In the annals of comic book movies, 2006’s Superman Returns holds a middling position. Although the film got mostly good reviews, few critics outright raved about it. Audiences turned out to the tune of a $200 million box office gross — a number that was respectable, yet far below what it was expected to earn. Fan reaction was decidedly mixed. Most people agreed it was generally okay. They also agreed that it nevertheless didn’t achieve what it could have. In other words, it was disappointing.
A big part of the problem was that director Bryan Singer intentionally made it look and feel like the original 1978 Superman movie. He even cast a lead actor, Brandon Routh, with an uncanny resemblance to Christopher Reeve. Given that Christopher Nolan gave the Dark Knight an edgy, complex rebooting with Batman Begins the year before, Superman Returns felt embarrassingly old-fashioned in comparison.
Even if it didn’t satisfy audiences the way they expected, the behind-the-scenes story of the movie provides plenty of drama and thrills. From casting decisions, to on-set troubles, to one co-star’s weird method acting, the film’s production and release is a tale unto itself.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Disappointing Superman Returns.
15. Will Smith was offered the role of Superman
When Superman Returns got the green light from Warner Bros. Pictures, there was a lot of debate over who should play the Man of Steel.
The shoes of Christopher Reeve, who so memorably portrayed the character in the original series of movies, were hard to fill. Of course, Nicolas Cage was cast by director Tim Burton for a Superman movie that never came to fruition. That meant another search was needed.
Intriguingly, Will Smith claims that he was offered the lead role in Superman Returns.
He told MTV that he also turned the role down for a very specific reason. “I had already done Jim West [the character from his flop Wild Wild West], and you can’t be messing up white people’s heroes in Hollywood,” he said. “You mess up white people’s heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”
14. Brandon Routh tried to play the Man of Steel twice before
It’s obvious that Brandon Routh is a dead ringer for Christopher Reeve. That certainly worked in his favor, given that Bryan Singer wanted his film to stylistically pay homage to the earlier Superman movies. The truth, though, is that playing the role was in the cards for Routh for a long time.
The actor first auditioned to play Clark Kent on Smallville, only to lose out to Tom Welling.
A second chance presented itself when he auditioned for director McG’s Superman: Flyby, a 2004 attempt to bring the Man of Steel back to the big screen. J.J. Abrams wrote the script for that project, which never got off the ground, in part, because the studio wanted to film it in Australia and McG was afraid of flying. Flyby‘s subsequent cancellation deprived Routh of his shot at wearing the famous red cape — for a while, at least.
13. Amy Adams lost the part of Lois Lane to Kate Bosworth
Kate Bosworth landed the role of Lois Lane thanks to Kevin Spacey, who played Lex Luthor. She co-starred in his directorial effort Beyond the Sea a few years prior, and he recommended her to Singer. Other actresses sought the part, and one of them was Amy Adams.
Actually, Adams tried out to play Clark Kent’s love interest not once, but twice. Initially, she screen-tested with Matt Bomer for an abandoned Superman movie that was to be directed by Brett Ratner. The actress told Total Film that when Superman Returns emerged from the ashes of that doomed project, she auditioned for Lois again, only to lose the part to Bosworth. The fact that she hadn’t yet had her breakthrough role in Enchanted probably didn’t help.
12. Routh was cast because of spilled coffee
Someone once said that to get a good Batman, the key is to cast a good Bruce Wayne. It could probably also be said that to get a good Superman, you have to cast a good Clark Kent. Bryan Singer knew that Brandon Routh looked the part of Superman, but it took some spilled coffee to convince him that he’d found his Clark.
The actor told Britian’s The Telegraph that he and Singer met at a coffee shop to discuss the role. It was essentially an informal audition that lasted ninety minutes. They decided to go outside, and in the process, Routh bumped into the director, spilling coffee all over both of them. “Bryan said later that at this point, he thought, ‘What a Clark!’” Routh explained. “I am a bit clumsy, a bit like Clark.”
11. Kevin Spacey dragged Superman behind a golf cart
As corroborated by the recent scandal surrounding him, Kevin Spacey has always been very good at playing very bad guys. He portrayed one of DC’s biggest baddies, Lex Luthor, in Superman Returns. By all accounts, his commitment to the role was fierce. He even shaved his head to play the chrome-domed villain.
According to Singer, Spacey brought a touch of Luthor’s madness to the production.
The actor drove around set in his own specially-designed golf cart. A Superman doll was tied to the rear of the cart, so that he could drag the Man of Steel behind it whenever he zipped around set.
He would also scream things like “Kill Superman!” into a megaphone while driving. To cap this insanity off, Spacey once intentionally plowed his cart into a group of chairs, one of which Singer was sitting in. The star apparently felt he needed to embrace Luthor’s vibe in order to accurately play him.
10. Bringing Brando back to life
Marlon Brando rather famously pocketed more than $3 million for just two weeks of work on Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman. It was a classic example of a major actor using his clout to score an oversized payday. Because Bryan Singer was structuring his film in the style of Donner’s, he wanted to briefly include the late actor.
CGI made this possible.
Singer had access to visual and audio footage of Brando from the previous movie, so he was able to achieve what he needed on a technical level. There was an additional hurdle to clear, though. Because he was manipulating that material to make Brando say and do things he’d never said or did, permission was required from his estate before his image could be used.
9. Pranksters disrupted filming
Making a big Hollywood superhero movie with a massive budget is difficult under the best of circumstances. It’s even more difficult when you have pranksters disrupting the filming. That’s what happened on the set of Superman Returns.
