Superman II

Superman II is a 1980 British-American superhero film directed by Richard Lester, based on the DC Comics character Superman. It is a sequel to the 1978 film Superman and stars Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, and Jack O'Halloran. The film was released in Australia and mainland Europe on December 4, 1980, and in other countries throughout 1981. Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround. The film is followed by Superman III, released in 1983.

The film received positive reviews from film critics for the visual effects and story, as well as Reeve's performance. It grossed $190 million against a production budget of $54 million. Three years after the film's release, a second sequel, Superman III, was released, for which Lester returned as director.


Before the destruction of Krypton, the criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non are sentenced to banishment into the Phantom Zone. Years later, the Phantom Zone is shattered near Earth by the shockwave of a space-borne hydrogen bomb. The three criminals are freed and find themselves with superpowers granted by the yellow light of Earth's sun.

The Daily Planet sends journalist Clark Kent--whose secret identity is Superman--and his colleague Lois Lane to Niagara Falls. Lois suspects Clark and Superman are the same person. That night, when Clark recovers Lois' comb from a lit fireplace, Lois discovers that his hand is unburned, forcing Clark to admit he is Superman. He takes her to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, and shows her the traces of his past stored in energy crystals. One is the green crystal that created the Fortress and opened Superman's contact with his parents. Superman declares his love for Lois and his wish to spend his life with her. After conferring with the artificial intelligence of his mother Lara, Superman removes his superpowers by exposing himself to red Kryptonian sunlight in a crystal chamber, becoming a mortal. Clark and Lois spend the night together, then leave the Fortress and return from the Arctic by automobile. Arriving at a diner in Metropolis, Clark is beaten up by a truck driver named Rocky. Meanwhile, the Zod gang travels to the White House and force the President of the United States to surrender on behalf of the entire planet during an international television broadcast. When the President pleads for Superman to save the Earth, the gang demands that Superman come and "kneel before Zod!" Clark and Lois learn of Zod's conquest and, realizing that humanity alone cannot fight Zod, Clark returns to the Fortress to try to regain his powers.

Lex Luthor escapes from prison with Eve Teschmacher's help, leaving his accomplice Otis behind. Luthor and Teschmacher infiltrate the Fortress of Solitude before Superman and Lois arrive. Luthor learns of Superman's connection to Jor-El and General Zod. He finds Zod at the White House and tells him Superman is the son of Jor-El, their jailer, and offers to lead him to Superman in exchange for control of Australia. The three Kryptonians ally with Luthor and go to the offices of the Daily Planet. Superman arrives, after having found the green crystal that restores his powers, and battles the three. Zod realizes Superman cares for the humans and takes advantage of this by threatening bystanders. Superman realizes the only way to stop Zod and the others is to lure them to the Fortress. Superman flies off, with Zod, Ursa, and Non in pursuit, kidnapping Lois and taking along Luthor. Upon arrival, Zod declares Luthor has outlived his usefulness and plans to kill both him and Superman. Superman tries to get Luthor to lure the three into the crystal chamber to depower them, but Luthor, eager to get back in Zod's favor, reveals the chamber's secret to the villains. Zod forces Superman into the chamber and activates it; however, Superman crushes Zod's hand and tosses him into a crevice. Luthor deduces that Superman reconfigured the chamber to expose the trio to red sunlight while Superman was protected from it. Non falls into another crevice when trying to fly over it and Lois knocks Ursa into a third. Superman flies back to civilization, returning Luthor to prison and Lois home.

At the Daily Planet the following day, Clark finds Lois upset about knowing his secret and not being able to be open about her true feelings. He kisses her, using his abilities to wipe her mind of her knowledge of the past few days. Later, Clark returns to the diner and has a rematch with Rocky the truck driver and defeats him easily. Superman restores the damage done by Zod, replacing the flag atop the White House.


  • Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor: Criminal genius and Superman's nemesis. Armed with vast resources and scientific brilliance, Luthor's contempt for mankind is only surpassed by his hatred for Superman. Luthor strikes a bargain with the three Kryptonian criminals in an effort to destroy Superman.
  • Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent / Superman: Born on Krypton and raised on Earth, Superman is a being of immense strength, speed, and power. Morally upstanding and instilled with a strong sense of duty, Superman tirelessly uses his formidable powers, which he gets from the Earth's yellow sun, to protect the people of his adoptive homeworld. His alter ego is mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. Superman's abilities include: X-ray and heat vision, vast strength, speed and invulnerability, super-intelligence, flight and the hitherto unknown ability to throw the 'S' symbol from his costume as a plastic trapping device of some description.
  • Ned Beatty as Otis: Luthor's incompetent henchman.
  • Jackie Cooper as Perry White: Mercurial editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet newspaper and Lois and Clark's boss.
  • Sarah Douglas as Ursa: Zod's second-in-command and consort. Ursa's evil will and power-lust are equal to and sometimes surpass those of General Zod's. Her contempt and utter disregard for humans, men in particular, make her a very deadly adversary. She has an inclination to collect insignia and heraldry from people she defeats or dominates, such as the NASA patch from the EVA suit of an astronaut she kills.
  • Margot Kidder as Lois Lane: The ace reporter for the Daily Planet and Superman's love interest. Lois, is a driven career journalist, who lets nothing stand in the way of breaking the next big story and scooping rival reporters. While ignoring the potential consequences that sometimes put her in peril. She finds out that Clark is Superman, but her memory is erased when Clark kisses her.
  • Jack O'Halloran as Non: The third of the Kryptonian criminals, Non is "as without thought as he is without voice." At 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, Non is a formidable hulking mute, who easily matches Superman's strength but has the intelligence and sometimes curiosity of a child and communicates only with guttural grunts and growls. Though he lacks the mental ability to use his powers effectively, he does however possess the same taste for destruction as his Kryptonian companions.
  • Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher: Lex Luthor's beautiful assistant and girlfriend who helps Lex Luthor escape from prison.
  • Susannah York as Lara: Jor-El's wife and Superman's biological mother.
  • Clifton James as Sheriff.
  • E.g. Marshall as the President of the United States.
  • Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen: Young photographer at the Daily Planet.
  • Terence Stamp as General Zod: The ruthless, arrogant and megalomaniacal leader of three Kryptonian criminals banished to the Phantom Zone and unwittingly set free by Superman. Zod, upon landing on Earth and gaining the same superpowers as Superman, immediately views humans as a weak and insignificant sub-species and imposes his evil will for world dominance. However, his arrogance causes him to quickly become bored with his powers and he is almost disappointed at how little of a challenge humans are. His insatiable lust for power is replaced however by revenge when he learns that the son of Jor-El stands in the way of his absolute rule of the planet.

Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, and E.G. Marshall are the only actors who did not participate in the film's reshoots under the direction of Richard Lester. Where additional shots were needed for continuity, Lester used body doubles in place of the original actors. Marlon Brando's scenes were excised entirely, due to the high fee the actor had demanded for the use of his footage in the film.

According to the 2006 documentary You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman, Sarah Douglas was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the film and was one of the few actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner-Lester controversy.

Richard Donner briefly appears in a "walking cameo" in the film. In the sequence where the de-powered Clark and Lois are seen approaching the truck-stop diner by car, Donner appears walking "camera left" past the driver's side. He is wearing a light tan jacket and appears to be smoking a pipe. In his commentary for Superman II, Ilya Salkind states that the inclusion of his cameo in that scene is proof that the Salkinds held no animosity towards Donner, because if there were, then surely they would have cut it out. Conversely, Donner has used his inclusion in the scene to debunk praise heaped on Lester around the release of the film where Lester took credit for the intense nature of the "bully" scene in the diner, pointing out that he (Donner) filmed the scene and not Lester.

Original production

Production on Superman II was commenced simultaneously with Superman at Pinewood Studios in London under the direction of Richard Donner in April 1977. However, due to the expensive budget and overlong shooting schedule of both features, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind agreed to a negative pickup deal with Warner Bros. granting the studio rights to foreign distribution and television airings in exchange for more financing. This deal caused the Salkinds and producer Pierre Spengler to blame Donner for the various delays, leading to intense arguments. To ease the tension, the Salkinds hired Richard Lester--who had previously directed The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974) for the Salkinds--as an uncredited producer and intermediary on Superman.

