Superman III is a 1983 superhero film directed by Richard Lester from a screenplay by David Newman and Leslie Newman based on the DC Comics character Superman. It is the third installment in the Superman film series and a sequel to Superman II (1980). The film features a cast of Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Marc McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, and Margot Kidder.
Theatrical release poster by Larry Salk
|Directed by||Richard Lester|
|Produced by||Pierre Spengler|
|Music by||Ken Thorne|
|Edited by||John Victor-Smith|
|Box office||$100 million[nb 1]|
Although the film recouped its budget of $39 million, it proved less successful than the first two Superman films, both financially and critically. While harsh criticism focused on the film's comedic and campy tone, as well as on the casting and performance of Pryor, the special effects and Christopher Reeve's performance as Superman were praised.
A sequel, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, was released on July 1987.
While Superman is saving lives and protecting the citizens of Metropolis, Gus Gorman, a chronically unemployed ne'er-do-well, discovers he has a talent for computer programming and is hired at the Metropolis-based conglomerate Webscoe. Gus embezzles from his employer through salami slicing, bringing him to the attention of CEO Ross Webster. Webster is intrigued by Gus's potential to help him rule the world financially. Joined by sister Vera and "psychic nutritionist" Lorelei Ambrosia, Ross blackmails Gus into helping him.
At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent convinces his boss, Perry White, to let him and photographer Jimmy Olsen return to Smallville for his high school reunion, at the same time that his fellow reporter Lois Lane leaves for a vacation in Bermuda. En route, as Superman, Kent extinguishes a fire in a chemical plant containing unstable beltric acid, which produces corrosive vapor when superheated. He also saves Jimmy, who breaks his leg trying to get pictures of the inferno.
At the reunion, Clark is reunited with childhood friend Lana Lang, a divorcée with a young son named Ricky, and harassed by Brad Wilson, his former bully and her ex-boyfriend. Clark spends a few days in Smallville and gets closer with Lana and during a picnic, Superman saves Ricky from being killed by a combine harvester.
Infuriated by Colombia's refusal to do business with him, Ross orders Gus to command Vulcan, an American weather satellite, to create a tornado to destroy Colombia's coffee crop for the next several years, allowing Webster to corner the market. Gus travels to Smallville to use the offices of WheatKing, a subsidiary of Webscoe, to reprogram the satellite. Although Vulcan creates a devastating storm, Ross's scheme is thwarted when Superman neutralizes it, saving the harvest. Ross orders Gus to use his computer knowledge to create Kryptonite, remembering an interview with Superman. Gus uses Vulcan to locate, scan and analyze Krypton's debris. He discovers that one of the elements of Kryptonite is "unknown" and substitutes tar after glancing at his pack of cigarettes.
Lana convinces Superman to appear at Ricky's birthday party, but Smallville turns it into a town celebration. Gus and Vera, disguised as Army officers, give Superman the flawed Kryptonite, which has no immediate effect. But Superman soon becomes selfish; his desire for Lana causes him to delay rescuing a truck driver from a jackknifed rig hanging from a bridge. Superman becomes pessimistic and regresses into committing petty acts of vandalism such as straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa and blowing out the Olympic Flame.
Gus, feeling used, gives Ross crude plans for a supercomputer and Ross agrees to build it in return for Gus creating an oil embargo by directing all oil tankers to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean until further notice. When the captain of one tanker insists on maintaining his original course, Lorelei seduces Superman, persuading him to waylay the tanker and breach the hull, causing a massive oil spill. The villains decamp to the computer's location in the Grand Canyon.
Superman goes on a drinking binge, is overcome by guilt, and suffers a nervous breakdown. In a junkyard, Superman splits into two personae: the immoral, corrupted dark Superman and the moral compass, meek and mild-mannered Clark Kent. They engage in a battle, ending with Clark victorious over his dark reflection of himself. Restored to his true self, Clark transforms into Superman and repairs the damage his evil counterpart caused. After defending himself from rockets and an MX missile, Superman confronts Ross, Vera and Lorelei. Gus's "Ultimate Computer" identifies him as a threat and attempts to determine his weakness, eventually unleashing a beam of pure Kryptonite.
