Superman II
1981 US theatrical release poster
Directed byRichard Lester[a]
Screenplay by
Story byMario Puzo
Based on
Produced byPierre Spengler
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byJohn Victor-Smith
Music byKen Thorne
  • Dovemead Ltd.
  • International Film Production
Distributed by
Release dates
  • December 4, 1980 (1980-12-04) (Australia)[3]
  • April 9, 1981 (1981-04-09) (United Kingdom)[4]
  • June 19, 1981 (1981-06-19) (United States)
Running time
127 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom[5]
United States[5]
Budget$54 million[6]
Box office$190.4 million[6]

Superman II is a 1980 superhero film directed by Richard Lester and written by Mario Puzo and David and Leslie Newman from a story by Puzo based on the DC Comics character Superman.[7][8][9] It is the second installment in the Superman film series and a sequel to Superman (1978). A direct continuation of the first Superman, Christopher Reeve reprises his role as Superman. The returning cast includes Gene Hackman, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, Marc McClure and Jack O'Halloran.

The film's plot features the arrival of General Zod & his comrades on Earth, released from the prison of the Phantom Zone made by the people of Krypton. Zod seeks revenge by pursuing the planet's last son Kal-El, alias Superman. Kal-El, who unknowingly freed them, must now face the threats of his long dead home planet. Zod also aligns with the returning Lex Luthor who still desires world domination. The hero is also in conflict with his duties as Earth's hero and desire to live amongst them solely as Clark Kent, especially with his love interest, Lois Lane.

In 1977, it was decided by producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind that they would film both Superman and its sequel simultaneously, with principal photography beginning in March 1977 and ending in October 1978. Tensions rose between original director Richard Donner and the producers in which a decision was made to stop filming the sequel, of which 75 percent had already been completed, and finish the first film. Following the release of Superman in December 1978, Donner was controversially fired as director, and was replaced by Lester. Several members of the cast and crew declined to return in the wake of Donner's firing. To be officially credited as the director, Lester re-shot most of the film in which principal photography resumed in September 1979 and ended in March 1980.

The film was released in Australia and mainland Europe on December 4, 1980,[3] and in other countries throughout 1981. It received positive reviews from film critics who praised the performances of Reeve, Stamp, and Hackman, the visual effects, and the humor. It grossed $190 million against a production budget of $54 million, a box office success but less than its predecessor. A sequel, Superman III, was released in June 1983, for which Lester returned as director.

A director's cut of the film, restoring the original vision for the film under Donner's supervision, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released on November 28, 2006 in various home media formats.


The following synopsis reflects the original theatrical version of the film.

Before the destruction of Krypton,[b] the criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non are sentenced to banishment into the Phantom Zone. Years later, the Phantom Zone is shattered near Earth by the shockwave of a hydrogen bomb, thrown from Earth by Superman. The three criminals are freed and find themselves with superpowers granted by the yellow light of the Sun. After landing on the Moon and effortlessly killing a team of astronauts exploring there, they continue toward Earth with plans to conquer the planet.

The Daily Planet sends journalist Clark Kent—whose secret identity is Superman—and his colleague Lois Lane to Niagara Falls. Lois suspects Clark and Superman are the same person after Clark is absent when Superman saves a child. Lois intentionally places herself in the falls, but Clark saves her without exposing himself. That night, Clark trips, and his hand lands in a lit fireplace. When Lois sees that his hand is unscathed, Clark reveals that he is indeed Superman. He takes her to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, showing her the traces of his past stored within energy crystals. Superman declares his love for Lois and his wish to spend his life with her. After conferring with the artificial intelligence of his mother Lara, Superman removes his superpowers by exposing himself to red Kryptonian sunlight in a crystal chamber, becoming a mortal. Clark and Lois spend the night together, then leave the Fortress and return from the Arctic.