In August 1977, with shooting lasting a year over schedule, Lester convinced Donner to halt production on Superman II in order for Donner to concentrate on finishing the first film in time for a Christmas release. However, this decision did not affect scenes featuring Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, and Valerie Perrine as they were all under contract to finish both pictures. After their scenes wrapped in October 1977, Superman II was officially put on hiatus.

Replacing Richard Donner

On March 15, 1979, shortly after the release of Superman, the Salkinds replaced Donner with Lester for Superman II. The exact reasoning and details behind Donner's departure are still debated. In his 2006 DVD commentary for Superman II, Spengler claims that Donner was indeed invited back to finish the sequel, but that Donner refused, telling Army Archerd in a March 1978 interview for Variety magazine that he would not be returning to direct as long as Spengler was acting producer. However, Donner told Starlog in 1989 that he was not invited back and that he did not know production had continued on the sequel until he received a telegram from the Salkinds telling him: "Your services are no longer needed."

The decision to replace Donner was controversial amongst the cast and crew. Creative consultant Tom Mankiewicz and editor Stuart Baird declined to return for the sequel in support of Donner; however, Mankiewicz was still credited for the sequel. Gene Hackman also declined to return for re-shoots due to his commitment on Reds and was replaced by a body double. Actor Marlon Brando, who finished all his scenes for both films early into production, successfully sued the Salkinds for $50 million over grossed profits gained from the first film. In response, the Salkinds cut Brando from Superman II, replacing his scenes with actress Susannah York. John Williams also did not return as composer for Superman II due to scheduling commitments with Lucasfilm. The film's score used Williams's themes from the first film, adapted by composer Ken Thorne, who had worked with Lester many times before, including on the 1965 Beatles film Help!

Production under Richard Lester

Production on Superman II officially recommenced with Richard Lester as director on June 1, 1979. Originally, the Salkinds considered Guy Hamilton for director, but he declined. On the first day of filming, set designer John Barry suddenly collapsed on the nearby set of The Empire Strikes Back and died from meningitis. Peter Murton was then hired in Barry's place. Principal photography resumed at Pinewood Studios with a revised screenplay written by David and Leslie Newman. The new script featured several newly conceived scenes including the Eiffel Tower opening sequence and Clark rescuing Lois at Niagara Falls. However, under strict guidelines from the Directors Guild of America, Lester needed to re-shoot several scenes Donner had already completed in order to receive full directorial credit. Location shooting took place in Canada, Paris, Norway and St Lucia, and the Metropolis scenes--in contrast to the first film where they were filmed on location in New York--were filmed entirely on the back lot at Pinewood. Superman II finally finished filming on March 10, 1980.

Due to budgetary reasons and actors being unavailable, key scenes filmed by Donner were added to the final film. Since the Lester footage was shot two years later, continuity errors are present in the physique and styling of stars Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve. In Donner's footage, Reeve appears less bulked as he was still gaining muscle for the part. Kidder also has dramatic changes throughout; in the montage of Lester-Donner material, shot inside the Daily Planet and the Fortress of Solitude near the movie's conclusion, her hairstyle, hair color, and even make-up are all inconsistent. Kidder's physical appearance in the Lester footage is noticeably different; during the scenes shot for Donner she appears slender, whereas in the Lester footage she looks thinner.


As aforementioned, John Williams chose not to return to score the film due to obligations with two Lucasfilm projects, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead Richard Lester's frequent composer Ken Thorne was commissioned to write a score based upon Williams's score to the first film. Thorne wrote minimal original material and adapted source music, such as Average White Band's "Pick Up the Pieces", which appears both in the restaurant in Idaho and during Clark's second encounter with Rocky in the Alaska diner. The music was performed at the CTS Studios, Wembley, London in the spring of 1980 by a studio session orchestra (rather than the London Symphony Orchestra, who had played for the first film). The soundtrack was released on Warner Bros. Records, with one edition featuring laser-etched "S" designs repeated five times on each side.

A complete score was released in 2008, as part of Superman: The Music--1978-1988, an 8-CD box set released by Film Score Monthly, with a limited edition of 6.000 units.

