Theatrical release poster by Larry Salk
|Directed by||Richard Lester|
by Jerry Siegel
|Edited by||John Victor-Smith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$80.2 million|
Superman III is a 1983 British-American superhero film directed by Richard Lester. It is the third film in the Superman film series based upon the long-running DC Comics superhero. The film is the last Superman film to be produced by Alexander Salkind and Ilya Salkind, and stars Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, and Robert Vaughn. This 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 movies, 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 the corrupted Superman were praised. Following the release of this movie, Pryor signed a five-year contract with Columbia Pictures worth $40 million.
Gus Gorman, a chronically unemployed loser, discovers he has a talent for computer programming and gets a job at the Metropolis-based conglomerate Webscoe. Gus, dissatisfied with his pay, embezzles from his employer using a technique known as salami slicing, which brings Gus to the attention of CEO Ross Webster. Webster is intrigued by the computer's potential to aid him in his schemes to rule the world financially. Joined by his sister Vera and his "psychic nutritionist," Lorelei Ambrosia, Webster blackmails Gus into helping him.
Clark Kent has convinced his Daily Planet boss Perry White to allow him to return to Smallville for his high school reunion. En route, as Superman, he extinguishes a fire in a chemical plant containing highly-unstable Beltric acid that can produce 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.
Webster schemes to monopolize the world's coffee crop. Infuriated by Colombia's refusal to do business with him, he orders Gus to command a weather satellite, Vulcan, to create a tornado to destroy Colombia's coffee crop for the next several years. Gus travels to Smallville to use the offices of WheatKing, a subsidiary of Webscoe that manufactures farm equipment, to reprogram the satellite. Though Gus is successful and Vulcan creates a devastating storm, Webster's scheme is thwarted when Superman flies into the eye of the storm, neutralizing it and saving the harvest. Webster, seeing Superman as a legitimate threat, orders Gorman to use his computer knowledge to create Kryptonite, remembering Lois Lane's Daily Planet interview with Superman. Gus uses Vulcan to locate Krypton's debris in outer space and to analyze its components; he discovers that one of the elements of Kryptonite is an "unknown" compound, but (glancing at his pack of cigarettes) decides to substitute tar instead, thinking no one will notice.
Lana convinces Superman to appear at Ricky's birthday party, but Smallville turns it into a town celebration. Gus and Vera, disguised as United States Army officers, give Superman the crude Kryptonite as a gift, but it appears to cause no symptoms. However, Superman soon becomes selfish, focusing on his lust for Lana, which causes him to delay rescuing a truck driver from his jackknifed rig. Superman begins questioning his self-worth and becomes depressed, angry and casually destructive, committing petty acts of vandalism such as blowing out the Olympic Flame and straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Gus, feeling used, gives Webster crude plans for a supercomputer and Webster agrees to build it in turn for Gus directing all oil tankers to sail the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and remain there, idle, until further notice. When the captain of one tanker insists on maintaining his course for Metropolis, Webster uses Lorelei to seduce Superman into waylaying the tanker, breaching its hull and causing a massive oil spill. The villains decamp to the computer's location in Glen Canyon.
Superman goes on a drinking binge, but is overcome by guilt and undergoes a nervous breakdown. After nearly crash-landing 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 strangles 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 Webster, Vera, and Lorelei. Gus's supercomputer immediately identifies him as a threat and attempts to find his weakness. After a beam of energy and a constricting plastic bubble fail to stop Superman, the computer finally succeeds with 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 flees. The computer becomes self-aware and defends itself against Gus's attempts to disable it, draining power from electrical towers. Ross and Lorelei escape from the control room, but Vera is pulled into the computer and transformed into a cyborg. Vera attacks her brother and Lorelei with beams of energy that immobilize them. Superman returns with a canister of the Beltric acid from the chemical plant he saved earlier. Superman places the canister by the supercomputer, which does not resist as it suspects no immediate danger. The intense heat emitted by the supercomputer causes the acid to turn volatile, destroying it. Superman flies away with Gus, leaving Webster and his cronies to deal with the authorities, and drops Gus off at a West Virginia coal mine.
Superman returns to Metropolis. As Clark, he pays a visit to Lana, who has relocated to the big city and found employment as Perry White's new secretary. He is attacked by Brad, who has stalked Lana to Metropolis, only to end up falling into a room service cart. The film ends with Superman flying 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jackie Cooper as Perry White: The editor of the Daily Planet.
- 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.
- Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen: A photographer for the Daily Planet.
- Gavan O'Herlihy as Brad Wilson: Lana's former boyfriend.
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.
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."
A video game for Superman III was developed for the Atari 8-bit family of computers by Atari, Inc. in 1983, but was ultimately cancelled. A prototype box for the Atari 5200 version also exists, although existence of the actual game for this console remains unconfirmed. The game (perhaps intended to be like Missile Command) would have been loosely based on the plotline for Superman III.[original research?]
Reviews for the film were mixed from fans and mostly negative from critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, only 26% of critics have given the film positive reviews, based on 47 reviews. The summary on Rotten Tomatoes goes as follows: "When not overusing sight gags, slapstick and Richard Pryor, Superman III resorts to plot points rehashed from the previous Superman flicks." A frequent criticism of Superman III was the inclusion of comedian Richard Pryor. 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". After an appearance by 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. 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 uninspired fill-in for Lex Luthor. Both Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder were angry with the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard Donner, with Hackman retaliating by refusing to reprise the role of Lex Luthor entirely (though he would later be persuaded to come back for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, with which the Salkinds had no connection). After Margot Kidder publicly criticized the Salkinds for their treatment of Donner, the producers "punished" the actress by reducing her role in Superman III to a brief cameo.
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.
Fans of the Superman series also placed a great deal of the blame on director Richard Lester. Richard 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. Superman III is commonly seen as more or less a goofy (albeit uneven) farce rather than a grand adventure picture like the first two movies.
On Richard Lester's direction of Superman III, Christopher Reeve stated:
[He] was always looking for a gag - sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top. I mean, I didn't think that his going off the top of a building, on skis with a pink tablecloth around his shoulders, was particularly funny.
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 to the franchise, the Salkinds were finally able to bring their "vision" of Superman to the screen and once again hired the Newmans for writing duties.
Despite such harsh criticisms, Superman III was praised for Reeve's performance of a corrupted version of the Man of Steel, 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" and described Vaughn as "essentially playing William Buckley - all those delicious ponderings, popping of the eyes, licking of the corner of the mouth."
A small section of the film contains computer graphics, the making of which is described in a BBC Micro Live programme during the early-mid 1980s
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