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Superman III

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Superman III
Theatrical release poster by Larry Salk
Directed byRichard Lester
Screenplay by
Based on
Produced byPierre Spengler
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byJohn Victor-Smith
Music byKen Thorne
Dovemead Ltd.
Distributed by
Release dates
  • June 17, 1983 (1983-06-17) (United States)
  • July 19, 1983 (1983-07-19) (United Kingdom)
Running time
125 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom[1]
United States[2]
Budget$39 million[3]
Box office$80.2 million[3]

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.[4][5] 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.[5][6]

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 in July 1987.



The Metropolis-based conglomerate Webscoe hires Gus Gorman, a computer programmer who embezzles through salami slicing, which brings him to the attention of CEO Ross Webster. Webster, his sister Vera, and Webster's girlfriend Lorelei blackmail Gus into helping him.

At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent convinces Perry White to let him and Jimmy Olsen visit Smallville for Clark's high school reunion, while fellow reporter and Clark's unrequited romantic interest Lois Lane leaves for a Bermuda vacation. En route, as Superman, Clark extinguishes a fire in a chemical plant containing unstable beltric acid, which produces corrosive vapor when superheated.

At the reunion, Clark reunites with childhood friend Lana Lang, a divorcée with a young son named Ricky. Clark is harassed by Brad Wilson, his former bully and Lana's ex-boyfriend. While having a picnic with Lana, Superman saves an unconscious Ricky from being killed by a combine harvester.

Infuriated by Colombia's refusal to do business with him, Webster orders Gus to command Vulcan, an American weather satellite, to create a tornado to destroy Colombia's coffee crop, allowing Webster to corner the market. Gus travels to Smallville to use a Webscoe subsidiary to reprogram the satellite. Although Vulcan creates a storm, Superman neutralizes it. Seeing Superman as a threat to his plans, Webster orders Gus to fabricate Kryptonite. Gus uses Vulcan to analyze Krypton's debris. As one of the elements of Kryptonite is unknown, he substitutes tar.

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 as an award. Rather than weaken him, he becomes selfish and commits petty acts of vandalism such as straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa and blowing out the Olympic Flame.

Gus asks Webster to build the world's most sophisticated supercomputer; he agrees, if Gus creates an energy crisis by directing all oil tankers to the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Lorelei seduces Superman, persuading him to waylay one of the tankers and cause an oil spill.

Superman suffers a nervous breakdown and splits into two beings: the immoral, corrupted dark Superman and the moral, mild-mannered Clark Kent. The two fight, with Clark defeating his evil self. Regaining his sanity, Superman repairs the damage of the oil spill. After defending himself from exploding rockets and an ASALM missile, he confronts Webster, Vera, and Lorelei. The supercomputer identifies Superman's weakness and unleashes a beam of pure Kryptonite.

Guilt-ridden, Gus destroys the Kryptonite ray with an axe. Superman escapes, but the computer becomes self-aware, defending itself against Gus's attempts to disable it. The computer transforms Vera into a cyborg that attacks her brother and Lorelei with beams of energy that immobilize them. Superman returns with beltric acid. The intense heat emitted by the supercomputer causes the acid to become volatile, destroying the computer. Gus declines to return to Metropolis, deciding to make a fresh start in West Virginia.

As Clark, Superman visits Lana after she moves to Metropolis. Lana's new job as Perry White's secretary surprises Lois, who returns from vacation with an article about corruption in Bermuda and has newfound respect for Clark after reading his story. Superman restores the Leaning Tower of Pisa and 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 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.
  • Robert Vaughn as Ross "Bubba" 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.
  • Annie Ross as Vera Webster: Ross's sister and partner in his corporation and villainous plans.
  • Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia: Ross's 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's plan, she seduces Superman.
  • 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.
  • Gavan O'Herlihy as Brad Wilson: Lana's ex-boyfriend and Clark's high school rival. A security guard at a Webscoe subsidiary, he is also a chronic alcoholic.

Frank Oz originally had a cameo as a surgeon, but the scene was deleted from the final cut, although 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. Aaron Smolinski, who played baby Clark Kent in the 1978 Superman film, appears as the little boy next to the phone booth that Clark Kent uses to change into Superman. He also would later appear in Man of Steel as a communications officer.





