At the end of the day, no one can say anything bad about Richard Donner's, filmed back-to-back, Superman: The Movie and Superman II. Both of these Superman films star the great, and gone-much-too-soon actor, Christopher Reeve. Donner, filmed both films at the same time more or less, and although, in the end, Superman II was ripped out of his hands by the films' producers and he was fired
And then there's Bryan Singer. Singer, who was once best known as the film-maker who crafted such masterworks as Public Access and The Usual Suspects, has turned his sites on comic book movies and superhero influx. While Singer has found great success in bringing the X-Men to the big screen, his take on Superman was a turd, although a steel one at that. With Singer's Superman in the can, and 2013's improved but still lacking Man of Steel, is it possible to bring Superman back to the big screen? But with the same grace and magical propensities that Christopher Reeve had in the role? Or with the same great qualities that Richard Donner brought to the character and story? Perhaps, only time will tell. In the meantime, the answer is likely no. In the meantime, we're supposed to be satisfied with the Supergirl television series? Are we supposed to be re-watching our Lois and Clark DVD box set? At this point, one would expect that their DVDs of Superman: The Movie and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut would be getting worn out from repeated play. When will Superman return to the big screen? Richard Donner will you please save us?
Here are the Top 5 Worst Superman and Superman-related movies (in no particular order):
Superman III (1983)
Certainly, Superman III has its fanbase. But it's a fanbase that revels in camp. For those that don't quite have a grasp of the word "camp"--to paraphrase: it's when something is funny that wasn't intended to be funny. And that's certainly how one could look at Superman III, in it's weird, over-the-top glory. Whereas Richard Donner had given the first two Superman movies a special quality (which is difficult to describe in such a short time), Superman III is a different beast all to its self. The producer of the Superman franchise, Alexander Salkind, had originally envisioned Superman III as a movie that went away from the humanistic world of the first two Donner Superman movies and went back into comic book land. As Salkind had planned on introducing Mxyzptlk, Supergirl, and Brainiac into the storyline, Warner Bros., the studio putting up the money for the film, turned him down. Instead, director Richard Lester was brought on board, as he had replaced Richard Donner on Superman II, prior to Donner's departure for creative differences with Salkind. Donner attempted to sight-gag up the film, almost like he was turning it into a Buster Keaton movie with gags that included Richard Pryor going off the side of a building on skis. The film, while still managing to re-coop it's initial budget, failed with fans and critics in the end. Yet interesting for its insanity.
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987)
Whereas Superman III is legitimately fun to watch purely for its campy aesthetics, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, isn't so much fun to watch. With the producer of the first three Superman movies, Alexander Salkind, out of the picture, Warner Brothers made the film through Cannon Films, which by this time was known for making shoot-em-up action movies and arthouse fare. Perhaps, optimistic that fans of Superman would flock to the theater to see a right
Superman Returns (2006)
After gallons and gallons of press hype being dumped over the heads of Superman fans since 1987, Superman Returns finally hit the big screen in 2006 almost twenty years after The Quest for Peace. The film was produced by Bryan Singer, and in some way, it was intended to be a sort of homage to the first two Richard Donner Superman movies, and yet it fails miserably at being such. For starters, Superman played by Brandon Routh is too young! Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane is too young. The beauty of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in the first two Superman movies was that Reeve was older and Margot Kidder, while not the beauty she had once been years prior in the early '70s, was almost girl-next-door, but girl-next-door who had smoked too many cigarettes. Yet, there was great chemistry between Reeve and Kidder, and that chemistry is greatly lacking here between Bosworth and Routh. While Routh, may have had the look of Reeve, the stoicism of the tragically-passed actor, he was too young to display the grace and aptitude of Reeve when it came to the Superman character. With Donner's Superman movies, Gene Hackman brought a comic sensibility to the Lex Luthor character. Hackman's Luthor was comic, but still on the edge of psychotic. Hackman's Luthor had the penchant for bungling things up too, and he was a total sleazoid. Whereas Kevin Spacey's Luthor was a mere in-the-flesh imagining of some variation on Luthor in the DC comics franchise. All in all, the film is a turd. A miss. Not enjoyable, nor campy to satisfy that particular subset.
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who a year or two prior had also directed Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, in a memorable role in Somewhere in Time (1980); the Salkind's put the last nail in the 1980's Superman franchise with Supergirl. Possibly because of the sour taste still in the mouths of so many Superman fans--due to Superman III--the movie didn't fare well at the box office nor with film critics. Many of the actors in the film were nominated for the coveted Golden Raspberry awards, including the legendary Faye Dunaway, who a couple years before had been thrown under the bus for her over-the-top performance as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1980). All-in-all, Supergirl plays more like a live-action comic book brought to life with its evil characters, over-the-top acting, and really ambitious special effects. With the latter not quite being pulled off due to the limitations of the technology at the time the film was made.
Man of Steel (2013)
While Zack Snyder's Man of Steel certainly was no box office flop, at the end of the day, Superman fans, most of them for that matter, were completely ambivalent about the latest Superman foray on the big screen. Critically, the responses to the film were quite mixed, and while some had problems with the film not exploring the characters in great depth, others had problems with the film for not trying to escape the trappings of the Hollywood blockbuster. At the end of the day, perhaps, the problem that many had with Man of Steel was that it just wasn't a Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner Superman movie--no matter how hard the film-makers wanted it to be. Which is interesting when you consider the history of Hollywood film franchises and think about the others sequels or reboots where the fans have been so upset in the wake of the release of the film. Could we consider Star Wars as having that problem? And furthermore, what will come out of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?
Ultimately, no matter how many attempts are made at Superman in the future, no one will be able to unseat Reeve and Donner's timeless and masterful imagining of the DC Comics character, and whereas George Reeves will always be Superman to the Baby Boomer generation, Christopher Reeve will always be Superman to us. There will never be another. He's almost more Superman now in our eyes than the image of the actual Superman that first appeared in DC Comics over some fifty years ago.