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Superman II is the 1980 sequel to the 1978 superhero film Superman. It was the only Superman film to be filmed by two directors. For this reason the film is surrounded with controversy since original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes shot by second director Richard Lester (who had been an uncredited producer on the first film) in 1979 are refilmed Donner sequences. It was released in Europe and Australia in late 1980 but not in the United States until June 19, 1981 (one week after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark). Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround.

According to statements by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 1984, when Superman II premiered on television, 24 minutes were re-inserted into the film (17 minutes on ABC). Much of the extra footage was directed by Richard Donner. In the ABC-TV version, a U.S. "polar patrol" is shown picking up the three Kryptonians and Lex Luthor at the end of the film. Without this ending, it appears that Superman has let the Kryptonians die, though Superman has a strict code against killing and their deaths aren't necessary once they are depowered. On the other hand, the theatrical version's ending implies that Luthor is left stranded at the Fortress of Solitude, leaving the viewer to wonder how he got to prison in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace — that question was answered in the extended versions. The ending of the extended cuts also has Superman, with Lois standing beside him, destroy the Fortress of Solitude.

A brand new re-cut of the film, restoring as much of Donner's original conception as possible, titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, was released in November 2006, with approximately 83% of the footage therein having been filmed by Donner, and the remainder being Richard Lester footage kept to fill in the gaps of footage that Donner had never been able to film before his firing. The latter part of the aforementioned scene can also be found on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, while the part where the police arrive is a deleted scene.


Prior to the destruction of Krypton, the criminals General Zod, Ursa and Non are banished into the Phantom Zone. The Zone travels through the galaxy and nears Earth, where it is caught in the explosion of a hydrogen bomb that Superman threw into space in order to save the Eiffel Towermarker and Parismarker; the explosion causes the Zone to shatter and free the three Kryptonians, who find they have super powers due to the yellow light of Earth's sun. They discover human astronauts on the moon, and mistakenly believe that the center of Earth's power is in a place called "Houston", traveling there to claim the planet for themselves. After destroying much of the town of East Houston, Idahomarker and defacing the presidential faces on Mount Rushmoremarker, they travel to the White Housemarker and force the United States President to surrender to General Zod; though the President does so, he also warns Zod that Superman will defeat them, causing Zod to demand via national broadcast that Superman come and kneel before him.

Superman and Lois Lane at the Fortress of Solitude.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are sent on assignment for the Daily Planet to Niagara Fallsmarker. Lois, suspicious that Clark is Superman, throws herself into the water upstream of the Falls, expecting Clark to become Superman to rescue her, but Clark manages to secretly use his heat vision to cut a tree into the water, saving Lois by more conventional means. However, as they spend the night together, Clark trips, catching his hand in a fireplace, and is force to reveal his identity when Lois notices that Clark's hand is not scarred at all. With his secret revealed, Superman decides to take Lois to his Fortress of Solitude. There, he shows her the traces of his past stored in energy crystals, one of which Lois misplaces under her purse. Superman decides to undergo the irreversible process of immersing himself in stored red Kryptonian sunlight, which will make him a nonsuperpowered Kryptonian, in order to be able to love Lois. After his transformation, the two spend the night together and then return to Metropolis. They discover what Zod and his companions have done, including Zod's demand to Superman, and Clark realizes he must return to the Fortress to try to restore his powers, and begins the long trip alone. Once there, he discovers the crystal that Lois had misplaced, and uses its power to restore his abilities.

