The fictional character Superman, a comic book superhero featured in DC Comics publications, has appeared in various films since his inception. After being introduced to cinemas in first a series of animated cartoon shorts in 1941, and two serials in 1948 and 1950, the first Superman feature film, Superman and the Mole Men, was released in 1951.

Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler purchased the Superman film rights in 1974. After numerous scripts, Richard Donner was hired to direct the film, filming Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) simultaneously. Donner had already shot 80% of Superman II before it was decided to finish shooting the first film. The Salkinds fired Donner after Superman's release, and commissioned Richard Lester as the director to finish Superman II. Lester also returned for Superman III (1983), and the Salkinds further produced the 1984 spin-off Supergirl before selling the rights to Cannon Films, resulting in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). With over 15 years of development for a fifth Superman film, Superman Returns, an alternate sequel to Superman and Superman II directed by Bryan Singer, was released in 2006, along with Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. Despite the disappointing financial results of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. rebooted the film series, giving it a summer release in June of 2013. Zack Snyder directed the movie, titled Man of Steel, with David S. Goyer writing and Christopher Nolan producing.

Paramount cartoon shorts

Superman first appeared in cinemas in a series of ten-minute animated short films released by Paramount Pictures. Seventeen Superman cartoons were produced between 1941 and 1943, nine produced by Fleischer Studios and eight more by its successor, Famous Studios.

Film serials

The first appearances of Superman in live-action film were in two serials for Columbia Pictures: Superman in 1948 and Atom Man vs. Superman in 1950, both starring Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill.

Superman and the Mole Men (1951)

Main article: Superman and the Mole Men

Superman and the Mole Men is a 1951 superhero film starring George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. The film was produced by Barney Sarecky and directed by Lee Sholem with the original screenplay by Richard Fielding (a pseudonym for Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth), it was shot in 12 days on a studio backlot. Fifty-eight minutes long, it served as a trial run for the syndicated TV series Adventures of Superman, for which it became a two-part episode titled "The Unknown People".[citation needed]

Richard Donner series

Superman (1978)

Main article: Superman (film)

In 1973, producer Ilya Salkind convinced his father Alexander to buy the rights to Superman. They hired Mario Puzo to pen a two-film script, and negotiated with Steven Spielberg to direct, though Alexander Salkind rejected him as Jaws went over budget.[1] Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman signed on to play Jor-El and Lex Luthor respectively, and Guy Hamilton was hired to direct. However, Brando was faced with an obscenity lawsuit in Italy over Last Tango in Paris, and Hamilton was unable to shoot in England as he had violated his tax payments. The Salkinds hired Richard Donner to direct the film. Donner hired Tom Mankiewicz to polish the script, giving it a serious feel with Christ-like overtones.[2]

Christopher Reeve as Superman and Clark Kent

Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman, having initially failed to impress the Salkinds before bulking up.[1] Brando meanwhile, despite spending less than two weeks on the shoot,[1] and not even reading the script until then,[2] earned $3.7 million up front, plus 11.75% of the gross profits from the film.[1] The film was a success both critically and commercially, being released during the Christmas season of 1978; it did not have much competition, leading the producers to believe that this was one factor in the film's success.[3]

Superman II (1980)

Main articles: Superman II and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

Shooting of the two films was marred by Donner's bad relationship with the Salkinds, with Richard Lester acting as mediator.[2] With the film going over-budget, the filmmakers decided to temporarily cease production of II and move that film's climax into the first film.[1][2] Despite Superman's success, Donner did not return to finish Superman II,[2] and it was completed with Lester, who gave the film a more tongue-in-cheek tone. The Salkinds also cut Brando for financial reasons,[1] while John Williams quit as composer due to turning his attention to other projects.[1] Superman II was another financial and critical success, despite stiff competition with Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same year. In 2006, after receiving many requests for his own version of Superman II, Richard Donner and producer Michael Thau produced their own cut of the film and released it on November 28, 2006. The new version of the film received positive response from critics[4] and the stars of the original film.

