Superman in film
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in June 1938, DC Comics' Superman has appeared in various films almost since his inception. He debuted in cinemas in a series of animated shorts beginning in 1941, subsequently starring in two movie serials in 1948 and 1950. An independent studio, Lippert Pictures, released the first Superman feature film, Superman and the Mole Men, starring George Reeves, in 1951. In 1974, the film rights to the Superman character were purchased by Ilya Salkind, Alexander Salkind, and Pierre Spengler. After numerous scripts, Richard Donner was hired as their director, filming Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) simultaneously. Donner had already shot eighty percent of Superman II with Christopher Reeve before it was decided to finish shooting the first film. The Salkinds fired Donner after Superman's release and commissioned Richard Lester as the director to finish Superman II. Lester also returned for Superman III (1983), and the Salkinds further produced the related 1984 spin-off Supergirl before selling the rights to Cannon Films, resulting in the poorly reviewed Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Ilya Salkind commissioned a fifth Superman script before Warner Bros acquired the rights entirely in 1993.
Over the course of 11 years, Warner Bros would develop and then cancel Tim Burton's Superman Lives, which would have starred Nicolas Cage; Wolfgang Petersen's Batman vs. Superman; and the J. J. Abrams scripted Superman: Flyby, which went between directors Joseph "McG" Nichols and Brett Ratner. The studio hired Bryan Singer to take over the films in 2004, releasing Superman Returns in 2006, which starred newcomer Brandon Routh. Donner's director's cut for Superman II was also released that year. Despite positive reviews, Warner Bros was disappointed with the financial performance of Superman Returns, and canceled Singer's proposed sequel. The studio nearly went into production of a Justice League film with George Miller directing and D. J. Cotrona as Superman, but it was shelved in 2008.
The film series was rebooted in 2013 with Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder with Henry Cavill starring as Superman. Man of Steel also launched what became known as the DC Extended Universe, a cinematic franchise intended to rival the highly-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cavill has since then appeared as Superman in the DCEU films Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017), both again directed by Snyder, as well as the director's cut of Justice League, Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021).
List of films
|Film||U.S. release date||Director(s)||Actor||Story by||Screenwriter(s)||Producer(s)||Distributor|
|Superman||January 5, 1948||Spencer Gordon Bennet and Thomas Carr||Kirk Alyn||Lewis Clay, Royal K. Cole, Arthur Hoerl, George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland||Sam Katzman||Columbia Pictures|
|Atom Man vs. Superman||July 20, 1950||Spencer Gordon Bennet||David Mathews, George H. Plympton and Joseph F. Poland|
|Superman and the Mole Men||November 23, 1951||Lee Sholem||George Reeves||Richard Fielding||Barney A. Sarecky||Lippert Pictures|
|Superman||December 15, 1978||Richard Donner||Christopher Reeve||Mario Puzo||Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Robert Benton||Pierre Spengler||Warner Bros.|
|Superman II||June 19, 1981||Richard Lester (uncredited in 2006 director's cut)
Richard Donner (uncredited in 1980 release)
|Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman and Tom Mankiewicz (creative consultant)|
|Superman III||June 17, 1983||Richard Lester||David Newman and Leslie Newman||Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler|
|Superman IV: The Quest for Peace||July 24, 1987||Sidney J. Furie||Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal and Christopher Reeve||Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal||Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus|
|Superman Returns||June 28, 2006||Bryan Singer||Brandon Routh||Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris and Bryan Singer||Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris||Jon Peters, Bryan Singer and Gilbert Adler|
|Man of Steel||June 14, 2013||Zack Snyder||Henry Cavill||David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan||David S. Goyer||Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Deborah Snyder|
|Batman v Superman:
Dawn of Justice
|March 25, 2016||Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer||Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder|
|Justice League||November 17, 2017||Zack Snyder & Chris Terrio||Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon||Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg and Geoff Johns|
|Zack Snyder's Justice League||March 18, 2021||Zack Snyder & Chris Terrio and Will Beall||Chris Terrio||Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder||HBO Max|
Direct-to-video, cameos, and others
- 1954: Stamp Day for Superman — a short film produced for the U.S. Treasury to promote "Stamp Day," featuring George Reeves as Superman and Noel Neill as Lois Lane.
- 2006: Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut — the director's cut of Superman II, featuring around 80% new footage originally shot by director Richard Donner, including material featuring Marlon Brando.
- 2006: Superman: Brainiac Attacks — direct-to-video film utilizing character designs from Superman: The Animated Series; starring Tim Daly and Dana Delany.
- 2017: DC Super Heroes vs. Eagle Talon — animated film in which Superman is voiced by Kenichi Suzumura.
- 2018: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies — animated film in which Superman is voiced by Nicolas Cage.
Lego DC Comics films
- 2013: Lego Batman: The Movie - DC Super Heroes Unite — Superman is voiced by Travis Willingham
- 2014: The Lego Movie — Superman appears shortly, voiced by Channing Tatum.
- 2014: Lego Batman: Be-Leaguered — TV special featuring Nolan North as Superman
- 2015: Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League — direct-to-video with Superman voiced by Nolan North
- 2015: Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Attack of the Legion of Doom — direct-to-video with Nolan North reprising his role as Superman
- 2016: Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League: Cosmic Clash – direct-to-video with Nolan North reprising his role
- 2017: The Lego Batman Movie — animated film featuring Superman with Channing Tatum reprising his role.
- 2019: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part — animated film featuring Superman with Channing Tatum reprising his role.
Unofficial adaptations and parodies
- 1960: Return of Mr. Superman — Indian Hindi-language retelling of Superman, with the title role played by Paidi Jairaj.
- 1979: The Return of Superman (Turkish: Süpermen Dönüyor; also known as "Turkish Superman") — a Turkish adaptation directed by Kunt Tulgar and starring Tayfun Demir as Superman.
