Theatrical release poster by Larry Salk
|Directed by||Richard Lester|
by Jerry Siegel
|Edited by||John Victor-Smith|
|Box office||$59.9 million|
Superman III is a British-American 1983 superhero film directed by Richard Lester, based on the DC Comics character Superman. It is the third film in the Superman film series and the last Superman film to be produced by Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind. The film features a cast of Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughn, Marc McClure, and Gavan O'Herlihy. The film is followed by Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, released on July 24, 1987.
Although the film still managed to recoup its budget of $39 million, it was 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 the casting and performance of Pryor. The special effects and Christopher Reeve's performance as Superman were praised.
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.
Clark Kent convinces his Daily Planet boss, Perry White, to let him return to Smallville for his high-school reunion. En route, as Superman, he extinguishes a fire in a chemical plant containing unstable beltric acid, which produces corrosive vapor when superheated. At the reunion, Clark is reunited with childhood friend Lana Lang, a divorcée with a young son named Ricky, and harassed by Brad Wilson, her ex-boyfriend.
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 on coffee. Gus travels to Smallville to use the offices of WheatKing, a subsidiary of Webscoe, to reprogram the satellite. Though 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 depressed 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 personas: the immoral corrupted Superman and the moral, righteous Clark Kent. They engage in a battle, ending when Clark manages to destroy his evil identity. Restored to his normal self, Superman repairs the damage his evil counterpart caused.
After defending himself from rockets and an MX missile, Superman confronts Ross, Vera, and Lorelei. Gus's supercomputer 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 ax, 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. Unable to control her actions, Vera attacks her brother and Lorelei with beams of energy that immobilize them. Superman returns with a canister of the beltric acid, he places the canister 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 Virginia coal mine, where Superman recommends him to the company as a computer programmer.
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. 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 beating arch enemy Lex Luthor twice, Superman meets a new villain: 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 and girlfriend. 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 fool. As part of Ross' plan, she seduces Superman.
- Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster: A villainous multimillionaire. 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 former boyfriend. 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.
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 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 the supercomputer set was created on Pinewood's 007 Stage, exteriors were shot at Glen Canyon in Utah.
Effects and animation
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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, but this time around there is more original music by Thorne than the Williams re-arrangements. To capitalize on the popularity of synthesizer pop, Giorgio Moroder was hired to create songs for the film (though their use in the film is minimal).
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 edition
Like the previous films, a separate extended edition was produced. It was aired on ABC TV. 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]
Release and reception
Superman III was released in theatres on June 17, 1983, in the United States and July 19, 1983, in the United Kingdom.
The total domestic box office gross for Superman III was $59,950,623. The film was the 12th highest-grossing film of 1983 in North America.
Audience and critics' and the fans reviews were generally negative and unfavorable. At Rotten Tomatoes, 26% of critics have given the film positive reviews, based on 45 reviews with an average rating of 4.5/10. 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.
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. 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."
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