Superman III (1983)

Main article: Superman III

For the third installment, Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment that expanded the film's scope to a cosmic scale, introducing the villains Brainiac and Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as Supergirl.[2] The original outline featured a father-daughter relationship between Brainiac and Supergirl, and a romance between Superman and Supergirl, even though the two are cousins in the comics.[5] Warner Bros. rejected it and created their own Superman III film that co-starred Richard Pryor as computer wizard Gus Gorman, who under the manipulation of a millionaire magnate, creates a form of Kryptonite that turns the Man of Steel into an evil self. The retooled script[2] pared Brainiac down into the film's evil "ultimate computer".[1] Despite the film's success, fans were disappointed with the film, in particular with Pryor's performance diluting the serious tone of the previous films, as well as controversy over the depiction of the evil Superman. Salkind's rejected proposal was later released online in 2007.[2]

Supergirl (1984)

Main article: Supergirl (film)

Upon gaining the rights for the film Superman, Alexander Salkind and his son, Ilya Salkind, also purchased the rights to the character of Superman's cousin Supergirl. Supergirl was released in 1984 as a spin-off of the Reeve films. It stars Helen Slater in her first motion picture in the title role. Faye Dunaway (who received top billing) played the primary villain, Selena. The movie also featured Marc McClure reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen. The movie performed poorly at the box office and failed to impress critics and audiences. Helen Slater, however, was nominated for a Saturn Award for her strong performance by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films. The film does contain some expansions on the Superman movie mythology, such as taking the viewer into the Phantom Zone itself (in the first two Superman films, it was merely represented by a spinning black pane of glass).[citation needed]

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Main article: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Cannon Films picked up an option for a fourth Superman/Reeve film, with Reeve reprising the role due to his interest in the film's topic regarding nuclear weapons. However, Cannon decided to cut the budget of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace from $35 million to $15 million, with poor special effects and heavy re-editing leading to the film's poor reception.[6] Warner Bros. decided to give the franchise a break following the negative reception of the last two Superman films.[2]

Superman Returns (2006)

Main article: Superman Returns

Following the departure of Ratner and McG, Bryan Singer, who was said to be a childhood fan of Richard Donner's film, was approached by Warner Bros. He accepted, abandoning two films already in pre-production, X-Men: The Last Stand (which, coincidentally, would come to be directed by Ratner) and a remake of Logan's Run. The film acts as an alternate sequel to Superman and Superman II,[7][8] ignoring the events of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.[7] Singer's story tells of Superman's return to Earth following a five-year search for survivors of Krypton. He discovers that in his absence Lois Lane has given birth to a son and become engaged. Singer chose to follow Donner's lead by casting relatively unknown Brandon Routh as Superman, who resembled Christopher Reeve somewhat, and more high profile actors in supporting roles, such as Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Singer brought his entire crew from X2 to work on the film. Via digitally-enhanced archive footage, the late Marlon Brando appeared in the film as Jor-El. Superman Returns received positive reviews and grossed approximately $391 million worldwide.

Man of Steel (2013)

Main article: Man of Steel (film)

In June 2008, Warner Bros. took pitches from comic book writers, screenwriters, and directors on how to restart the Superman film series.[9] During story discussions for The Dark Knight Rises in 2008, David S. Goyer, aware that Warner Bros. was planning a Superman reboot, told Christopher Nolan his idea on how to present Superman in a modern context. Impressed with Goyer's concept, Nolan pitched the idea to the studio in February 2010,[10] who hired Nolan to produce and Goyer to write[11] based on the financial and critical success of The Dark Knight.[12] Nolan admired Singer's work on Superman Returns for its connection to Richard Donner's version, and previously used the 1978 film as casting inspiration for Batman Begins. Zack Snyder was hired as the film's director in October 2010. Principal photography started in August 2011 in West Chicago, Illinois, before moving to Vancouver and Plano, Illinois. The film stars Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as General Zod, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El.


Upon legal victory to the rights of the Superman character in October 2012, Warner Bros. announced a planned 2015 release for their Justice League film.[13] It remains unknown at this point whether or not Henry Cavill is expected to reprise his role. During an interview with the New York Post in November 2012, director Zack Snyder stated, “I don’t know how ‘Justice League’ is going to be handled. Honestly, I don’t. But ‘The Man of Steel’ exists, and Superman is in it. I don’t know how you’d move forward without acknowledging that,” and claimed that Warner Bros. expects him to "keep them on course" as regards to a potential cinematic universe.[14][15]

According to several reports, David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder are set to write and direct a sequel to Man of Steel, respectively.[16][17] Christopher Nolan is also expected to return as producer, albeit in a lesser role than he had in this film.[18] On June 16, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that the studio is possibly planning to release the sequel in 2014.[19] Warner Bros. announced that Superman and Batman will unite in a new film which will be the follow-up to Man of Steel, set for release in 2015.[20][21] Goyer stated at the Superman 75th Anniversary Panel at 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International, that Batman and Superman would face off, and titles under consideration are Superman Vs Batman and Batman Vs Superman.[22] Production of the film will start filming in Toronto, Ontario instead of Vancouver in 2014.

