Total Recall

Total Recall: Superman Movies

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's the Man of Steel on the big screen!

by | June 13, 2013 | Comments


It took a heck of a lot longer than a speeding bullet to get here, but when Man of Steel arrives in theaters this week, it’ll herald the return of a beloved franchise that — although not without its share of ups and downs — has been thrilling fans for decades. In fact, this year marks the 62nd anniversary of the first Superman movie, Superman and the Mole Men; sadly, we don’t have any reviews on file for that one, but that didn’t stop us from taking a look back at our hero’s other big-screen adventures. From the moments that made us believe a man could fly to the ones that were critical Kryptonite, this week is all about Krypton’s favorite son. Up, up, and away, it’s time for Total Recall!



“You’ll believe a man can fly,” promised the posters for 1978’s Superman, and they were right in more ways than one. The special effects were impressive for the era, but more importantly, the movie benefited from a talented director in Richard Donner, a solid screenplay derived from a story by Godfather author Mario Puzo, and a great cast anchored by Christopher Reeve, whose looming physique and chiseled good looks combined with his Juilliard-trained acting chops to help create the most perfect Superman ever to grace the screen (so far). While Gene Hackman’s rather ineffective Lex Luthor (coupled with the buffoonish Otis, played by Ned Beatty) was far from the most imposing foe our hero would face, the movie didn’t lack for dramatic stakes — and with Margot Kidder playing Lois Lane, it even managed to mix a little feminism in with its romance. “The audience finds itself pleasantly surprised, and taken a little off guard,” observed an appreciative Roger Ebert. “The movie’s tremendously exciting in a comic book sort of way (kids will go ape for it), but at the same time it has a sly sophistication, a kidding insight into the material, that makes it, amazingly, a refreshingly offbeat comedy.”

Superman II


After putting together what seemed like a foolproof plan for a speedy Superman follow-up — hiring director Richard Donner to shoot much of the sequel concurrently with the first film — Warner Bros. watched with growing dismay as production slowed to a crawl, finally coming to a halt when Donner’s feuds with producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind led to his firing from the project. Things grew more complicated when new director Richard Lester came on board, and — needing to film at least 51 percent of the movie in order to obtain a director’s credit — reshot many scenes from a movie that had already been substantially filmed. Those are just a few of the many challenges Superman II needed to overcome before it finally arrived in theaters in 1981; amazingly, all that behind-the-scenes chaos didn’t have much of an adverse impact on the original theatrical cut, which broke the $100 million barrier at the box office while enjoying almost as many positive reviews as its predecessor. It certainly helped that the screenplay gave Superman (Christopher Reeve) the most formidable villains he’d face in the original trilogy: Kryptonian criminals Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran), sent into exile just before the planet’s destruction by Superman’s father Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and freed by the blast from a bomb Superman threw into space. Add in a subplot involving our hero opting to give up his powers in order to pursue domestic bliss with Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and it isn’t hard to see why many fans consider this the best of the Reeve-era Superman movies (or why enough of them clamored for the release of Donner’s cut that it finally saw the official light of day in 2006). “Superman II,” sighed an appreciative Janet Maslin for the New York Times, “is a marvelous toy.”

Superman III


The first two Superman movies boasted an impressive narrative scope, state-of-the-art special effects, and layered performances that made it possible for the story to move gracefully between action, drama, and comedy, sometimes within the space of a single scene. They were a tough act to follow, in other words — which might explain why 1983’s Superman III didn’t really bother attempting to build on their success, instead opting to take the franchise in an altogether sillier direction by pitting the Man of Steel against a power-mad CEO (Robert Vaughn) who blackmails an unscrupulous computer programmer (Richard Pryor) into using his know-how to help him achieve world domination. Aside from the typically techno-ignorant screenplay, which imagines weather satellites capable of creating tornados and supercomputers that achieve sentience after being attacked with an axe, III earned fans’ and critics’ ire by ignoring any semblance of character development in favor of director Richard Lester’s fondness for oddball humor and silly sight gags. Under different circumstances, Pryor could have been a worthy addition to a Superman movie — and the storyline, which sent Clark Kent back to Smallville for a high school reunion that reconnected him with childhood crush Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole), certainly had possibilities, as did a subplot that found Superman’s personality slowly being altered due to artificial Kryptonite poisoning. Ultimately, however, Superman III was less than the sum of its parts; as a disappointed Roger Ebert put it, “It’s a cinematic comic book, shallow, silly, filled with stunts and action, without much human interest.”