Guilt-ridden and horrified by the prospect of "going down in history as the man who killed Superman", Gus destroys the Kryptonite ray with a firefighter's axe, whereupon Superman escapes. The computer becomes self-aware, defending itself against Gus's attempts to disable it. Ross and Lorelei escape the control room, but Vera is transformed into a cyborg under the supercomputer's control. She attacks her brother and Lorelei with beams of energy that immobilize them. Superman returns with a canister of the beltric acid, which he places by the supercomputer, which does not resist as it suspects no danger. The intense heat emitted by the supercomputer causes the acid to turn volatile, destroying the supercomputer. Superman flies away with Gus, leaving Ross and his cronies to the authorities. He drops Gus off at a West Virginian coal mine, where Superman recommends him to the company as a computer programmer but Gus refuses the job, deciding to take a bus to Metropolis.
Superman returns to Metropolis. As Clark, he pays a visit to Lana, who has moved to Metropolis after Brad's numerous romantic advances. Brad shows up, having stalked Lana on her way across the country. He attacks Clark, only to end up falling onto a room service cart. Lana has also found employment at the Daily Planet as Perry White's new secretary, to the surprise of Lois Lane, who returned from her vacations with an article about corruption in Bermuda and has a new-found respect for Clark after reading his story. Before heading to lunch with Lana, Superman restores the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then flies into the sunrise for further adventures.
- Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent / Superman: After discovering his origins in the earlier films, he sets himself to helping those on Earth. After defeating his arch enemies, Lex Luthor twice and General Zod, Superman comes face-to-face with a new villain: the megalomaniac, Ross Webster, who is determined to control the world's coffee and oil supplies. Superman also battles personal demons after an exposure to a synthetic form of kryptonite that corrupts him.
- Richard Pryor as August "Gus" Gorman: A bumbling computer genius who works for Ross Webster and inadvertently gets mixed up in Webster's scheme to destroy Superman.
- Jackie Cooper as Perry White: The editor of the Daily Planet.
- Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen: A photographer for the Daily Planet.
- Annette O'Toole as Lana Lang: Clark's high school friend who reconciles with Clark after seeing him during their high school reunion. O'Toole later portrayed Martha Kent on the Superman television series Smallville.
- Annie Ross as Vera Webster: Ross' sister and partner in his corporation and villainous plans.
- Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia: Ross' assistant. Lorelei, a voluptuous blonde bombshell, is well-read, articulate and skilled in computers, but conceals her intelligence from Ross and Vera, to whom she adopts the appearance of a superficial, stereotypical klutz. As part of Ross' plan, she seduces Superman.
- Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster: A villainous, super-wealthy industrialist and philanthropist. After Superman prevents him from taking over the world's coffee supply, Ross is determined to destroy Superman before he can stop his plan to control the world's oil supply. He is an original character created for the movie.
- Margot Kidder as Lois Lane: A reporter at the Daily Planet who has a history with both Clark Kent and Superman. She is away from Metropolis on vacation to Bermuda, which put her in the middle of a front-page story.
Additionally, Gavan O'Herlihy portrays Brad Wilson, Lana's ex-boyfriend and Clark's high school rival. Film director/puppeteer Frank Oz originally had a cameo in this film as a surgeon, but the scene was ultimately deleted, though it was later included in the TV extended version of the film. Shane Rimmer, who had a role in Superman II as a NASA controller, has a small part as a state police officer. Pamela Mandell, who played a diner waitress in the same film, appears here as the hapless wife of a Daily Planet sweepstakes winner.
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 was from Colu and 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 are said to have been angry with the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard Donner, with Hackman retaliating by refusing to reprise the role of Lex Luthor. 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 appearance. Hackman later denied such claims, stating that he had been busy with other movies and general consensus that making Luthor a constant villain would be akin to incessant horror movie sequels where a serial killer keeps coming back from the grave. Hackman would reprise his role as Lex Luthor in Superman IV, with which the Salkinds had no involvement. In 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.