During these events, Lex Luthor has managed to escape prison with the help of Miss Teschmacher, and travels to the North Pole to find Superman's Fortress using an alpha wave detector Lex has created. Inside, Lex learns of Superman's past, and discovers through the detector the location of Zod, Ursa, and Non. The two return to Washington D.C. and Lex manages to earn Zod's trust when he tells Zod how he can make Superman appear: by kidnapping Lois Lane. He wants in exchange to become the ruler of Australia, and Zod agrees. The Kryptonians bring Lex with them as they travel to Metropolis and smash into the Daily Planet offices seeking Lois. The restored Superman arrives and challenges Zod and the others, but quickly finds that the three of them are a formidable match, their fight destroying parts of the city. Zod gains the advantage when he recognizes that Superman cares greatly for the humans and tries to use that against him. Superman realizes he cannot fight Zod with bystanders around, and lures the three, who carry Lex and Lois along with them, to the Fortress of Solitude.

In the Fortress, Superman attempts to subdue Zod and the others, but is unable to. Superman tries to reason with Lex Luthor to trick Zod into going into the Krptonian chamber, but Lex reveals the secret to Zod. Under the threat of harming Lois, Zod forces Superman to rid himself of his powers. Superman appears to undergo the transformation process, but when he emerges, Zod, Ursa, and Non realize they have been immersed in red Kryptonian sunlight and lost their superpowers, as Superman was able to reconfigure the process before they arrived, counting on Lex Luthor to be deceitful as well. Lois is able to break free, and she and Superman quickly cause the three to fall into the depths of the Fortress to their doom. Lex tries to assure Superman that he was in on this plan, but Superman returns him to the authorities. After Superman helps to restore the damage Zod wrought, he still finds that Lois knows his secret, and she is torn between her love for him and his duty to protect the planet. Superman kisses Lois, using his telepathic abilities to erase her memory of the past few days to keep his secret safe, and take her grief away. Superman restores the American flag atop the White House, assuring the President that he will never again abandon his duty.


Actor Role
Christopher Reeve Clark Kent / Superman
Terence Stamp General Zod
Gene Hackman Lex Luthor
Ned Beatty Otis
Jackie Cooper Perry White
Sarah Douglas Ursa
Margot Kidder Lois Lane
Jack O'Halloran Non
Valerie Perrine Eve Teschmacher
Susannah York Lara
Clifton James Sheriff
E. G. Marshall The President
Marc McClure Jimmy Olsen

Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty and Marlon Brando are the only actors who didn't participate in the film's reshoots. Their scenes in Lester's version (with the exception of Brando) were portrayed with body doubles.

In the 2006 documentary You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (included in the DVD set Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition), Sarah Douglas says she was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the movie, as she was one of the few actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner/Lester controversy.


Rhea Perlman and John Ratzenberger both make cameo appearances in the film. They would later appear on the long running sitcom Cheers from 1982-1993.

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.

Controversy and cult status

Off-screen problems hampered production of this movie. Like other Salkind productions such as The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), Superman and Superman II commenced filming at the same time. Director Richard Donner argued with the producers over their attempts to make the film "more camp," in his opinion, which led to his removal and replacement on the project by Richard Lester. Following that, Gene Hackman declined to return for any reshoots by Lester, which cut down the number of scenes in which he appears in the final cut (or with a few scenes where a body double was obviously being used).
2006 DVD re-release.

Another reason behind Richard Donner's removal may have been that the Salkinds were upset that Donner went over their originally planned budget for the movie. Warner Brothers ended up getting more and more involved in the race to complete the film, allowing the studio to receive more profits from the film's box office take than the Salkinds had originally agreed to. With their power slipping away, Donner was unfortunately made the scapegoat.

Despite all the difficulties, and with only a few noticeable shifts in tone between the two directors' scenes (Lester's scenes tend to be more campy and humorous), it was noted by critics to be a remarkable and coherent film, highlighted by the movie's battle sequence between Superman and the three Phantom Zone prisoners on the streets of Metropolis. Scenes filmed by Donner include all the Gene Hackman footage, the moon sequences, the White Housemarker shots, Clark and the bully, and a lot of the footage of Zod, Ursa and Non arriving at the Daily Planet. Since the Lester footage was shot almost two years later, both Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve's appearances look different between the Lester and Donner footage. Reeve appears less bulked up in Donner's sequences (filmed in 1977), 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. Indeed, 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 frail and gaunt.