Nobody is quite sure how, but some hooligans snuck their way onto set and stole a couple of walkie-talkies belonging to the crew. They then used those walkie-talkies to yell “Action!” before Singer was ready to roll cameras and “Cut!” in the middle of scenes being shot. The cumulative result was a lot of confusion and chaos.
Eventually, the rest of the crew changed the frequency on all remaining walkie-talkies, thereby preventing anyone from issuing stray commands. The producers decided to have a sense of humor about it all, declining to file a police report.
8. Singer stopped production because of an action sequence
There was a lot of pressure on Singer to deliver something spectacular with Superman Returns. Warner Bros. was eager to establish a new franchise built around the character. The director knew he had to bring his A-game. That wasn’t enough to prevent a hiatus.
A complicated scene intended for the movie’s climax involved a lot of green-screens, as well as three enormous water tanks. Singer was trying to create an action sequence that would dazzle audiences, but the process became so complex that he lost sight of what he needed in order to accomplish the goal. Shooting stretched out, with the actors growing frustrated about having to spend so much time in the water, unsure of what they were doing.
7. A 9/11-related scene was scrapped
Superman has always been an all-American hero, despite coming from another planet and being co-created by a Canadian. The slogan “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” has long been associated with him. That means there’s a certain logic in dealing with real-life events in his stories.
Singer initially planned to use one of the most painful moments in an American history.
He told the Washington Post that an early draft of the Superman Returns screenplay referenced the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. “I had a scene in the script which I never shot,” Singer revealed, “where Superman would be standing — after flying around rescuing people at night — would be standing at dawn at Ground Zero. Sort of standing there, almost as if to say, ‘If I had been here, this might not be.’”
6. The director refused to allow test screenings
When a director completes his cut of a movie, there is a process it goes through. That “rough cut” is screened for test audiences so that the studio and filmmakers can get a sense of how it plays, what works, and what needs tweaking. Virtually all studio movies go through this routine, which can be humbling if the crowd doesn’t respond well.
Although studios rely heavily on the results of such test screenings, not every director trusts the process. Singer demanded that Warner Bros. allow him to bypass the audience feedback. Because of the success he’d had with the X-Men movies, he was able to get them to agree. Instead, Singer hosted what’s called a “friends and family screening.” This entailed showing Superman Returns to a small group of personal confidantes whose opinions he trusted.
5. The videogame tie-in was bizarre
Videogames tied in to blockbuster movie releases are a normal part of the promotional cycle. Any semi-serious gamer knows that, more often than not, such games are slapped together to capitalize on a movie’s presumed success. They rarely offer any kind of remarkable gameplay.
Even by the low standards of movie tie-ins, the Superman Returns game was bad.
You’d think that it would have Superman saving Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, and taking on some of his most recognizable villains — or at least Lex Luthor, who actually appears in the film. Nope! While the flying levels were okay at best, levels set on the ground offered little to do besides rescue 200 kittens. Not once is the player required to rescue Clark Kent’s love interest.
4. It was accused of being propaganda
Although it has a 75% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Superman Returns got its fair share of negative reviews. And even the critics who liked it admitted there were some substantial flaws. The person who may have disliked the film most of all wasn’t a critic, though, and his reason for disliking it wasn’t entirely based on its merits as a piece of entertainment.
A man named Dr. Haider Mahdi wrote a rather blistering, widely-shared essay on the movie, dubbing it propaganda. Among his assertions was that it was “a well-planned and well-administered dose of indoctrination into the American ideology of ‘demon-hunting,’ ‘external threats,’ the use of force, and the obsession with power.”
He didn’t stop there.
3. Quentin Tarantino is a huge fan
We all know Quentin Tarantino is a movie fan. We also know that his tastes are eclectic, to put it lightly. In particular, he enjoys old spaghetti Westerns and ’70s-era Blaxploitation flicks. Occasionally he weighs in on more recent releases, such as when he declared The Lone Ranger to be one of his top ten favorite films of 2013. He was also a passionate admirer of — you guessed it — Superman Returns.
Bryan Singer told the British publication Empire that he and Tarantino “had a big conversation about it” and that the Pulp Fiction director “has a fascination with this film.” When interviewed by the New York Times in 2009, Tarantino stated that “I am a big fan of Superman Returns. I’m working on what is now a 20-page review of that movie, and I’m not done yet.”
2. It was the first movie converted to IMAX 3D
These days, “event” movies are routinely released in the IMAX format. Back in 2006, such a thing was much more rare. So was digital 3D projection, since it would be another three years before James Cameron’s Avatar properly kicked off the modern 3D craze. On these counts, Superman Returns was way ahead of the curve.
That’s because it was the first movie to be converted into IMAX 3D. Singer hand-picked several scenes from the film, which were then given the extra-dimensional treatment. He also came up with a signal to let audiences know when it was time to put their glasses on and when to take them off.
1. One of the deleted scenes cost $10 million
Most movies have deleted scenes. Some are just minor trims, and other times, sizable chunks are cut out.
Superman Returns has what may be the mother of all deleted scenes.
That’s because it runs almost six full minutes and cost a whopping $10 million to create. The sequence in question is an alternate opening to the film. In it, Kal-El boards a ship made of the same crystalline material found in the Fortress of Solitude. He returns to his home planet of Krypton. While surveying its remains, his ship sustains damage, forcing him to high-tail it back to Earth. The dark, ominous clip is scored only with the unusual sounds of his starcraft and a rapidly-pulsing heartbeat.
While visually impressive, the scene is clearly at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie. It was an expensive cut to make, but it had to go.
What’s your take on Superman Returns? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
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