On August 22, 2013, The Hollywood Reporter announced the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman/Bruce Wayne.

Abandoned projects

Before the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Cannon Films considered producing a fifth film with Albert Pyun as director. Cannon's bankruptcy resulted in the film rights reverting to Ilya and Alexander Salkind.[23] Ilya Salkind wrote the story for Superman V (also known as Superman: The New Movie) with Superboy writers Cary Bates and Mark Jones in the early-1990s.[1] The story had Superman dying and resurrecting in the shrunken, bottled Krypton city of Kandor. The premise of Superman's death and rebirth coincidentally predated "The Death of Superman". Salkind, Bates and Jones developed two drafts of the script, with Christopher Reeve set to reprise the title role.[1] After the release of Superman IV, several more Superman films were planned and subsequently cancelled. Most of the films followed the same basic script, intended to be an adaptation of a comic book story arc entitled "The Death and Return of Superman". Warner Brothers spent 17 years, three confirmed directors, nine screenwriters, and approximately $50 million in combined resources for the seven different films without any filming ever taking place.

Superman Reborn

"In any good Superman movie, the fate of the whole planet should be at stake. You've got to have villains whose powers and abilities demand that Superman (and only Superman) can be the one who stops them. That's the only way to make the movie exciting and a dramatic challenge."

—Writer Jonathan Lemkin on writing Superman Reborn[24]

With the success of "The Death of Superman" comic book storyline, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights of Superman from the Salkinds in early 1993, handing the project to producer Jon Peters. The studio did not want to use Superman: The New Movie, and Peters hired Jonathan Lemkin to write a new script. Warner Bros. instructed Lemkin to write the new Superman film for mainstream audiences, a style for the MTV Generation of the 1990s. The additional family film approach would add to Superman's toyetic appeal, similar to Batman Forever. Major toy companies insisted on seeing Lemkin's screenplay before the deadline of the American International Toy Fair.[24]

Lemkin's script, titled Superman Reborn, featured Lois Lane and Clark Kent with relationship troubles, and Superman's battle with Doomsday. When Superman professes his love to Lois, his life force jumps between them, just as he dies, giving Lois a virgin birth. Their child, who grows 21-years-old in three weeks, becomes the resurrected Superman, and saves the world. Warner Bros. did not like the script because of the similar underlying themes with Bruce Wayne's obligations of heroism found in Batman Forever.[25]

Peters hired Gregory Poirier to rewrite the script.[24] Poirer's December 1995 script had Brainiac creating Doomsday, infused with "Kryptonite blood". Superman has romance problems with Lois Lane, and visits a psychiatrist before he is killed by Doomsday. An alien named Cadmus, a victim of Brainiac, steals his corpse. Superman is resurrected and teams with Cadmus to defeat Brainiac. Powerless, Superman wears a robotic suit that mimics his old powers until he can learn to use his powers again on his own, which, according to the script, are a mental discipline called "Phin-yar", a concept similar to The Force. Other villains included Parasite and Silver Banshee.[23] Poirier's script impressed Warner Bros.,[25] but Kevin Smith was hired to rewrite.[26] Smith thought Poirier's script did not respect the Superman comic book properly.[24]

Superman Lives

Kevin Smith pitched Peters his story outline in August 1996, and was allowed to write the screenplay under certain conditions: Peters wanted Superman to wear an all-black suit,[24] and also did not want Superman to fly,[24] arguing that Superman would "look like an overgrown Boy Scout."[23] Smith wrote Superman flying as "a red-and-blue blur in flight, creating a sonic boom every time he flew."[27] Peters also wanted Superman to fight a giant spider for the climactic showdown. Smith accepted the terms, realizing that he was being hired to execute a preordained idea.[24] Peters and Warner Bros. also had Smith write a scene involving Brainiac fighting polar bears at the Fortress of Solitude, and Peters wanted Brainiac to give Lex Luthor a space dog, stating "Chewie's cuddly, man. You could make a toy out of him, so you've got to give me a dog."[26] Peters' additional Star Wars similarities were due to the recent rerelease of the original Star Wars trilogy, such as Peters' insistence that Brainiac's robot assistant L-Ron was to be voiced by Dwight Ewell, calling the character, "a gay R2-D2 with attitude."[26] Peters was able to recycle his giant spider idea in Wild Wild West, a film he produced.[24]