- 1980: Superman — Indian Telugu-language film starring N. T. Rama Rao as Superman.
- 1987: Superman — Indian Hindi-language film with Puneet Issar as Superman.
- 2012: The Death and Return of Superman — short film released on YouTube by writer Max Landis
Animated Original Movies universe
Pre-Reeves films (1941–1951)
Superman first appeared in cinemas in a 17-part series of theatrical animated shorts, between 1941 and 1943. They were released by Paramount Pictures. Of those 17 shorts, 9 were produced by Fleischer Studios, and the further 8 by its successor, Famous Studios.
|#||Title||Original release date|
|1.||Superman||September 26, 1941|
|2.||The Mechanical Monsters||November 28, 1941|
|3.||Billion Dollar Limited||January 9, 1942|
|4.||The Arctic Giant||February 27, 1942|
|5.||The Bulleteers||March 27, 1942|
|6.||The Magnetic Telescope||April 24, 1942|
|7.||Electric Earthquake||May 15, 1942|
|8.||Volcano||July 10, 1942|
|9.||Terror on the Midway||August 28, 1942|
|10.||Japoteurs||September 18, 1942|
|11.||Showdown||October 16, 1942|
|12.||Eleventh Hour||November 20, 1942|
|13.||Destruction, Inc.||December 25, 1942|
|14.||The Mummy Strikes||February 19, 1943|
|15.||Jungle Drums||March 26, 1943|
|16.||The Underground World||June 18, 1943|
|17.||Secret Agent||July 30, 1943|
Kirk Alyn serials
The first appearance of Superman in live-action film was in Superman (1948), a 15-part film serial from Columbia Pictures, starring Kirk Alyn as the titular character (uncredited), Noel Neill as Lois Lane, and Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen.
Atom Man vs. Superman (1950)
The 1948 Superman was followed up by Atom Man vs. Superman, another 15-part serial from Columbia Pictures, the first installment of which was released in 1950. The serial featured the same main cast, with the addition of Lyle Talbot as Lex Luthor, also known as the "Atom Man".
Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
Shot on a low budget, Lee Sholem's Superman and the Mole Men (1951) served as a trial run for the syndicated TV series Adventures of Superman (airing 1952–58), for which the 1951 film became a two-part pilot episode titled "The Unknown People".
Both the film and the subsequent TV series starred George Reeves as Superman. Lois Lane, on the other hand, was played by Phyllis Coates in the film and the first season of the show, but was re-cast in later seasons with Noel Neill (who also played the character in the previous Kirk Alyn films). The film was produced by Barney Sarecky with the original screenplay by Richard Fielding (a pseudonym for Robert Maxwell and Whitney Ellsworth).
Salkind film series (1978–1987)
In 1973, producer Ilya Salkind convinced his father Alexander to buy the rights to Superman. They hired Mario Puzo to pen a two-film script, and negotiated with Steven Spielberg to direct, though Alexander eventually landed on someone else. Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) were shot simultaneously.
Guy Hamilton was hired as the director, with Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman signing on to play Jor-El and Lex Luthor, respectively. With pre-production taking place in Rome, complication arose when it was discovered that Brando could not film in Italy as he faced an obscenity lawsuit over Last Tango in Paris (1972). As result, production would subsequently move to England in late 1976. However, Hamilton was unable to shoot in England as he had violated his tax payments. To take Hamilton's place to direct the film, the Salkinds hired Richard Donner, who hired Tom Mankiewicz to polish the script, giving it a serious feel with Christ-like overtones.
There was a lengthy search for a lead actor, and a number of famous figures turned down the role, including Robert Redford and Burt Reynolds. Eventually Christopher Reeve was cast as Superman, and underwent an exercise regimen to gain muscle for the role, gaining 24 pounds (11 kg) before filming. (Margot Kidder was cast as Lois Lane.)
Superman II (1980)
Despite the success of 1978's Superman, director Richard Donner did not return to finish its sequel. Evidently, the production of both films was marred by Donner's bad relationship with the Salkinds, for which Richard Lester acted as mediator.
With the film[specify] going over budget, the filmmakers decided to temporarily cease production of Superman II altogether, moving its climax into the first film. Eventually, the film was completed with Lester, who gave it a more tongue-in-cheek tone relative to the first film. Nonetheless, Superman II was another financial and critical success, despite stiff competition with Raiders of the Lost Ark in the same year.
In 2006, after receiving many requests for his own version of Superman II, Donner and producer Michael Thau produced their own cut of the film and released it on November 28 that year. The Donner Cut received positive response from critics as well as from the stars of the original film; according to the studio, the cut made Donner "the first director in history to be able to complete a film he left during production with nearly all his footage in the can."
Superman III (1983)
For the third installment, Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment that expanded the film's scope to a cosmic scale, introducing the villains Brainiac and Mister Mxyzptlk, as well as Supergirl. Warner Brothers, however, rejected it and retooled the script into their own Superman III film, trimming Brainiac down into the film's evil "ultimate computer". The final version co-starred comedian Richard Pryor as computer wizard Gus Gorman, who—under the manipulation of a millionaire magnate—creates a form of Kryptonite that turns Superman into an evil self.
Despite its success, fans were disappointed with the film, in particular with Pryor's performance diluting the serious tone of the previous films, as well as controversy over the depiction of the evil Superman. Salkind's rejected proposal was eventually released online in 2007.
Supergirl was released in 1984 as a spin-off of the Reeve films; Reeve was slated to have a cameo but he ultimately backed out of the production, though his likeness appears in a photo. It stars Helen Slater in her first motion picture in the title role, with Faye Dunaway (who received top billing) playing the primary villain, Selena, along with Marc McClure reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Cannon Films picked up an option for a fourth Superman film, directed by Sidney J. Furie, with Christopher Reeve reprising the role due to his interest in the film's topic regarding nuclear weapons. Several other actors from the film series reprised their roles as well, including Margot Kidder (Lois Lane) and Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor). However, Cannon decided to cut the budget, resulting in poor special effects and heavy re-editing, which contributed to the film's poor reception.