Release and reception

Unlike its predecessor, Superman II did not open simultaneously around the world and had staggered release dates in an attempt to maximize its box office returns. Originally opening in Australia on December 4, 1980, followed by selected European countries, it would be a further six months before it premiered in America, on June 1, 1981, at the National Theater, Broadway.

Despite the difficulties during production, Superman II received much praise from critics. It holds an 85% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10; the site's summary says, "The humor occasionally stumbles into slapstick territory, and the special effects are dated, but Superman II meets, if not exceeds, the standard set by its predecessor." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 87 (out of 100), indicating "universal acclaim". Roger Ebert, who gave the original film very high acclaim also praised Superman II, giving it four out of four stars, writing, "This movie's most intriguing insight is that Superman's disguise as Clark Kent isn't a matter of looks as much as of mental attitude: Clark is disguised not by his glasses but by his ordinariness. Beneath his meek exterior, of course, is concealed a superhero. And, the movie subtly hints, isn't that the case with us all?" Reeve said that Superman II is "the best of the series".

Superman II was a box office success scoring the highest-grossing opening weekend up to that time and became the third highest-grossing film of 1981. It grossed $108,185,706 in the US, reaching blockbuster status. The film also received recognition from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films. It won Best Science Fiction Film. Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were nominated Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively. Ken Thorne also received a nomination for Best Music.

British cinema magazine Total Film named Terence Stamp's version of General Zod No. 32 on their 'Top 50 Greatest Villains of All Time' list (beating out the No. 38 place of Lex Luthor) in 2007. Pop culture website IGN placed General Zod at No. 30 on their list of the 'Top 50 Comic Book Villains' while commenting "Stamp is Zod" (emphasis in original).

Anti-smoking campaigners opposed the film as the largest sponsor of Superman II was the cigarette brand Marlboro, who paid $43,000 (approx £20,000), for the brand to be shown 22 times in the film. Lois Lane was shown as a chain smoker in the film, although she never smoked in the comic book version. A prop included a truck sign written with the Marlboro logo, although actual vehicles for tobacco distribution are unmarked, for security reasons. This led to a congressional investigation.

Broadcast television versions

As with the first film, Alexander and Ilya Salkind prepared a version for worldwide television release that re-inserted unused footage (in this case 24 minutes) into the film. It was through this extended version that viewers first caught a glimpse into the Superman II that might have happened had Richard Donner remained as director. In fact, a majority of the added footage was shot by Donner before Richard Lester became director. This footage (or alternative takes of it) would be recycled into the Richard Donner cut of "II".

17 of the 24 added minutes were utilized by ABC for its 1984 network premiere. Subsequent ABC airings of the longer version would be cut further for more advertising time. The full 146-minute extended cut was shown internationally, including parts of Canada.

Additional footage

The added footage offers an alternative ending to the film. In the theatrical cut, it is implied that Superman has killed the three Kryptonian villains (going against the strict code that Superman does not kill), while leaving Lex Luthor stranded at the Fortress of Solitude. In the extended ending, a U.S. "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor (thus explaining the latter's return in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), after which Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroys the Fortress of Solitude.

Among the other "lost" scenes:

  • Superman passes a Concorde jet on his way to Paris. This is not in the video release and was actually an outtake from Superman: The Movie as a bridge between Superman saving Air Force One and his conversation with Jor-El after his first night.
  • At the end of the film, Clark Kent bumps into a large bald man, which reminds him to go to the diner to face the obnoxious trucker who beat him up earlier.
  • The Phantom Zone villains land outside the Fortress of Solitude with Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, trying to figure out how to get in.
  • Extended scenes of the three Kryptonians invasion of the White House, with Zod using a gun and Non frightening a dog.
  • Superman cooks soufflé using his heat vision, during dinner with Lois at the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Extended discussion between Zod and Ursa on the Moon.
  • A little boy tries to get help and escape the town being overrun by Zod, only to be blown up by Non who throws a superheated police siren at him.

Some telecast versions remove the following for content:

  • Much violence in the opening White House scene was left out.
  • Much of the bully's line in the bar ("I don't like your meat anyway!") was re-edited to ("I don't like you anyway").
  • About 35 seconds of the "battle of Metropolis Road" (Superman flying over Metropolis River) was deleted.
  • Some language and profanity were re-dubbed.