Smith's draft (titled Superman Lives) had Brainiac sending Doomsday to kill Superman, as well as blocking out the sun to make Superman powerless, as Superman is fueled by sunlight. Brainiac teams up with Lex Luthor, but Superman is resurrected by a Kryptonian robot, the Eradicator. Brainiac wishes to possess the Eradicator and its technology. Powerless, the resurrected Superman is sheathed in armor formed from the Eradicator itself until his powers return, courtesy of sunbeams, and defeats Brainiac.[27] Smith's casting choices included Ben Affleck as Clark Kent / Superman, Linda Fiorentino as Lois Lane, Jack Nicholson as Lex Luthor, Famke Janssen as Mercy, John Mahoney as Perry White, David Hyde Pierce as the Eradicator, Jason Lee as Brainiac and Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen.[28]

Robert Rodriguez was offered the chance to direct, but turned down the offer due to his commitment on The Faculty, despite liking Smith's script.[24] Smith originally suggested Tim Burton to direct his script,[26] and Burton signed on with a pay-or-play contract of $5 million. Warner Bros. set a theatrical release date in the summer of 1998, the 60th anniversary of the character's debut in Action Comics.[25] Nicolas Cage, a comic book fan, signed on as Superman with a $20 million pay-or-play contract, believing he could "re-conceive the character."[24] Peters felt Cage could "convince audiences he [Superman] came from outer space."[29] Burton explained Cage's casting would be "the first time you would believe that nobody could recognize Clark Kent as Superman, he [Cage] could physically change his persona."[30] Kevin Spacey was approached for the role of Lex Luthor,[30] while Tim Allen claimed he was in talks for Brainiac,[31] a role heavily considered for Jim Carrey.[26] Courteney Cox was reported as a casting possibility for Lois Lane, while Smith confirmed Chris Rock was set for Jimmy Olsen.[31] Michael Keaton confirmed his involvement, but when asked if he would be reprising his role as Batman from Burton's Batman films, he would only reply, "Not exactly."[32] Industrial Light & Magic was set for work on special effects.[24]

Filming was originally set to begin in early 1998.[33] In June 1997, Superman Lives entered pre-production,[24] with an art department employed under production designer Rick Heinrichs.[30] Burton hired Wesley Strick to rewrite Smith's script. Smith was disappointed, stating, "The studio was happy with what I was doing. Then Tim Burton got involved, and when he signed his pay-or-play deal, he turned around and said he wanted to do his version of Superman. So who is Warner Bros. going back to? The guy who made Clerks, or the guy who made them half a billion dollars on Batman?"[24] When Strick read Smith's script, he was annoyed with the fact that "Superman was accompanied/shadowed by someone/something called the Eradicator."[24] He also felt that "Brainiac's evil plot of launching a disk in space to block out the sun and make Superman powerless was reminiscent of an episode of The Simpsons, with Mr. Burns doing the Brainiac role."[24] However, after reading The Death and Return of Superman, Strick was able to understand some of the elements of Smith's script. Strick's rewrite featured Superman as an existentialist, thinking of himself to be an outsider on Earth. Superman is threatened by Brainiac and Lex Luthor, who later amalgamate into "Lexiac," described by Strick as "a schizo/scary mega-villain."[24] Superman is later resurrected by the power of 'K,' a natural force representing the spirit of Krypton, as he defeats Lexiac.[24]

Art designer Sylvain Despretz claimed the art department was assigned to create something that had little or nothing to do with the Superman comic book, and also explained that Peters "would bring kids in, who would rate the drawings on the wall as if they were evaluating the toy possibilities. It was basically a toy show!"[24] Peters saw a cover of National Geographic, containing a picture of a skull, going to art department workers, telling them he wanted the design for Brainiac's space ship to have the same image. Burton gave Despretz a concept drawing for Brainiac, which Despretz claims was "a cone with a round ball on top, and something that looked like an emaciated skull inside. Imagine you take Merlin's hat, and you stick a fish bowl on top, with a skull in it."[24] Concept artist Rolf Mohr said in an interview he designed a suit for the Eradicator for a planned scene in which it transforms into a flying vehicle.[34]

"We got the Kevin Smith script, but we were told not to read it, because they knew he wasn't going to stay on the movie. So we used Kevin Smith's script as a guide to the sets we might be doing, and we waited and waited for the new script to come in, but it never did."

