bit on the slim side, Reeve was a great Superman/Clark Kent, Gene Hackman was a great Lex Luthor and Margot Kidder was surprisingly hot at times playing Lois Lane.
The Blu-ray I bought featured Richard Donner’s cut of Superman II, or as close as Warner Bros. could get to using the rest of the Donner footage that was cut from the film. Some of Donner’s shooting script was unfilmed. He was replaced by another director during shooting and alterations were made to the story.
I don’t think either of these movies are great, but they are worth watching at least once to see how superhero movies used to be. Looking back on them now, they feel more like campy made-for-TV movies because it doesn’t feel like a whole lot actually happens and Luthor’s plans in the first movie seem so ridiculous and flimsy.
Superman Returns was the much awaited return to the big screen for the Man of Steel. I remember being very excited to see this movie when it came out and walking away mildly disappointed after seeing it. I was never a fan of Bryan Singer trying to make this movie a pseudo-sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve movies and didn’t like the fact that the movie begins with Superman returning after a five year absence from earth. It never made sense to me that Superman would leave Lois behind for that long.
I didn’t care for the casting of Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane but Brandon Routh as Superman and Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor were great choices. But, this is third movie in a row (since Singer’s take on Superman does not acknowledge Superman III or Superman IV: The Quest for Peace) where Superman loses his powers and gets beat up for awhile. They really couldn’t have come up with something else? At least Man of Steel gave us a Superman movie with some real knockdown dragout fully-powered fights. Yes, Superman II had some fight scenes but they were done at a slow pace.
(1983, Warner Bros. Pictures)
I know I’ve seen this movie before but, again, didn’t remember much about it. It has a much different feel from the first two movies in that, well, it’s an action-comedy really. There’s all kinds of slapstick going on here, especially during the film’s opening moments. It’s kinda weird to see after watching the first two movies. Even the movie’s poster lets you know there’s going to be a lot of comedy with a terrified Richard Pryor front and center.
But, hey, at least we get to see Lana Lang played by the gorgeous Annette O’Toole (Margot Kidder as Lois Lane is restricted to a cameo at the beginning and end of the movie) and Reeve does a great job playing a self-loathing and selfish version of Superman after his personality becomes affected by some tampered Kryptonite.
I just really don’t understand the need for Richard Pryor as comic relief. The first two movies did have some comedy bits, but this was too much. And the plot is a bit boring because Superman once again finds himself battling an evil billionaire. This time it’s Ross Webster (a character created for this movie), a very obvious stand-in for Lex Luthor. Luthor was originally slated to be in this movie but Gene Hackman wanted no part of it.
The movie is better than what it’s reputation would suggest but it definitely starts a sharp decline for the series. At least there’s some nice special effects and cool set design at the end though.
I’d like to own this one on Blu-ray, but it’s out of print and is something like $30-40 these days online. Same with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, so I turned to Netflix to rent a DVD copy. I now see that Amazon has the entirety of the Reeve/Routh series on Blu-ray in a box set for only $25. That’s disappointing since I spent $19 for the triple feature and Man of Steel just a few weeks ago. Pretty sure that box set had a higher price at the time when I was looking to buy the movies.
Here’s two much cooler foreign posters for the movie:
Interesting that Warner Bros. let the rights to Supergirl go over to Tri-Star. You wouldn’t see that today unless it’s already a long-standing deal (Spidey/FF at Sony, X-Men at Fox) Warner has since bought the rights to the movie and have released a DVD but they’ve never included it in any of the Superman box sets. The film is considered canon and was a spin-off.
Christopher Reeve was set to appear but couldn’t due to scheduling issues although you do get to see a poster of him dressed as Superman. You also hear a radio in the background mention that Superman is on a peace-keeping mission on some other planet so that helps explains his absence here.
This one didn’t learn its lessons from Superman III as it uses some comedy also and treats its villains like bumbling fools.
There’s also a few things that don’t make sense. There’s apparently an entire population of Kyptonians living somewhere else in the universe that knows what happened to Krypton and about Superman but they’ve never interacted with him? Or they have, but the previous movies have never mentioned it or shown it? Supergirl appears on Earth and announces she’s Superman’s cousin and she apparently knows his secret identity as Clark Kent and it’s all presented very matter-of-factly with no backstory.
Again, a villain is created specifically for the movie. Supergirl battles a witch named Selena (Faye Dunaway).
This one ranks slightly below Superman III, thus making it the worst movie of the series, IMO. Kinda boring and very silly movie but at least Helen Slater looked hot as Supergirl and Faye Dunaway was a complete MILF.
Alexander & Ilya Salkind held the rights to produce Superman movies and produced the first three (and Supergirl) but after the failure of the last two movies in the franchise, they sold the rights to Menaham Golan & Yoram Globus of Cannon Films, who then partnered with Warner Bros. for a fourth movie starring Superman.
Critics and moviegoers alike were less kind to this film than they were to any previous with the film’s low-budget being harped on by many people. Gene Hackman returned as Lex Luthor. I guess he needed the money? Lex uses DNA from Superman to create a super-powered villain and what we get is the Nuclear Man who derives his powers from direct sunlight. At least this movie got one thing right in having Superman physically fight someone on his power level.
I don’t think the movie is too bad. It dates itself by dealing with nukes but they tried to set things right by going back to the classic Superman theme/credits intro and by bringing Lex Luthor back. Instead of Nuclear Man, I’d rather Lex created Bizarro Superman.
This has been called one of the worst movies of all time but that’s going way too far. It lacks the charm and magic of the first two movies but it’s about on par with Superman III. At least it’s not trying to be an action-comedy.
Good movie that shows a prequel featuring Krypton would be quite cool. The film was a bit slow and Superman was too brooding for my tastes though. I had more to say about this movie here.
Overall, Superman has not had the star treatment or care at the movies that Batman has had. The first two movies are considered classics, the rest of the ’80s Superman movies are considered trash, Superman Returns is viewed as a disappointment and Man of Steel generally received good reviews but had its critics as well.
All of these movies are enjoyable in their own way as long as you know the context of them. If I had to rank them…
1. Superman II
2. Man of Steel
3. Superman: The Movie
4. Superman Returns
5. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
6. Superman III
And for the record, I think all three actors (Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill) did a great job as Superman. Reeve captured the charm and essence of Superman the best but Cavill was the closest physical match.
So that’s it! One very long post that took me about 3 weeks to complete as I slowly made my way through re-watching all of these movies! Next up — Batman!