Meanwhile, Zod and his cohorts travel to the White House and force the President of the United States to surrender. Clark and Lois arrive at a diner, where a trucker named Rocky sexually harasses Lois and beats up Clark. The fight is interrupted by a news report where the President resigns his office to Zod. When the President pleads for Superman to save the Earth, General Zod demands that Superman "kneel before Zod!" Realizing he has made a horrible mistake, Clark returns to the Fortress to see if he can regain his powers.

Lex Luthor escapes from prison with Eve Teschmacher's help. They infiltrate the Fortress of Solitude, and Luthor learns of Superman's connection to Jor-El and General Zod. He finds Zod at the White House and tells him Superman is the son of Jor-El, their jailer, and offers to lead him to Superman in exchange for control of Australia. The three Kryptonians ally with Luthor and go to the Daily Planet. Superman arrives, after restoring his powers, and battles the three. Zod realizes that Superman cares for the humans and takes advantage by threatening bystanders. Superman realizes the only way to stop Zod and the others is to lure them to the Fortress so he flies off with Zod, Ursa, and Non in pursuit, kidnapping Lois and taking along Luthor. Superman tries to get Luthor to lure the three into the crystal chamber to depower them. However, Luthor reveals the chamber's secret to the villains. Zod forces Superman into the chamber and activates it. Afterwards, assuming him deprived of his powers, Zod tells Superman to kneel and kiss his hand; instead, Superman crushes Zod's hand and tosses him into a crevice. Luthor deduces that Superman reconfigured the chamber to expose the trio to red sunlight while Superman was protected from it. Non falls into another crevice when trying to fly over it, and Lois knocks Ursa into a third. Superman flies back to civilization, returning Lois home and leaving Lex stranded in the Fortress.

At the Daily Planet the following day, Clark kisses Lois, using his abilities to wipe her mind of the knowledge of her past few days. Later, he returns to the diner and gets revenge on Rocky. Superman restores the damage done by Zod, replacing the American flag atop the White House, and tells the President he will not abandon his duty again.


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.[10] Conversely, Donner used his cameo 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.[11]

Production history

See also: Superman (1978 film) § Production

Donner in 1979.
Lester in 1967.
Original director, Richard Donner (left, pictured in 1979) was fired during production in 1979 and was replaced by Richard Lester (right, pictured in 1967).

Original production

Principal photography for both Superman films began on March 28, 1977 at Pinewood Studios for the Krypton scenes, but by May 1977, production had run two weeks behind schedule.[12] It was reported that Donner had developed tensions with Alexander and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler concerning the escalating production budget and production schedule. Donner responded by claiming he was never given a budget.[13]

In July 1977, Richard Lester—who had previously directed The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) for the Salkinds—came onboard the project as an uncredited associate producer and intermediary on Superman to mediate the relationship between Donner and the Salkinds, who were no longer on speaking terms.[14] Prior to this, Lester had won a lawsuit against the Salkinds for money still owed to him from making the films, but the assets were held in legal entanglements in the Bahamas. The Salkinds then offered to compensate him if he would help on the Superman films, in which Lester became a second unit director where he and Donner formed an effective partnership.[15][16]

By October 1977, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, and Valerie Perrine had completed their scenes. They were all under contract to finish both pictures. Nevertheless, with months left of filming, the Salkinds had halted filming Superman II, of which Donner had shot 75 percent, to focus on finishing Superman.[17][18] During the pause in filming, the Salkinds agreed to a negative pickup deal with Warner Bros. Pictures, granting the studio rights to foreign distribution and television airings in exchange for more financing.[19]

Replacing Richard Donner

Following the release of Superman in December 1978, Spengler encountered Variety columnist Army Archerd at a Christmas party at which he confirmed that while there had been tension between him and Donner, he was proud of the film and looked forward to working with him on the sequel. Archerd then contacted Donner who responded "If he's on it—I'm not."[20] Two days after the first film's general release, Marlon Brando had sued the Salkinds for $50 million claiming he had never received his percentage of the film's gross and filed a restraining order to prevent the use of his likeness. While his restraining order request was thrown out, Brando received $15 million from the settlement.[21] Following this, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind announced that Marlon Brando's completed scenes for Superman II would be excised from the movie to avoid having to pay the actor the reported 11.75%[22] of gross U.S. box-office takings he was now demanding for his performance in the sequel. In addition to this, Ilya Salkind had also claimed Brando was removed due to creative differences, in which he suggested to his father: "What if it's the mother [instead]? She talks about love to her son. And it kind of made sense creatively....Jor-El had done his thing if you want."[23] Donner publicly lambasted this decision, in which he told Variety, "That means no games... They have to want me to do it. It has to be on my terms and I don't mean financially. I mean control."[24]