—Art designer Sylvain Despretz on designing Superman Lives[24]

Burton chose Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as his primary filming location for Metropolis,[24] while sound stages were reserved[24] but start dates for filming were pushed back.[25] A minor piece of the Krypton set was constructed but then destroyed, and Cage had even attended a costume fitting.[35] The studio was also considering changing the title Superman Lives back to Superman Reborn.[36] Deeming Wesley Strick's script too expensive, Warner Bros. enlisted the help of Dan Gilroy to rewrite it into something more economically feasible. Gilroy lowered the $190 million budget set by Strick's draft to $100 million. However, the studio was still less willing to fast track production, due to financial reasons with other film properties,[37] having Gilroy turn in two drafts.[38] Ultimately, Warner Bros. chose to put the film on hold in April 1998, and Burton left to direct Sleepy Hollow.[25] At this point in production, $30 million was spent, with nothing to show for it.[24] Burton, citing various differences with Peters and the studio, said, "I basically wasted a year. A year is a long time to be working with somebody that you don't really want to be working with."[39]

Disappointed by the lack of progress on the film's production, aspiring screenwriter/comic book fan Alex Ford was able to have a script of his (titled Superman: The Man of Steel) accepted at the studio's offices in September 1998. Ford pitched his idea for a film series consisting of seven installments, and his approach impressed Warner Bros. and Peters, though he was later given a farewell due to creative differences.[23] Ford said, "I can tell you they don't know much about comics. Their audience isn't you and me who pay $7.00. It's for the parents who spend $60 on toys and lunchboxes. It is a business, and what's more important, the $150 million at the box office or the $600 million in merchandising?"[38]

With Gilroy's script, Peters offered the director's position to Ralph Zondag,[24] Michael Bay, Shekhar Kapur and Martin Campbell though they all turned down the offer.[23] Brett Ratner turned down the option in favor of The Family Man.[40] Simon West and Stephen Norrington were reportedly top contenders as well.[41] In June 1999, William Wisher Jr. was hired to write a new script, and Nicolas Cage assisted on story elements.[42] Cage dropped out of the project in June 2000,[43] while Wisher turned in a new script in August 2000, reported to have contained similar elements with The Matrix.[23] In October 2000, veteran comic book creator Keith Giffen pitched a 17-page story treatment with Lobo as the antagonist, but the studio did not proceed.[24] Oliver Stone was then approached to direct Wisher's script, but declined,[23] while in April 2001, Paul Attanasio was hired to start on a new script, earning a salary of $1.7 million.[24] Peters offered Will Smith the role of Superman, but the actor turned it down over ethnicity concerns.[44]

Batman vs. Superman (Canceled)

Although it was widely reported that McG had become attached to Attanasio's script, in February 2002, J. J. Abrams was hired to write a new screenplay. It would ignore "The Death of Superman" storyline, and instead, it would reboot the film series with an origin story,[45] going under the title of Superman: Flyby.[23] The project had gone as far as being greenlit, but McG dropped out in favor of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.[46] The studio approached Wolfgang Petersen to direct Abrams' script;[47] however, in August 2001,[48] Andrew Kevin Walker pitched Warner Bros. an idea titled Batman vs. Superman, attaching Petersen as director. Abrams' script was put on hold,[47] while Akiva Goldsman was hired to rewrite Walker's draft which was codenamed Asylum.[49]

Goldsman's draft, dated June 21, 2002, introduced Bruce Wayne attempting to shake all of the demons in his life after his five-year retirement of crimefighting. Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon are all dead. Meanwhile, Clark Kent is down on his luck and in despair after his divorce from Lois Lane. Clark serves as Bruce's best man at his wedding to the beautiful and lovely Elizabeth Miller. After Elizabeth is killed by the Joker at the honeymoon, Bruce is forced to don the Batsuit once more, tangling a plot which involves Lex Luthor, while Clark begins a romance with Lana Lang in Smallville and tries to pull Bruce back. In return, Bruce blames Clark for her death, and the two go against one another. Part of the script took place in Smallville, where Clark goes into exile with Lana Lang. However, Lex Luthor is held to be responsible for the entire plot of Batman and Superman destroying each other. The two decide to team up and stop Luthor.[50] Christian Bale, who would play the character in Christopher Nolan's Batman film trilogy, was simultaneously approached to portray Batman for Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One,[51] while Josh Hartnett was offered the role of Superman.[46]