Though the film was a minor financial success, Warner Brothers decided to end the series, following the negative reception of the last two Superman films.
Superman Returns (2006)
Following several unsuccessful attempts to reboot the franchise, Bryan Singer, who was said to be a childhood fan of the 1978 film, was approached by Warner Brothers to direct a new Superman film. He accepted, abandoning two films already in pre-production, X-Men: The Last Stand (which would come to be directed by Brett Ratner) and a remake of Logan's Run. To work on the film, Singer brought his entire crew from X2.
For the lead role, Brandon Routh was chosen in part because of his resemblance to Christopher Reeve; in fact, Routh had been signed by his manager several years earlier due to this resemblance. Singer followed Richard Donner's lead in casting a relatively unknown actor as the titular character and more high-profile actors in supporting roles, such as Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Through digitally-enhanced archive footage, Marlon Brando, who had died in 2004, appears in the film as Jor-El.
As backstory, the film uses the events of the 1978 film and Superman II, while disregarding the events of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and its spin-off Supergirl. Singer's story tells of Superman's return to Earth following a 5-year search for survivors of Krypton. He discovers that, in his absence, Lois Lane has given birth to a son and become engaged.
Superman Returns received positive reviews and grossed approximately US$391 million worldwide.
DC Extended Universe (2013–present)
Man of Steel (2013)
In June 2008, Warner Bros. took pitches from comic book writers, screenwriters and directors on how to restart the Superman film series. During story discussions for The Dark Knight Rises in 2008, David S. Goyer, aware that Warner Bros. was planning a Superman reboot, told Christopher Nolan his idea on how to present Superman in a modern context. Impressed with Goyer's concept, Nolan pitched the idea to the studio in February 2010, who hired Nolan to produce and Goyer to write based on the financial and critical success of The Dark Knight. Nolan admired Singer's work on Superman Returns for its connection to Richard Donner's version, and previously used the 1978 film as casting inspiration for Batman Begins. Zack Snyder was hired as the film's director in October 2010. Principal photography started in August 2011 in West Chicago, Illinois, before moving to Vancouver and Plano, Illinois. The film stars Henry Cavill as Clark Kent / Kal-El / Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as General Zod, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Laurence Fishburne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. The film was released in June 2013.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder respectively wrote and directed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), the sequel to Man of Steel and the 2nd film in the DC Extended Universe. Christopher Nolan returned as producer, albeit in a lesser role than he had in the first film. Goyer stated at the Superman 75th Anniversary Panel at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International that Batman and Superman would battle, and titles under consideration were Superman Vs Batman and Batman Vs Superman. Over the next six months, Ben Affleck (as Batman), Gal Gadot (as Wonder Woman), Jesse Eisenberg (as Lex Luthor) and Jeremy Irons (as Alfred Pennyworth) were added to the cast. All have since appeared in other DCEU movies as well.
The film was released in March 25, 2016; initially was slated to July 2015, but was delayed in order to give the filmmakers "time to realize fully their vision, given the complex visual nature of the story".
Justice League (2017)
Shortly after filming had finished for Man of Steel, Warner Bros hired Will Beall to script a new Justice League film in June 2012. With the release of Man of Steel in June 2013, Goyer was hired to write a new Justice League script, with the Beall draft being scrapped. In April 2014, it was announced that Zack Snyder would also be directing Goyer's Justice League script. Warner Bros. was reportedly courting Chris Terrio to rewrite Justice League the following July, after having been impressed with his rewrite of Batman v Superman. During post-production of the film, Zack Snyder left the film due to the death of his daughter. Joss Whedon took over the project and wrote and directed reshoots.
Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021)
The divisive reaction toward the theatrical cut of Justice League, with Zack Snyder leaving directorial duties and the theatrical cut of the film in the hands of Joss Whedon, led to an argument comparing the situation to the one experienced by the film Superman II. Both Justice League and Superman II had a director who was replaced before the completion of the film (for different reasons), which led to a second director coming in and making substantial changes to the tone of the film. Richard Donner was able to complete his cut of Superman II in 2005. In the belief that Snyder had shot enough material for a finished film, a campaign for a "Snyder Cut" began online, to allow Snyder to receive a similar treatment to Donner. Arguments were made that Snyder's vision would be more cohesive to the previous films than the actual theatrical cut, which Snyder has not yet seen. Warner Bros. initially remained silent regarding any intention of making a "Snyder Cut". In March 2019, Snyder confirmed his original cut did exist, and stated that it was up to Warner Bros. to release it. In November 2019, Variety reported that Warner Bros. was unlikely to release Snyder's version of Justice League in theaters or on HBO Max, calling it a "pipe dream". In December, however, Snyder posted a photo on his Vero account, which showed boxes with tapes labeled "Z.S. J.L Director's cut", and with the caption "Is it real? Does it exist? Of course it does." On May 20, 2020, Snyder officially announced that HBO Max would be releasing his cut of Justice League on their service in 2021. The cut cost $70+ million to complete the special effects, musical score, editing, and additional shooting. Initially the cut was planned to be a four part miniseries, but it was instead eventually released as a four-hour movie. Snyder has stated that this version is non-canonical to DC Extended Universe continuity, existing in a slightly alternate universe. However, Jason Momoa said that James Wan's Aquaman (2018) takes place after Zack Snyder's Justice League rather than Whedon's version. Similarly, Wonder Woman (2017) director Patty Jenkins said that no DC director considers Whedon's Justice League canonical, and that she had worked with Snyder to ensure Wonder Woman maintained continuity with his film.