Marlon Brando's scenes, including some key plot explanations, were excised from the second film, for budgetary reasons (as noted in the DVD special in The Richard Donner Cut). Thus Brando was totally absent from the Lester cut of the film.

The original script had the nuclear missile from Superman: The Movie releasing Zod and companions from the Phantom Zone, instead of the Eiffel Tower bomb. In The Richard Donner Cut, the nuclear missile scene has been restored, and all scenes involving the Eiffel Tower plot were removed.

In the years since the film's release, the controversy continues to be fueled, while the film itself has achieved cult status. In 1983, Alexander Salkind's production company pieced together an "Expanded International Cut" of the film for television using approximately 24 minutes of footage not shown in the theatrical release, some of which was original Richard Donner footage shot before Richard Lester became director. The "new" footage expanded on the film's many subplots, including a further explanation of the villains' task on Earth, Superman and Lois' romance and an alternate ending involving Lex Luthor, the three Kryptonian villains and the final fate of the Fortress of Solitude. This 146-minute expanded version was released throughout Europe and Australia in the 1980s (the initial expanded U.S. ABC and Canadian CBC telecasts, though edited differently, were derived from the European/Australian TV edit).

In 2005, several Superman movie fans attempted to bring the film closer to Donner's original vision by creating their own professionally-made video restoration of the "International Cut" and offered free DVDs of it on one of the many Superman fan sites, but their efforts were thwarted by Warner Bros., who reportedly threatened legal action.

All four Superman films received Special or Deluxe Edition releases in 2006 coinciding with the release of Superman Returns. It was confirmed that Ilya Salkind had released Donner's footage for a separate Superman II disc and that Donner was involved in the project. According to an interview conducted by website, Ilya confirmed that Time Warner now owns all of the footage shot for 1978's Superman, 1980's Superman II, 1983's Superman III, 1984's Supergirl and 1987's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace including distribution rights. Special Edition restorationist Michael Thau worked on the project alongside Richard 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 England. The new edition was released on November 28, 2006 and called Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. The new cut also features less than 20% footage filmed by replacement director Richard Lester.


Superman II, like the original, received much praise, receiving a 6.7 in IMDb, and an 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with the summary saying "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." Roger Ebert, who gave the original film very high acclaim also praised Superman II, giving it four out of four stars, claiming that "Superman II begins in midstream, and never looks back..."


As John Williams chose not to return to score the film due to obligations with other projects, (such as the Star Wars film series), Ken Thorne was commissioned to write the music upon Williams' recommendation. However, the score contains frequent excerpts from Williams' previous 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 diner in Idaho as well as during Clark's second encounter with Rocky, the bullying truck driver).

In relation to other Superman films, comics etc.


In the version of the film planned by Richard Donner, Superman flies around the Leaning Tower of Pisamarker at incredible super-speed, accidentally causing it to stand up straight. This was dropped by Richard Lester, but re-used in Superman III, where Evil Superman straightens the Tower of Pisa on purpose.

The idea of Superman and Lois having sex is in the back-story to Superman Returns.


Clark also uses the rare "super-kiss" to make Lois forget he is Superman. While this was a real power Superman had in the comics, it was rarely used, and eventually removed.

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, 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 ever appearances in the comic book continuity. This was facilitated in the Superman: Last Son storyarc, for which Richard Donner served as a writer.


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 (and its construction from a single glowing green crystal); the spinning rectangle 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 Zod in the first two films, now provides the voice of Jor-El for the series, and Christopher Reeve made several appearances on the show as Dr. Virgil Swann, a crippled scientist who had acquired knowledge of Krypton to pass on to Clark, before his death in 2004. A section of John Williams's Superman theme was included when Reeve made his first appearance. 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) plays Martha Kent.

See also


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