Filming was to start in early 2003, with plans for a five- to six-month shoot. The release date was set for the summer of 2004.[52] However, Warner Bros. canceled development to focus on individual Superman and Batman projects after Abrams submitted another draft for Superman: Flyby.[49] According to Petersen "[Warner Bros.' chief] Alan Horn was so torn, because it's such a fascinating concept to do a Batman versus Superman film."[53] Petersen still has expressed interest in directing Batman vs. Superman sometime in the future (with Bale as Batman),[54] as has Bryan Singer.[55] In the opening scene of I Am Legend, a large banner displays the Superman symbol within the Batman symbol in Times Square. It is meant as an in-joke by writer Akiva Goldsman, who wrote scripts for Batman vs. Superman and I Am Legend.[56]

Superman: Flyby

Turning in his script in July 2002, J. J. Abrams' Superman: Flyby was an origin story that included Krypton besieged by a civil war between Jor-El and his corrupt brother, Kata-Zor. Before Kata-Zor sentences Jor-El to prison, Kal-El is launched to Earth to fulfill a prophecy. Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he forms a romance with Lois Lane in the Daily Planet. However, Lois is more concerned with exposing Lex Luthor, written as a government agent obsessed with UFO phenomena. Clark reveals himself to the world as Superman, bringing Kata-Zor's son, Ty-Zor, and three other Kryptonians to Earth. Superman is defeated and killed, and visits Jor-El (who committed suicide on Krypton while in prison) in Kryptonian heaven. Resurrected, he returns to Earth and defeats the four Kryptonians, while the script ends with Superman off to Krypton, leaving a cliffhanger for a sequel.[23]

Brett Ratner was hired to direct in September 2002, originally expressing an interest in casting an unknown for the lead role, while filming was to start sometime in late 2003.[57] Ratner approached Josh Hartnett and Jude Law as Superman, but conceded that finding a famous actor for the title role had proven difficult because of contractual obligations to appear in sequels. "No star wants to sign that, but as much as I've told Jude and Josh my vision for the movie, I've warned them of the consequences of being Superman. They'll live this character for 10 years because I'm telling one story over three movies and plan to direct all three if the first is as successful as everyone suspects."[58] Hartnett was offered $100 million for a three-picture deal, but turned down the offer.[59] Although Superman: Flyby was being met with a budget exceeding $200 million (not including money spent on Superman Reborn, Superman Lives, and Batman vs. Superman), the studio was still adamant for a summer 2004 release date.[46] Christopher Walken was in negotiations for Perry White, while Ratner expressed an interest in casting Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El, and Ralph Fiennes as Lex Luthor (two of his cast members in Red Dragon).[60][61]

Christopher Reeve was to be a project consultant, citing Tom Welling, who portrayed the teenage Clark Kent in Smallville as an ideal candidate. Reeve added "the character is more important than the actor who plays him, because it is an enduring mythology. It definitely should be an unknown."[62] In addition Paul Walker was offered the role,[23] while Ashton Kutcher screen tested[58] and Brendan Fraser and Matthew Bomer auditioned.[46] Kutcher decided not to accept the role, citing scheduling conflicts with That '70s Show and the Superman curse, as well as typecasting.[63] Jerry O'Connell expressed interest for the role,[63] while David Boreanaz auditioned, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts with Angel.[64] Victor Webster did an entire screentest that included wardrobe as both Clark Kent and Superman,[64] while James Marsden met with director Brett Ratner.[64][65] Joel Edgerton (who turned down the chance to audition as Superman) auditioned for Ty-Zor, before Ratner dropped out of the project in March 2003, blaming casting difficulties,[66] and violent disagreements with Jon Peters.[67]