DCEU cameos (2016–present)
- Superman is heavily referenced in Suicide Squad (2016). In the one-year aftermath of Superman's death, intelligence officer Amanda Waller convinces Washington, D.C. officials to allow her to assemble Task Force X, in case the next Superman will not be as good.
- Superman has made a cameo appearance in one other DCEU film: Shazam! (2019), in which he appears briefly at the end. He is played by Ryan Hadley, Zachary Levi's body double, owing to Cavill's unavailability. He appears from the neck down after Billy announces to Freddy Freeman that he invited another person to sit with them at lunch. Upon seeing him, Freddy gasps in shock.
- Superman is referenced in The Suicide Squad (2021). Amanda Waller states that Bloodsport, a new member of Task Force X, was arrested and imprisoned for shooting Superman with a Kryptonite bullet.
Future Superman film
In February 2021, Ta-Nehisi Coates was revealed to be writing a new Superman film for the DCEU that was in early development. J. J. Abrams was set as producer alongside Hannah Minghella, with no director or actors attached to the project yet. The film was expected to feature a black actor portraying Superman, with potential for Michael B. Jordan to take on the role. Coates said he was looking forward to "meaningfully adding to the legacy of America's most iconic mythic hero", while Abrams said the film would tell a "new, powerful and moving Superman story". This was reported by outlets as being a reboot of the franchise, but Richard Newby of The Hollywood Reporter felt the film starring a black actor could indicate a new version of Superman that could exist alongside Cavill's portrayal within the DC Multiverse. Newby also noted that Coates' history as a non-fiction author and journalist focusing on African-American issues would give him "the insight and experience to delve further into the [Superman] mythos in a way never seen on screen".
The studio was in the early process of finding a director for the film at that point, and had committed to hiring a black filmmaker for the project. They had met with potential directors by early May, working from a list that included Steven Caple Jr., J. D. Dillard, Regina King, and Shaka King. Coates was not expected to deliver his script for the film until mid-December, and was believed to be introducing a new version of Kal-El / Superman in what was potentially a 20th century period piece. The film was expected to be set in a separate universe from the DCEU at that point.
Jordan stated in April that he was not interested in starring the film. He later clarified that this was because the film was planned to portray Kal-El himself as black, rather than use an alternate version of Superman, such as Calvin Ellis or Val-Zod, who had already appeared as black in the comic books, which would give rise to charges of racebending. Instead, Jordan began developing a Val-Zod limited series for HBO Max.
Superman V (1980s/90s)
Before the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Cannon Films considered producing a fifth film with Albert Pyun as director. Cannon's bankruptcy resulted in the film rights reverting to Ilya and Alexander Salkind. The story had Superman dying and resurrecting in the shrunken, bottled Krypton city of Kandor. The premise of Superman's death and rebirth coincidentally predated 1992 "The Death of Superman" comic book storyline.
Superman Reborn (1995)
"In any good Superman movie, the fate of the whole planet should be at stake. You've got to have villains whose powers and abilities demand that Superman (and only Superman) can be the one who stops them. That's the only way to make the movie exciting and a dramatic challenge."
—Writer Jonathan Lemkin on writing Superman Reborn: 188
With the success of "The Death of Superman" comic book storyline, Warner Brothers purchased the film rights of Superman from the Salkinds in 1993, and hired producer Jon Peters to develop a new Superman film. Peters in turn hired Jonathan Lemkin to write a new script.: 188 Major toy companies insisted on seeing Lemkin's screenplay before the deadline of the 1993 American International Toy Fair.: 188
Lemkin's script in March 1995, titled Superman Reborn, featured Lois Lane and Clark Kent with relationship troubles, and Superman's battle with Doomsday. When Superman professes his love to Lois, his life force jumps between them just as he dies, giving Lois a virgin birth. Their child, who grows 21-years-old in three weeks, becomes the resurrected Superman and saves the world.: 188–189 Warner Brothers did not like the script because of the similar underlying themes with Bruce Wayne's obligations of heroism found in Batman Forever (1995).: 189 
To rewrite Lemkin's text, Peters hired Gregory Poirier,: 189 whose December 1995 script had Brainiac creating Doomsday, infused with "Kryptonite blood." In Poirier's script, Superman has romance problems with Lois Lane and visits a psychiatrist before he is killed by Doomsday. An alien named Cadmus, a victim of Brainiac, steals his corpse. Superman is resurrected and teams with Cadmus to defeat Brainiac. Powerless, Superman wears a robotic suit until his powers—which, according to the script, are a mental discipline called "Phin-yar"—return.: 189 At Peters' request, Poirier had Superman wear an all-black suit at the end of the script.: 189 Other villains included Parasite and Silver Banshee. Though Poirier's script impressed Warner Brothers, Kevin Smith was hired to rewrite; Smith thought that Poirier's script did not respect the Superman mythos properly.: 189
Superman Lives (1998)
- Peters did not want Superman to fly,: 190 arguing that the character would "look like an overgrown Boy Scout." Smith wrote Superman flying as "a red-and-blue blur in flight, creating a sonic boom every time he flew.
- Peters also wanted Superman to fight a giant spider in the third act.: 190
Smith accepted the terms, realizing that he was being hired to execute a preordained idea.: 190 Peters would go on to insist further additions:
- Smith was also forced to write a scene involving Brainiac fighting a polar bear at the Fortress of Solitude.: 190
- The Star Wars 20th anniversary re-release in theaters prompted Peters to commission a "space dog" that Brainiac could present to Luthor purely for merchandising appeal and toy sales.
- Peters also insisted that Brainiac's robot assistant L-Ron was to be voiced by Dwight Ewell, calling the character "a gay R2-D2 with attitude."