Richard Donner confirmed that he had been interested in writing at least two more Superman films, which he intended to allow Tom Mankiewicz to direct, and that he would have included Brainiac as the villain of the third film. However, Donner departed the series during the production of Superman II.[7] The film was formally announced at the 33rd Cannes Film Festival in May 1980, months before the theatrical release of the second film.[8] In December 1980, producer Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment for this film that included Brainiac, Mister Mxyzptlk and Supergirl.[9][10] The treatment was released online in 2007.[11] The Mister 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.[12] 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. Brainiac retaliates by using a personality machine to corrupt and manipulate Superman. The climax of the film would have seen Superman, Supergirl, Brainiac, Jimmy Olsen, and Lana Lang time travel to the Middle Ages for a final confrontation in a fiefdom taken over by Brainiac.[13] After defeating him and leaving him behind as a helpless serf, Superman and Supergirl would have either been married at either the end of Superman III or in Superman IV.[7][10][13] The treatment was rejected by Warner Bros. Pictures as being too complex and expensive to shoot, and Salkind additionally wanted to save the character of Supergirl for a solo film.[10][13] Because of the high budgets required for the series the Salkinds considered selling the rights to the series to Dino De Laurentiis.[8] The significance of computers to the plot, the villains' plan to corrupt Superman, and the splitting of him into a good and an evil half would be carried over into the final film.[13] The film was originally intended to be titled Superman vs. Superman, but it was retitled after the producers of Kramer vs. Kramer threatened a lawsuit.[14]



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.[15] After Margot Kidder publicly criticized the Salkinds for their treatment of Donner,[16] the producers reportedly "punished" the actress by reducing her role in Superman III to a brief appearance.[15][17] Hackman later denied such claims, stating that he had been busy with other movies and the 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's 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,[16] 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 films such as Silver Streak, Stir Crazy and The Toy.[17] Pryor accepted a $5 million salary to appear in the film.[14] Following the release of the film, Pryor signed a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures worth $40 million.[18]



Principal photography commenced on June 21, 1982. 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,[19] 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.[citation needed] While the supercomputer set was created on Pinewood's 007 Stage, exteriors were shot at Glen Canyon in Utah.[20]

Effects and animation


The film includes "the same special effects team" from the prior two films.[21][22] Atari, part of Warner, created the video game computer animation for the missile defense scene.[23][24][25]



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.[26] It was released in theatres on June 17, 1983,[27] 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."[28] 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."[29]

Extended television edition


Like the previous films, a separate extended edition was produced. It was aired on ABC. The opening credits were in outer space, featuring an edited version of the film's end-credit theme music, serving as an opening theme. 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".[30][better source needed]



Box office


Superman III grossed $60 million at the United States box office, and $20.2 million internationally, for a total of $80.2 million worldwide.[3] The film was the 12th-highest-grossing film of 1983 in North America.[31]

Critical response


Superman III holds a 29% approval rating and has an average rating of 4.6/10 on Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews. 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."[32] The film has a Metacritic rating of 44, indicating "mixed or average reviews" from 13 professional reviewers.[33]

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".[34] The film was nominated for two Razzie Awards including Worst Supporting Actor for Richard Pryor and Worst Musical Score for Giorgio Moroder.[35] Audiences also saw Robert Vaughn's villainous Ross Webster as an inferior fill-in for Lex Luthor.[16][36]

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."[37]

Colin Greenland reviewed Superman III for Imagine magazine, and stated that "What ultimately spoils the fun in Superman III is not the incoherent story or even the technophobia. It is simply overloaded—too many ideas, too many gadgets, too many stars (Pamela Stephenson is completely wasted in a part which would have been too dumb for Goldie Hawn). The wiring all comes loose at the end; an anticlimax, and a rushed one at that."[38]

Fans of the Superman series placed a great deal of the blame on director Richard Lester.[16] Lester made a number of popular comedies[16] 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.[16] 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.[15] 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.[32] 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."[39]


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  27. ^ Superman III at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films Edit this at Wikidata
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  33. ^ "Superman III". Metacritic. Archived from the original on 2022-04-22. Retrieved 2020-12-29.
  34. ^ Maltin, Leonard (1999). Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1999. Plume. p. 1306.
  35. ^ 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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  37. ^ John, Christopher (Winter 1983). "Film". Ares (16). TSR, Inc.: 57–58.
  38. ^ Greenland, Colin (November 1983). "Film Review". Imagine (review) (8). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd.: 19.
  39. ^ Barthelme, Donald (1999). Not-Knowing: the essays and interviews. New York City: Random House Value Publishing. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-0609000762.