McG returned as director, while Fraser expressed interest, but had fears of typecasting.[68] Selma Blair was in talks for Lois Lane,[69] while ESC Entertainment was hired for visual effects work, with Kim Libreri as visual effects supervisor and Stan Winston designing a certain "prototype suit".[70] McG approached Shia LaBeouf for Jimmy Olsen, with an interest to cast an unknown for Superman, Scarlett Johansson as Lois Lane and Johnny Depp for Lex Luthor.[71] Neal H. Moritz and Gilbert Adler were set to produce the film. McG also commissioned Josh Schwartz to rewrite the Abrams script. He wanted to shoot in Canada, which would have cost $25 million more than WB's preferred Australian locale. McG also shot test footage with several candidates, including Jason Behr, Henry Cavill, Jared Padalecki[59] and Michael Cassidy[72] before dropping, blaming budgetary concerns and filming locations. He opted to shoot in New York City and Canada, but Warner Bros. wanted Sydney, Australia. McG felt "it was inappropriate to try to capture the heart of America on another continent."[73] He later admitted it was his fear of flying.[74] Abrams lobbied for the chance to direct his script,[75] but Warner Bros. replaced McG with Bryan Singer in July 2004, resulting in Superman Returns.[76]

Superman Returns proposed sequel

In February 2006, four months before the release of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. announced a mid-2009 theatrical release date for a sequel, with Bryan Singer reprising his directing duties.[77] Brandon Routh,[78] Kate Bosworth,[79] Kevin Spacey,[80] Sam Huntington,[81] Frank Langella,[82] and Tristan Lake Leabu were to reprise their roles.[83] Due to his commitment, Singer dropped out of directing a remake of Logan's Run and an adaptation of The Mayor of Castro Street.[84] Writer Michael Dougherty wanted the sequel to be "action packed", featuring "other Kryptonians"[85] with Brainiac[86] and Bizarro also considered for primary villains.[83] The "New Krypton" landmass floating in space at the end of Superman Returns would have served as a plot device.[87] Although Superman Returns received mostly positive reviews, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures were disappointed by the film's box office return.[88] Warner Bros. President Alan F. Horn explained that Superman Returns was a very successful film, but that it "should have done $500 million worldwide. We should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd."[89] Singer reacted incredulously to the studio complaints, saying, "That movie made $400 million! I don't know what constitutes under-performing these days ..."[90] $175 million was the maximum budget Warner Bros. was projecting for the sequel, as Superman Returns cost $209 million.[91][92]

Filming for the Superman Returns sequel was to start in mid-2007,[93] before Singer halted development in favor of Valkyrie.[94] Filming was then pushed to March 2008,[95] but writers Dougherty and Dan Harris left in favor of other career opportunities.[96] The 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike pushed the release date to 2010.[97] Singer still listed the sequel as a priority in March 2008, saying that the film was in early development.[90] Routh expected filming to begin in early 2009.[98] Paul Levitz, president of DC Comics, expected Routh to reprise the title role from Superman Returns[78] before his contract for a sequel expired in 2009.[99] However, with Warner Bros. deciding to reboot the film series, Singer dropped out in favor of directing Jack the Giant Killer, and a film adaptation of Battlestar Galactica.[100] "Superman Returns didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to," Warner Bros. President of Production Jeff Robinov reflected in August 2008. "It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned. Had Superman worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009. Now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all."[12]


Recurring characters

Character Film
Superman Superman II Superman III Superman IV:
The Quest for Peace
Superman Returns Man of Steel Untitled Man Of Steel sequel
Clark Kent/
Christopher Reeve
Jeff East (young)
Lee Quigley (baby Kal-El)
Aaron Smolinski (baby Clark Kent)
Elizabeth Sweetman (uncredited; infant in escape pod)
Christopher Reeve Brandon Routh
Stephan Bender (teenage Clark Kent)
Henry Cavill
Dylan Sprayberry (age 13)
Cooper Timberline (age 9)
Henry Cavill
Lois Lane Margot Kidder Kate Bosworth Amy Adams
Lex Luthor Gene Hackman   Gene Hackman Kevin Spacey   Mark Strong
Jor-El Marlon Brando Marlon Brando[A]     Marlon Brando
(Stock footage)
Russell Crowe  
Jonathan Kent Glenn Ford         Kevin Costner  
Martha Kent Phyllis Thaxter       Eva Marie Saint Diane Lane  
Perry White Jackie Cooper Frank Langella Laurence Fishburne
Jimmy Olsen Marc McClure Sam Huntington    
General Zod Terence Stamp       Michael Shannon  
Lara Susannah York       Ayelet Zurer  
Lana Lang Diane Sherry   Annette O'Toole     Jadin Gould  
Brad Brad Flock   Gavan O'Herlihy        
Non Jack O'Halloran          
Ursa Sarah Douglas          
Eve Teschmacher Valerie Perrine          
Otis Ned Beatty          

[A] Marlon Brando filmed scenes for Superman II, but they were cut from the theatrical release. These scenes were restored in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, released in 2006.