Smith's script, titled Superman Lives, had Brainiac sending Doomsday to kill Superman, as well as blocking out the sun to make Superman powerless, as Superman is fueled by sunlight. Brainiac teams up with Lex Luthor, but Superman is resurrected by a Kryptonian robot, the Eradicator. Brainiac wishes to possess the Eradicator and its technology. Powerless, the resurrected Superman is sheathed in a robotic suit formed from the Eradicator itself until his powers return, courtesy of sunbeams, and defeats Brainiac. Smith's casting choices included Ben Affleck as Clark Kent/Superman, Linda Fiorentino as Lois Lane, Jack Nicholson as Lex Luthor, Famke Janssen as Mercy, John Mahoney as Perry White, David Hyde Pierce as the Eradicator, Jason Lee as Brainiac, and Jason Mewes as Jimmy Olsen. Affleck would go on to portray Superman actor George Reeves in the 2006 film Hollywoodland, and Batman in the DC Extended Universe, beginning with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 2016.
Smith originally suggested Tim Burton to direct his script, and Burton signed on with a pay-or-play contract of $5 million. Warner Brothers originally planned on a theatrical release date for summer 1998, the 60th anniversary of the character's debut in Action Comics. Nicolas Cage, a comic book fan, signed on as Superman with a $20 million pay-or-play contract, believing he could "reconceive the character.": 192 Peters also felt Cage could "convince audiences he [Superman] came from outer space." Burton explained Cage's casting would be "the first time you would believe that nobody could recognize Clark Kent as Superman, he [Cage] could physically change his persona." Kevin Spacey was approached for the role of Lex Luthor, while Christopher Walken was Burton's choice for Brainiac, a role also considered for Jim Carrey and Gary Oldman. Sandra Bullock, Courteney Cox and Julianne Moore had been approached for Lois Lane, while Chris Rock was cast as Jimmy Olsen. Michael Keaton confirmed his involvement, but when asked if he would be reprising his role as Batman from Burton's Batman films, he would only reply, "Not exactly."
Filming was originally set to begin in early 1998.
Rewrites and production
In the summer of 1997, Superman Lives entered pre-production,: 193 with an art department employed under production designer Rick Heinrichs. Burton hired Wesley Strick to rewrite Smith's script, which disappointed Smith, who stated:
The studio was happy with what I was doing. Then Tim Burton got involved, and when he signed his pay-or-play deal, he turned around and said he wanted to do his version of Superman. So who is Warner Bros. going back to? The guy who made Clerks, or the guy who made them half a billion dollars on Batman?: 193
When Strick read Smith's script, he was annoyed with the fact that "Superman was accompanied/shadowed by someone/something called the Eradicator.": 193 He also felt that "Brainiac's evil plot of launching a disk in space to block out the sun and make Superman powerless was reminiscent of an episode of The Simpsons, with Mr. Burns doing the Brainiac role.": 193 However, after reading The Death and Return of Superman, Strick was able to understand some of the elements of Smith's script. Strick's rewrite featured Superman as an existentialist, thinking of himself to be an outsider on Earth. Superman is threatened by Brainiac and Lex Luthor, who later amalgamate into "Lexiac," described by Strick as "a schizo/scary mega-villain.": 193 Superman is later resurrected by the power of 'K,' a natural force representing the spirit of Krypton, as he defeats Lexiac.: 193
Art designer Sylvain Despretz claimed the art department was assigned to create something that had little or nothing to do with the Superman comic book, and also explained that Peters "would bring kids in, who would rate the drawings on the wall as if they were evaluating the toy possibilities. It was basically a toy show.": 196 Peters saw a cover of National Geographic, containing a picture of a skull, going to art department workers, telling them he wanted the design for Brainiac's spaceship to have the same image. Burton gave Despretz a concept drawing for Brainiac, which Despretz claims was "a cone with a round ball on top, and something that looked like an emaciated skull inside. Imagine you take Merlin's hat, and you stick a fish bowl on top, with a skull in it.": 196 Concept artist Rolf Mohr said in an interview he designed a suit for the Eradicator for a planned scene in which it transforms into a flying vehicle.
"We got the Kevin Smith script, but we were told not to read it, because they knew he wasn't going to stay on the movie. So we used Kevin Smith's script as a guide to the sets we might be doing, and we waited and waited for the new script to come in, but it never did."
—Art designer Sylvain Despretz on designing Superman Lives: 194
Burton chose Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as his primary filming location for Metropolis,: 197 while start dates for filming were pushed back. A minor piece of the Krypton set was constructed but then destroyed, and Cage had even attended a costume fitting.
The studio was also considering changing the title Superman Lives back to Superman Reborn. Deeming Wesley Strick's script too expensive, Warner Bros enlisted the help of Dan Gilroy to rewrite it into something more economically feasible. Gilroy lowered the $190 million budget set by Strick's draft to $100 million. However, the studio was still less willing to fast track production, due to financial reasons with other film properties, having Gilroy turn in two drafts.
In April 1998, Warner Bros ultimately chose to put the film on hold; at this point in production, the studio had spent $30 million on developing the film.: 198 Burton, having left to direct Sleepy Hollow (1999), cited various differences with Peters and the studio: "I basically wasted a year. A year is a long time to be working with somebody that you don't really want to be working with."
Disappointed by the lack of progress on the film's production, aspiring screenwriter/comic book fan Alex Ford was able to have a script of his (titled Superman: The Man of Steel) accepted at the studio's offices in September 1998. Ford pitched his idea for a film series consisting of seven installments, and his approach impressed Warner Bros. and Peters, though he was later given a farewell due to creative differences. Ford said,
I can tell you they don't know much about comics. Their audience isn't you and me who pay $7.00. It's for the parents who spend $60 on toys and lunchboxes. It is a business, and what's more important, the $150 million at the box office or the $600 million in merchandising?