As Donner had become unavailable because he was promoting Superman in Europe, the Salkinds approached Guy Hamilton to take over directional reins for Superman II since Lester was filming Cuba (1979) at the time. However, Hamilton was unavailable, but by the time Superman II was ready to begin filming, Lester had completed Cuba and was available to direct.[25] Eventually, on March 15, 1979, the Salkinds decided to replace Donner with Richard Lester. Donner recalled, "One day, I got a telegram from them saying my services are no longer needed and that my dear friend Richard Lester would take over. To this day, I have not heard from them." Ilya Salkind countered, "Dick Donner said, 'I will do the second movie on my terms and without [Pierre] Spengler' ... Spengler was my friend since childhood and my father and I were very loyal guys. We said no, and it really boiled down to that."[26]

The decision to replace Donner was controversial amongst the cast and crew.[26] Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz was approached by Terry Semel, then a Warner Bros. vice president, to return for the sequel, but he declined out of loyalty to Donner. Mankiewicz recounted, "I have a lot of respect for [Lester]. Friendship is more important than anything. And Dick [Donner] brought me on the picture and my loyalty was with Dick and I couldn't believe that they fired him."[27][28] Editor Stuart Baird also declined to return for the sequel. Gene Hackman declined to return for re-shoots, which necessitated the need for a stand-in actor and a voice double for several scenes.[29]

Production under Richard Lester

To replace Mankiewicz, Superman co-screenwriters David and Leslie Newman were then brought back to re-tool the script constructing a new opening and ending. The new script featured newly conceived scenes such as a new opening involving Superman thwarting the nuclear terrorists at the Eiffel Tower, Clark rescuing Lois at Niagara Falls, and a new ending in which Clark causes Lois to forget his secret identity through a hypnotic kiss.[29] Furthermore, cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth had died before the release of Superman. Now director, Lester was not sympathetic to Donner's filmmaking style: "Donner was emphasizing a kind of grandiose myth. There was a kind of David Lean-ish attempt in several sequences, and enormous scale. There was a type of epic quality which isn't in my nature, so my work really didn't embrace that...That's not me. That's his vision of it. I'm more quirky and I play around with slightly more unexpected silliness."[30] Lester then brought on cinematographer Robert Paynter to have the film evoke the garish color scheme of the comics.[31] Another replacement happened when set designer John Barry suddenly collapsed on the nearby set of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and died from meningitis. Peter Murton was then hired in Barry's place.

Before filming was to begin, Christopher Reeve was initially unavailable as he had agreed to star in the film Somewhere in Time, five months into the production shutdown by which time his contract to shoot both Superman films back-to-back had expired. Reeve had claimed that twelve hours after his casting was announced, he received a letter from the producers to be available for Superman II on July 16, which was only five days after he was to finish filming Somewhere in Time.[32] In March 1979, the Salkinds filed suit against Reeve alleging he had breached his contract by walking off the sequel.[33] Furthermore, Reeve had reservations with Lester and the Newmans' script following the departure of Donner. During the renegotiation of his contract, Reeve agreed to the financial terms, but demanded more artistic control.[34]