Non-recurring characters


Box office performance

Film Release date Box office revenue Reference
United States Worldwide United States US gross when
adjusted for inflation
International Worldwide
December 15, 1978
$134,218,018 $626,989,884 $166,000,000 $300,218,018 [101]
Superman II June 19, 1981 December 4, 1980 $108,185,706 $400,059,905 $108,185,706 [102]
Superman III
June 17, 1983
$59,950,623 $183,397,228 $59,950,623 [103]
Supergirl November 21, 1984 July 19, 1984 $14,296,438 $41,927,670 $14,296,438 [104]
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
July 24, 1987
$15,681,020 $42,054,897 $15,681,020 [105]
Superman Returns
June 28, 2006
$200,081,192 $302,400,692 $191,000,000 $391,081,192 [106]
Man of Steel
June 14, 2013
$287,214,823 $375,676,988 $357,050,000 $644,264,823
$819,627,820 $1,490,418,414 $714,050,000 $1,533,677,820

Critical reaction

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Superman 93% (59 reviews)[107] 88 (12 reviews)[108]
Superman II 89% (45 reviews)[109] 99 (7 reviews)[110]
Superman III 26% (43 reviews)[111]
Supergirl 8% (25 reviews)[112]
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace 9% (32 reviews)[113]
Superman Returns 75% (257 reviews)[114] 72 (40 reviews)[115]
Man of Steel 56% (271 reviews)[116] 55 (47 reviews)[117]
Average ratings 50% 86

Franchise collections

Throughout the film series' history, three box sets of the films have been released by Warner Bros. The first occurred on May 1, 2001, when The Complete Superman Collection was released both on DVD and VHS, containing that year's DVD/home video releases of Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman III, and Superman IV. The set was valued at US$49.99 for the DVD release and US$29.99 for the VHS release, and received positive reviews.[118]

The four Christopher Reeve films were again released on November 28, 2006, in new DVD releases to coincide with Superman Returns, also released in that year. Superman: The Movie was released in a four-disc 'special edition' similar to Superman II, which was released in a two-disc special edition. Both Superman III and IV were released in single disc 'deluxe editions', and all four releases were available together in The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection, an 8-disc set that was valued at US$79.92. Like the 2001 set before it, The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection received positive reviews.[119]

Also on November 28, 2006, a 14-disc DVD box set titled Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition was released, containing Superman: The Movie, Superman II, Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman III, Superman IV, Superman Returns, and Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, among other releases. All contents of the set were housed within a tin case. The set was valued at US$99.92, and received extremely positive reviews when first released.[120] However, after only a day on the market, Warner Bros. announced that there were two errors discovered within the set. The first was that the 2.0 audio track on Superman: The Movie, was instead the 5.1 audio track already on the disc. The second was that the Superman III disc was not the 2006 deluxe edition as advertised, but the 2001 release instead. The set was soon recalled, and Warner Bros. offered a toll-free number to replace the faulty discs for people who had already purchased the set.[121] Due to popular demand, a corrected set was released and Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition returned to store shelves on May 29, 2007.[122]

On October 14, 2008, another Christopher Reeve Superman film collection was released, entitled Superman: 4 Film Favorites, containing all four films, but with far less bonus material than previous sets. The collection was a 2-disc DVD-18 set that included the first disc of both special editions from the 2006 release and both deluxe editions as well. The list price was far cheaper than previous collections, at US $19.94.

On April 1, 2011, it was announced that the entire Superman Anthology would be making its way to Blu-ray for the first time. The anthology box set was released on June 7, 2011.[123] The 8-Disc set includes both the theatrical and expanded edition of Superman: The Movie, the original version and The Donner Cut of Superman II, Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (both making their debut on Blu-ray) as well as the 2006 Superman Returns. The set includes over 20 hours of bonus footage, including the never-before-seen opening sequence of Superman Returns. The movies will include an English DTS-HD-MA soundtrack and all films will be presented in a new hi-def transfer.


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