With Gilroy's script, Peters offered the director's position to Michael Bay, Shekhar Kapur and Martin Campbell though they all turned down the offer. Brett Ratner turned down the option in favor of The Family Man. Simon West and Stephen Norrington were reportedly top contenders as well. In June 1999, William Wisher, Jr. was hired to write a new script, and Cage assisted on story elements. Cage dropped out of the project in June 2000, while Wisher turned in a new script in August 2000, reported to have contained similar elements with The Matrix. Oliver Stone was then approached to direct Wisher's script, but declined. Peters offered Will Smith the role of Superman, but the actor turned it down over ethnicity concerns.
Retrospective development (2015–2018)
The film's backstory was covered in the 2015 documentary film The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?. Kevin Smith would go on to direct the ninth episode of the second season of Supergirl, which was titled "Supergirl Lives" as homage to Superman Lives.
In November 2016, Kevin Smith said that he was open to having the Superman Lives script be adapted as an animated film, with Nicolas Cage voicing Superman and Michael Rooker voicing Lex Luthor. In October 2017, Batman vs. Two-Face writer Michael Jelenic stated that he originally pitched an animated film based on Smith's Superman Lives script, saying that Warner Bros seriously considered it for a long time. According to Jelenic, Cage would have loved to voice Superman in the film, but the idea never materialized and his pitch was abandoned.
Cage was ultimately cast to voice Superman in the animated film Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, based on the Teen Titans Go! cartoon show, which was released on July 27, 2018. In October 2019, Cage was approached to play Superman, in live-action form, by Marc Guggenheim and the producers of the Arrowverse four-part crossover event "Crisis on Infinite Earths", which aired from December 2019 to January 2020. However, Cage's inclusion was ultimately dropped for unknown reasons.
Batman vs. Superman: Asylum (2004)
In the early 2000s, Warner Brothers wanted to reboot the Superman film series with an origin story and ignore the "Death of Superman" storyline that had been stuck in development limbo through the late 1990s.
In 2001, screenwriter Paul Attanasio was almost signed to pen a new script for producer Jon Peters; although McG being widely reported as attached to Attanasio's Superman script, which was greenlit, he dropped out in favor of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). Ultimately, Andrew Kevin Walker was hired in August that year after pitching Warner Bros an idea titled Batman vs. Superman, attaching Wolfgang Petersen as director.
In February 2002, filmmaker J. J. Abrams was hired to write a new screenplay for a stand-alone Superman film, going under the title of Superman: Flyby, again approaching Petersen to direct. In July, Abrams turned in his script, designed to be the first of a trilogy. However, Lorenzo di Bonaventura—Warner Bros' executive vice president for worldwide motion pictures—though liking Abrams' script, nonetheless planned to release Batman vs Superman first. Abrams' script was thereby put on hold in favor of Walker's Batman vs. Superman idea.
Walker's draft was thought of as too dark by the studio, who hired Akiva Goldsman to do a rewrite, which was codenamed Asylum. Goldsman's draft, dated June 21, 2002, introduced Bruce Wayne attempting to shake all of the demons in his life after his 5-year retirement from crime-fighting. Dick Grayson, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Gordon are all dead. Meanwhile, Clark Kent is down on his luck and in despair after his divorce from Lois Lane. Clark serves as Bruce's best man at his wedding to the beautiful and lovely Elizabeth Miller. After Elizabeth is killed by the Joker at the honeymoon, Bruce is forced to don the Batsuit once more, tangling a plot which involves Lex Luthor, while Clark begins a romance with Lana Lang in Smallville and tries to pull Bruce back. In return, Bruce blames Clark for her death, and the two go against one another, prodded on by Lex Luthor. After Batman decides not to succumb to his rage, The two team up,stop Luthor in his Mechanized Suit and an incoming meteor storm.
Christian Bale, who was being considered for the lead in Darren Aronofsky's Batman: Year One adaptation at the time (another cancelled film), was simultaneously approached by Peterson for the Superman role. Peterson confirmed in a 2010 interview that the only other actor he approached for Superman was Josh Hartnett. Warner Bros canceled development to focus on individual Superman and Batman projects after Abrams submitted another draft for Superman: Flyby. Christopher Nolan cast Bale as Batman the following year in Batman Begins.
In the opening scene of I Am Legend, a large banner displays the Superman symbol within the Batman symbol in Times Square. It is meant as an in-joke by writer Goldsman, who wrote the scripts for both Batman vs. Superman and I Am Legend.
Superman: Flyby (2004)
Turning in his script in July 2002, J. J. Abrams' Superman: Flyby was an origin story that included Krypton besieged by a civil war between Jor-El and his corrupt brother Kata-Zor. Before Kata-Zor sentences Jor-El to prison, Kal-El is launched to Earth to fulfill a prophecy. Adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, he forms a romance with Lois Lane in the Daily Planet. However, Lois is more concerned with exposing Lex Luthor, written as a government agent obsessed with UFO phenomena. Clark reveals himself to the world as Superman, bringing Kata-Zor's son, Ty-Zor, and three other Kryptonians to Earth. Superman is defeated and killed, and visits Jor-El (who committed suicide on Krypton while in prison) in Kryptonian heaven. Resurrected, he returns to Earth and defeats the four Kryptonians. The script ends with Superman flying off to Krypton in a spaceship.