Filming for Superman II re-commenced in September 1979[35] at Pinewood Studios. The remaining sequences left to be shot included the scenes of the super-villains in Midwest America and the battle in Metropolis. With Brando cut from the film, the decision was made to re-shoot the scene in which Clark confesses his love for Lois and surrender his powers. Another scene, as written in the film's original shooting script and shot, was to have Jor-El restore his superpowers by reaching out to him in a tableau reminiscent of the painting The Creation of Adam, but the younger Salkind felt it was over the top.[23] The first scene was re-shot with actress Susannah York taking Brando's place while the restoration of Superman's powers would take place off-screen.[29] Location shooting took place in Canada, Paris, Norway and Saint Lucia. The Metropolis scenes—in contrast to the first film where they were filmed on location in New York—were filmed entirely on the back lot at Pinewood. The East Houston, Idaho scenes were shot on Chobham Common in Surrey, 30 miles from London. Throughout filming, Lester opted to retain his directorial technique for the three-camera setup while shooting scenes, which frustrated the actors as they did not know from where they were being filmed for their close-ups.[31] However, Reeve noted that it made the production move at a faster pace.[36] Filming was completed on March 10, 1980.[37]

Due to budgetary reasons and actors being unavailable, key scenes filmed by Donner were added to the final film. Since the Lester footage was shot two years later, continuity errors are present in the physique and styling of stars Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. In Donner's footage, Reeve appears less bulked 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. 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 thinner.

Before the film's release, Warner Bros. had appealed to the Directors Guild of America to arbitrate the appropriate co-director credit, in which they argued Lester could not be credited unless he shot 40 percent of the film. Although Lester had earlier thought he would not be credited, he approached Donner to see if he wished to be credited as co-director. Donner replied, "I don't share credit".[1][2]


Main article: Superman music

Composer John Williams was originally slated to score Superman II, whereby he was given a screening with Ilya Salkind and Richard Lester. When Salkind left the projection room, Williams and Lester fell into an argument; when Salkind returned, Williams told him that he "could not get along with this man." To take his place, Richard Lester's frequent composer Ken Thorne was selected to score the sequel.[37][38][39] Thorne wrote minimal original material and adapted source music, such as Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces," which appears both in the restaurant in Idaho and during Clark's second encounter with Rocky in the Alaska diner. The music was performed at the CTS Studios, Wembley, London in the Spring of 1980 by a studio session orchestra (rather than the London Symphony Orchestra, which had played for the first film). The soundtrack was released on Warner Bros. Records, with one edition featuring laser-etched "S" designs repeated five times on each side.[40]

A complete score was released in 2008, as part of Superman: The Music--1978-1988, an 8-CD box set released by Film Score Monthly, with a limited edition of 6,000 units.

As part of Superman's 80th anniversary, La-La Land Records released Thorne's expanded orchestral scores for the second and third film into the expanded archival collection in October 2018.[41]


During a preview of the finished film, Warner Bros. executives had hoped to maximize its box office returns by releasing the film in every part of the world during their peak movie-going period. The film premiered in Australia on Thursday, December 4, 1980, and opened at the weekend in South Africa, followed by France on December 10 with Christmastime releases in Italy and Spain.[42] The film opened in the United Kingdom and West Germany in Easter 1981.[43] On June 1, 1981, the film premiered at the National Theater in New York City, and received its general release in 1,354 theaters in the United States and Canada on June 19—six months after its release in other parts of the world.[37]


To promote the film, The New York Times reported that Warner Bros. had licensees for 34 products including posters, Pepsi-Cola, pajamas, and T-shirts with Superman carrying the American flag. They had also enlisted their publishing division to produce calendars, pop-up books, a film novelization, a behind-the-scenes book, and a children's dictionary.[43]

Before production on Superman II resumed in 1979, the Philip Morris Company had paid $40,000 (£30,570) for their Marlboro cigarette to appear in the film.[44] Lois Lane was shown as a chain smoker in the film, although she never smoked in the comic book.[45] During the Metropolis battle, General Zod throws Superman into a Marlboro delivery truck, although actual vehicles for tobacco distribution are unmarked for security reasons.[46] This led to a congressional investigation.[47][48]


Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Superman II has an approval rating of 83% based on 58 reviews, with an average rating of 7.4/10. The site's critics consensus reads, "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."[49] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 83 out of 100, based on 16 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[50]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, who gave the original film very high acclaim,[51] also praised Superman II, giving it four out of four stars. He wrote in his review, "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?"[52] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded three-and-a-half out of four stars[53] and declared it "better than the original."[54] Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times called it "the most interesting 'Superman' yet," adding, "This film's fun comes from character, dialogue and performance, not effects. There are, of course, enough effects to fill a dozen Saturday matinee serials but they aren't necessarily the film's deliciousness."[55]

Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote that "Superman II is a marvelous toy. It's funny, it's full of tricks and it manages to be royally entertaining, which is really all it aims for." She also praised the performances of Reeve and Hackman and found the directing style between Donner and Lester to be indistinguishable.[56] Similarly, David Denby, reviewing for the New York magazine, praised the film's light approach and Hackman's performance.[57][58] Christopher John, reviewing the film in Ares Magazine, commented that "Superman II falls into the category of sequels containing such films as Jaws II – highly absorbing and entertaining, yet better films only if you never saw the original."[59]

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.[60] Pop culture website IGN placed General Zod at No. 30 on their list of the 'Top 50 Comic Book Villains' while commenting "Stamp is Zod" (emphasis in original).[61]

Box office

The film opened on 19 screens in Australia and grossed A$287,072 in its first four days.[62] On its opening weekend in the United States and Canada, Superman II broke box office records with a first day gross of $4.3 million.[63] The next day, it grossed $5.5 million, which at the time was the highest-single box office day, surpassing the record previously set by Star Wars (1977) with $4.5 million.[63] It also recorded the highest-grossing weekend up to that time with $14.1 million,[64][65] surpassing the record $11.9 million set by Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)[63] and the $13.1 million 4-day weekend set by Superman in its third weekend.[66]

The film remained number one for the next three weekends, outpacing Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Raiders eventually overtook it and returned to number one in its sixth week of release.[67] In its first month of release, Superman II had grossed $75 million,[67] and went on to gross $108.2 million in the United States and Canada (with the gross rental coming to $65 million), the third highest-grossing film of 1981.[68][69] Internationally, it grossed $82.2 million for a worldwide total of $190.4 million.[6]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient Result
1982 Saturn Awards Best Science Fiction Film Superman II Won
Best Actor Christopher Reeve Nominated
Best Actress Margot Kidder Nominated
Best Music Ken Thorne Nominated

Broadcast television versions

As with the first film, Alexander and Ilya Salkind prepared a version for worldwide television release that re-inserted unused footage (in this case 24 minutes) into the film. It was through this extended version that viewers first caught a glimpse into the Superman II that might have happened had Richard Donner remained as director. In fact, a majority of the added footage was shot by Donner before Richard Lester became director.

17 of the 24 added minutes were utilized by ABC for its 1984 network premiere. Subsequent ABC airings of the longer version would be cut further for more advertising time. The full 146-minute extended cut was shown internationally, including parts of Canada.

Additional footage

The added footage offers an alternative ending to the film. In the theatrical cut, it is implied that Superman has killed the three Kryptonian villains (going against the strict code that Superman does not kill). In the extended ending, a U.S. "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor, after which Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroys the Fortress of Solitude.

Among the other "lost" scenes:

Some telecast versions remove the following for content:

Among the footage seen in the international/Canadian telecasts:

In 2004, the fan-restored DVD known as Superman II: Restored International Cut was released through many Superman fan sites.[70] It featured extended scenes pulled from international television broadcasts over the years. Warner Bros. threatened legal action over the bootleg release.[71][72]

The Richard Donner Cut

Main article: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

During the production of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. acquired the rights from Marlon Brando's estate to use the late actor's footage from Superman in the film.[73] 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.[74] 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 28, 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.

In other media





  1. ^ Richard Donner, the film's original director, was fired from the film in March 1979 after 75 percent of it had already been filmed. Lester took over directing duties and, as he could not be credited according to the Directors Guild of America unless he shot 40 percent of the film, re-shot most of the film.[1][2]
  2. ^ As depicted in the 1978 film Superman.


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