Among the footage seen in the international/Canadian telecasts:

  • A little girl watching the destruction of East Huston by the Kryptonians on TV.
  • Longer conversation between Lois and Superman after he destroys the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Lex Luthor taking Perry White's coffee during the Times Square battle.
  • Lex and Miss Tessmacher admiring the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Lex's negotiating with Superman after they leave the fortress is longer.

It should be mentioned that some Canadian telecasts were slightly cut for time.

Some Superman fans remastered the so-called 146-minute "restored international version" from the best-possible materials and formed it into a professionally made "Restored International Cut" DVD for availability through many Superman fan sites. However, such plans backfired when Warner Bros. threatened legal action against the bootleg release. The RIC, like the longer version of Superman, may still be found on Internet forums, torrent sites, and in science fiction conventions.

The Richard Donner Cut

During the production of Superman Returns, director Bryan Singer acquired the rights from Marlon Brando's estate to use the late actor's footage from Superman into the film. Shortly after, Ilya Salkind confirmed that Donner was involved in the project to re-cut Superman II using Brando's unused footage. Editor Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Donner and Tom Mankiewicz, who supervised the Superman II reconstruction. Despite some initial confusion, Thau confirmed that all the footage shot by Donner in 1977 was recovered and transferred from a vault in England.

The new edition, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut was released on DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray on November 28, 2006. In order to make Donner's vision of Superman II feel less incomplete, finished scenes by Lester that Donner was unable to shoot were incorporated into the film as well as the screen tests by Reeve and Kidder for one pivotal scene. The film also restores several cut scenes including Marlon Brando as Jor-El, an alternate prologue and opening sequence at the Daily Planet that omits the Eiffel Tower opening from the original, as well as the original scripted and filmed ending for Superman II featuring Superman reversing time before it was cut and placed at the end of the first film.


Superman's publisher DC Comics published a commemorative magazine of Superman II in 1981. Published as DC Special Series #25, it was produced in "Treasury format" and included photos and background photos, actor profiles, panel-to-scene comparisons, and pin-ups.

Near the end of the film, Clark uses a "super-kiss" to make Lois forget he is Superman. While this was a real power Superman had in the comics (originally displayed in Action Comics #306), it was rarely used, and eventually eliminated after the 1985-1986 reboot of the character following the limited series Crisis on Infinite Earths.

In the film, after attacking the White House, Lex Luthor enters the Oval Office to make a deal with the Kryptonians. By the end of the scene, he is sitting behind the President's desk. In the comics (in the year 2000), Lex Luthor ran for President of the United States and won.

In 2006, the Superman comics themselves adapted elements from the Superman movies, specifically the ice-like look of Krypton, and Jor-El banishing the criminals to the Phantom Zone. Ursa and Non made their first appearances in the comic book continuity. (This was facilitated in the "Last Son" story arc, co-written by Richard Donner.)


In the television series Smallville, much of the imagery and concepts of the first two Salkind/Donner Superman films, has been revived as a conscious homage to the film series by the show's creators. These include the ice-crystal Fortress of Solitude, the spinning square in space to represent the Phantom Zone, and the continued presence of the deceased Jor-El as a disembodied counselor and teacher to young Clark/Kal-El. Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in the first two films, provided the voice of Jor-El for the series. Christopher Reeve made two appearances on the show as Dr. Virgil Swann, a disabled scientist who had acquired knowledge of Krypton to pass on to Clark, before Reeve's death in 2004. A section of John Williams' Superman theme was included when Reeve made his first appearance, and was later used in the series finale. Margot Kidder, Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), and Helen Slater (Supergirl) have also made appearances on the show. Annette O'Toole (Lana Lang in Superman III) played Martha Kent.

Additionally, in the animated series Young Justice, in the episode "Satisfaction" of its second season, Lex Luthor appears briefly talking to one of his assistants on the phone, who is called Otis, as a reference to the character in the films.

Cited works

  • Andersen, Christopher (2008). Somewhere in Heaven: The Remarkable Love Story of Dana and Christopher Reeve. Hyperion. 

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