Brett Ratner was hired to direct in September 2002, originally expressing an interest in casting an unknown for the lead role, while filming was to start sometime in late 2003. Christopher Reeve joined as project consultant, citing Tom Welling, who portrayed the teenage Clark Kent in Smallville, as an ideal candidate. Reeve added "the character is more important than the actor who plays him, because it is an enduring mythology. It definitely should be an unknown." Ratner approached Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Paul Walker and Brendan Fraser for Superman, but conceded that finding a famous actor for the title role had proven difficult because of contractual obligations to appear in sequels. "No star wants to sign that, but as much as I've told Jude and Josh my vision for the movie, I've warned them of the consequences of being Superman. They'll live this character for 10 years because I'm telling one story over three movies and plan to direct all three if the first is as successful as everyone suspects." Hartnett in particular was offered $100 million for a three-picture deal. Walker explained that "I could have made a gazillion dollars on that franchise. I could probably have bought my own fleet of jets or my own island. You know what? I don't need it." David Boreanaz, Victor Webster and Ashton Kutcher auditioned, along with Keri Russell as Lois Lane, but Kutcher decided not to pursue the role, citing scheduling conflicts with That '70s Show, the Superman curse and fear of typecasting, while Boreanaz had to back out due to obligations with Angel. James Marsden stated in a 2006 interview that at one point he was approached by Ratner. Although it was never formally announced, Matt Bomer confirmed he was in the running for the lead role, being Ratner's preferred choice at the time. Bomer would later voice the character in the 2013 animated film Superman: Unbound. Amy Adams had also auditioned for Lois Lane, and would eventually win the role eight years later when she was cast in Man of Steel.
Superman: Flyby was being met with a budget exceeding $200 million, not including money spent on Superman Reborn, Superman Lives, and Batman vs. Superman, but Warner Bros. was still adamant for a summer 2004 release date. Christopher Walken was in negotiations for Perry White, while Ratner wanted to cast Anthony Hopkins as Jor-El, and Ralph Fiennes as Lex Luthor, two of his cast members from Red Dragon. Joel Edgerton turned down a chance to audition as Superman in favor of the villain Ty-Zor, before Ratner dropped out of the project in March 2003, blaming casting delays, and aggressive feuds with producer Jon Peters.
McG returned as director in 2003, while Fraser continued to express interest, but had fears of typecasting. ESC Entertainment was hired for visual effects work, with Kim Libreri as visual effects supervisor and Stan Winston designing a certain "prototype suit". McG approached Shia LaBeouf for Jimmy Olsen, with an interest to cast an unknown for Superman, Scarlett Johansson as Lois Lane and Johnny Depp for Lex Luthor. Robert Downey Jr. was soon afterward cast as Lex Luthor. Neal H. Moritz and Gilbert Adler were set to produce the film. McG also commissioned Josh Schwartz to rewrite the Abrams script. He also shot test footage with several candidates, including Jason Behr, Henry Cavill, Jared Padalecki, and Michael Cassidy. However, McG left the project soon afterward, blaming budgetary concerns and disagreement over filming locations. He opted to shoot in New York City and Canada, but Warner Bros. wanted Sydney, Australia, which would have cost $25 million less. McG released a statement saying that he felt "it was inappropriate to try to capture the heart of America on another continent." He eventually admitted in a 2012 interview that his fear of flying was the real reason for his objection to Australia. Abrams lobbied for the chance to direct his script, but Warner Bros. replaced McG with Bryan Singer in July 2004, resulting in Superman Returns, that was released in 2006.
In August 2013, Geoff Johns mentioned that Warner Bros. was considering turning unproduced scripts and screenplays into original animated films and had expressed interest in making an animated adaptation of the Flyby screenplay.
Superman Returns sequel (2008/09)
In February 2006, four months before the release of Superman Returns, Warner Brothers announced a summer 2009 theatrical release date for a sequel, with Bryan Singer returning as director, along with Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Sam Huntington, Frank Langella, and Tristan Lake Leabu expected to reprise their roles.
However, with the release of Superman Returns in July 2006, the studio was hesitant on moving forward with development. Warner Brothers President Alan F. Horn explained that Superman Returns was a very successful film, but that it "should have done $500 million worldwide" and that they "should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd." Singer reacted incredulously to the studio complaints, saying that the "movie made $400 million!," adding "I don't know what constitutes under-performing these days."
Filming was supposed to start in March 2008. While no screenplay was ever written, Singer would have titled it Man of Steel, stressing that it would have been more action-packed than Superman Returns.
In my mind, if the Kryptonians really were a space-faring race ... it would only make sense that there would've been colonies and off-planet missions ... other Kryptonians making their way to Earth seemed like a pretty big one. It wouldn't necessarily be evil right off the bat. That's too easy and cliché ... I think it'd be interesting to see how these other Kryptonians show up, land and have all these powers and [have to learn] how to adapt to them.
In February 2007, the studio commissioned husband and wife duo Michele and Kieran Mulroney to write a script for a Justice League film, halting development for the Superman Returns sequel. The Justice League script was submitted to Warner Brothers the following June, which prompted the studio to immediately fast-track production of what was to be titled Justice League: Mortal. As Singer went on to film Valkyrie (2008) the next month, George Miller signed to direct in September 2007.
The script would have featured a different Superman in a separate continuity from Singer's film; Routh was not approached to reprise his role for Justice League: Mortal, which ended up going to D. J. Cotrona. The film nearly went into production in March 2008, but the Australian Film Commission denied Warner Brothers their 40% tax rebate and Cotrona's options eventually expired. With Justice League: Mortal canceled, Singer renewed his interest in the Superman Returns sequel that same month, stating that it was in early development. Paul Levitz, president of DC Comics, still expected the title role to be reprised by Routh, whose contract for a sequel expired in 2009.
In August 2008, the studio's President of Production Jeff Robinov admitted:
Superman Returns didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to.… It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned.… Had Superman worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009. Now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all.
Justice League: Mortal (2009)
In February 2007, during pre-production for The Dark Knight, Warner Brothers hired husband and wife screenwriting duo Michelle and Kieran Mulroney to script a Justice League film featuring a younger Batman in a separate franchise.