After an appearance by Richard 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, riding on Pryor's success in Silver Streak, Stir Crazy and The Toy. Following the release of the film, Pryor signed a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures worth $40 million.
Most of the interior scenes were shot, like the previous Superman films, at Pinewood Studios outside London. The junkyard scene was filmed on Pinewood's backlot. The coal mine scene, where Superman leaves Gus, was filmed at Battersea Power Station, where Richard Lester had previously shot scenes for the Beatles film Help!. Most exteriors were filmed in Calgary, Alberta due to Canada's tax breaks for film companies. Superman's drinking binge was filmed at the St. Louis Hotel in Downtown East Village, Calgary, while other scenes such as the slapstick-comedy opening were shot several blocks to the west. While the supercomputer set was created on Pinewood's 007 Stage, exteriors were shot at Glen Canyon in Utah.
Effects and animationEdit
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. Giorgio Moroder was hired to create songs for the film, though their use in the film is minimal.
Superman III was shown at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. on June 12, 1983 and then had its New York premiere on June 14, 1983 at Cinema I. It was released in theatres on June 17, 1983, in the United States and July 19, 1983, in the United Kingdom.
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."
Extended television editionEdit
Like the previous films, a separate extended edition was produced. It was aired on ABC. The opening credits were in outer space, featuring the main Superman theme with slight differences. This is followed by a number of scenes, including additional dialogue but not added into any of the official VHS, DVD or Blu-ray cuts of the film. The "Deluxe Edition" of Superman III, released in 2006 on par with the DVD release of Superman Returns, included these scenes in its extra features section as "deleted scenes".[better source needed]
Superman III grossed $60 million at the domestic box office. Once domestic, international and rental totals were tallied, the film's box office gross totaled $100 million worldwide. The film was the 12th highest-grossing film of 1983 in North America.
Audience and critics' reviews were generally negative. At Rotten Tomatoes, 29% of critics have given the film positive reviews, based on 52 reviews with an average rating of 4.47/10. The website's critical consensus states, "When not overusing sight gags, slapstick and Richard Pryor, Superman III resorts to plot points rehashed from the previous Superman flicks."
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". 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.
Christopher John reviewed Superman III in Ares Magazine #16 and commented that "compared to the first film in this series, everything about Superman III is a joke, a harsh cruel joke played on all the people who wanted to see more of the Superman they saw a few years ago."
Fans of the Superman series placed a great deal of the blame on director Richard Lester. 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 which, although better received, was also criticised for unnecessary sight gags and slapstick. 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, the Salkinds were free to bring their version of Superman to the screen and once again hired the Newmans for writing duties. Reeve stated in his autobiography that the original script for the first Superman had so many puns and gags that it risked having Superman earn a reputation akin to that of Batman being associated with the campy TV show of the 1960s. "In one scene in this script, Superman would be in pursuit of Lex Luthor, identified by his bald head and grab him, only to realize he had captured Telly Savalas who would remark "Who loves ya, baby?" and offer Superman a lollipop. Dick [Donner] had done away with much of that inanity."
Reeve's own performance as a corrupted Man of Steel received praise, 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", also describing Vaughn as "essentially playing William Buckley - all those delicious ponderings, popping of the eyes, licking of the corner of the mouth."
Parker Brothers released a board game in 1983, inspired by the film. Although the box says, "Based on the Movie," the game uses comic-book art rather than art or stills from the film (to avoid royalty payments for the use on likenesses) and is barely related to the story of the film.
Even Topps had a series of trading cards with stills from the movie.
- Ilya Salkind has said many times the film made $100 million worldwide.
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- Giles, James Richard Giles; Giles, Wanda H. (1996). Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Novelists Since World War II. 173 (7 ed.). Gale Research. p. 105. ISBN 9780810399365.
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- Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide 1999. Plume. p. 1306.
- Wilson, John (2005). The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the Best of Hollywood's Worst. New York City: Grand Central Publishing. ISBN 978-0446693349.
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- Barthelme, Donal (1999). Not-Knowing: the essays and interviews. New York City: Random House Value Publishing. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-0609000762.
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