George Miller was hired to direct the following September, with D. J. Cotrona was cast as Superman, along with Armie Hammer as Batman. Filming had nearly commenced at Fox Studios Australia in Sydney, but was pushed back over the Writers Guild of America strike, and once more when the Australian Film Commission denied Warner Bros. a 45 percent tax rebate over lack of Australian actors in the film. Production offices were moved to Vancouver Film Studios in Canada for an expected July 2008 start and a planned summer 2009 theatrical release date, but Warner Bros. ultimately canceled Justice League following the success of The Dark Knight. Hammer's option on his contract lapsed and the studio was more willing to proceed with Christopher Nolan to finish his trilogy separately with The Dark Knight Rises.
Man of Steel sequel
By October 2014, a sequel to Man of Steel was in development. Zack Snyder later stated that plot elements under discussion included Brainiac and the Kryptonians who were banished to the Phantom Zone at the end of Man of Steel. In November 2016, Amy Adams stated that work had begun on the screenplay. In September 2017, Matthew Vaughn announced that he was having discussions with the studio to direct the film. Vaughn later said his ideas for the film were influenced by a previous trilogy pitch from 2008 that he had co-written with Mark Millar, and described the planned sequel as "a massive, uplifting, hopeful thing". In June 2018, Cavill revealed that he was preparing to reprise the role.
Around that time, screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie pitched an idea, with Cavill's participation, about a Man of Steel sequel that would have tied in to a Green Lantern film that McQuarrie was also pitching, but the studio was not interested in either film.
By March 2019, Vaughn stated that discussions with Warner Bros. had ended, and he was no longer involved with development of the film. Later, Michael B. Jordan pitched his own take on the character, but was not ready to commit due to an already busy schedule. By November 2019, it was reported that Warner Bros. had entered early negotiations with J. J. Abrams about taking control of the project. In December, Cavill said the future of Superman would be more faithful to the comic book source material. Cavill said that his casting in The Witcher had previously interfered with his availability for the role, but that this would not be the case with the show's second season. In 2019, James Gunn was offered to direct the film, but chose to direct The Suicide Squad instead.
Recurring cast and characters
- This table only includes characters that have appeared in multiple film series that featured Superman.
- A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film, or that the character's presence in the film has not yet been announced.
- A V indicates a voice-only role.
- A P indicates an appearance through photograph(s).
- A Y indicates a role as a younger version of the character.
- A A indicates an appearance through archival footage, stills, or audio.
- A C indicates a cameo appearance.
- A U indicates that the actor or actress was not credited for their respective role.
- A S indicates an appearance through use of special effects.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Man of Steel
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Box office performance
|Film||Release date||Box office gross||Ref(s)|
|North America||North American
gross when adjusted
December 15, 1978
|Superman II||June 19, 1981||December 4, 1980||$108,185,706||$339,806,234||$82.2 million||$190,385,706|||
June 17, 1983
|Supergirl||21 November 1984||19 July 1984||$14,296,438||$35,612,876||N/A||$14,296,438|||
|Superman IV: The Quest for Peace||
July 24, 1987
June 28, 2006
|Man of Steel||
June 14, 2013
|Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice||
March 25, 2016
Critical and public response
|Superman||94% (68 reviews)||80 (11 reviews)||N/A|
|Superman II||87% (52 reviews)||83 (11 reviews)||N/A|
|Superman III||30% (53 reviews)||44 (9 reviews)||N/A|
|Supergirl||9% (32 reviews)||42 (12 reviews)||N/A|
|Superman IV: The Quest for Peace||11% (46 reviews)||24 (10 reviews)||C|
|Superman Returns||75% (268 reviews)||72 (40 reviews)||B+|
|Man of Steel||56% (338 reviews)||55 (47 reviews)||A−|
|Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice||28% (432 reviews)||44 (51 reviews)||B|
The initial four Superman films starring Christopher Reeve were released previously on VHS, and throughout the film series' history, three box sets of the films have been released by Warner Bros. The first occurred on May 1, 2001, when The Complete Superman Collection was released both on DVD and VHS, containing that year's DVD/home video releases of Superman, Superman II, Superman III, and Superman IV. The set was valued at US$49.99 for the DVD release and US$29.99 for the VHS release, and received positive reviews.
The four Christopher Reeve films were again released on November 28, 2006, in new DVD releases to coincide with Superman Returns, also released in that year. Superman (1978) was released in a four-disc 'special edition' similar to Superman II, which was released in a two-disc special edition. Both Superman III and IV were released in single disc 'deluxe editions', and all four releases were available together in The Christopher Reeve Superman Collection, an 8-disc set that was valued at US$79.92 and received positive reviews (like the 2001 set before it).
Also on November 28, 2006, a 14-disc DVD box set titled Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition was released, containing the four Reeve films, along with Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman Returns, and Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, among other releases. All contents of the set were housed within a tin case. The set was valued at US$99.92, and received extremely positive reviews when first released. However, after only a day on the market, Warner Bros announced that there were two errors discovered within the set: the first was that the 2.0 audio track on Superman, was instead the 5.1 audio track already on the disc; and the second was that the Superman III disc was not the 2006 deluxe edition as advertised, but the 2001 release instead. The set was soon recalled, and Warner Bros offered a toll-free number to replace the faulty discs for people who had already purchased the set. Due to popular demand, a corrected set was released and Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition returned to store shelves on May 29, 2007.
On October 14, 2008, another Christopher Reeve Superman film collection was released, entitled Superman: 4 Film Favorites, containing all four films, but with far less bonus material than previous sets. The collection was a 2-disc DVD-18 set that included the first disc of both special editions from the 2006 release and both deluxe editions.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Superman in film|
- Superman curse — a series of supposedly related incidents, sometimes fatal, that have affected many associated in producing Superman in film and animation
- Superman franchise media
- Category:Fan films based on Superman
- Batman in film
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