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


With Gene Hackman back in the cast and a four-year break to cleanse filmgoers’ palates after the unpleasantness of Superman III, 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace seemed to have everything going for it at first — including a smartly topical storyline that put the Man of Steel in the middle of the Cold War (and doing battle with a nuclear-powered Superclone designed by Lex Luthor). Unfortunately, when money started to run tight at Cannon Films, director Sidney J. Furie found himself forced to cut corners in every direction; the result, according to most critics, was a disjointed, cheap-looking mess, further hampered by dejected-seeming performances from a cast that appeared to know exactly how much of a mistake they were making. (In fact, Jon Cryer — who played Luthor’s nephew Lenny — alleges that Christopher Reeve told him the movie was “an absolute mess.”) It all added up to the original trilogy’s critical and commercial nadir, a dud so resounding that it sent the franchise into limbo for nearly 20 years. Calling it “More sluggish than a funeral barge, cheaper than a sale at K mart,” the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson warned, “it’s a nerd, it’s a shame, it’s Superman IV.”

Superman Returns


If you’re any kind of film buff, you’re already familiar with many of the twists and turns that Superman endured at Warner Bros. during the 1980s and 1990s — heck, they’ve even inspired their own documentary — so suffice it to say that after Superman IV tanked, the franchise was more or less frozen at a crossroads for years. Talk of another Reeve-led sequel stopped after the 1995 horse riding accident that left him paralyzed, and despite the best efforts of a long succession of screenwriters, directors, and would-be stars, our Kryptonian hero spent the better part of 20 years waiting for a hero of his own to rescue him from development hell. Help finally arrived in the form of director Bryan Singer, who was handed the keys to the franchise after proving his superhero mettle with X-Men and its first sequel; in the summer of 2006, Superman Returns rebooted the story, with newcomer Brandon Routh wearing the cape, Kate Bosworth playing Lois Lane, and Kevin Spacey chewing up the scenery as Lex Luthor. Despite solid reviews, a $200 million gross, and a properly reverent tone — including a storyline that paid homage to the first two Superman movies while pretending the missteps of III and IV never happened — Superman Returns was ultimately regarded as something of a disappointment; plans for a sequel never materialized, much to the chagrin of the AP’s Christy Lemire, who wondered, “Does the world really need Superman? Maybe not everyone. But people who love movies do.”

In case you were wondering, here are Wilson’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Superman — 77%
2. Superman Returns — 67%
3. Superman II — 66%
4. Superman III — 39%
5. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace — 28%

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Man of Steel.

Finally, here’s a fantasy sequence from Dariya Dil, featuring perhaps the most thrilling big-screen Superman of them all (and an epic Marvel/DC team up to boot):

Tag Cloud

game of thrones USA Network art house finale Anna Paquin prank HFPA E3 discovery sequel nfl child's play First Reviews MCU TIFF FXX Nominations DC Comics criterion teaser Prime Video President stand-up comedy worst laika Oscars Hallmark vampires hist Tokyo Olympics cults Sony Pictures romance Women's History Month Starz telelvision genre BET BBC cancelled TV series YouTube black medical drama CBS All Access thriller comic book movies game show travel dramedy Podcast TCA A&E The Arrangement rotten PBS Wes Anderson YouTube Red ESPN leaderboard Film Festival MTV Tarantino witnail television Interview Comic Book Peacock Image Comics scary movies El Rey trailers Travel Channel VOD name the review ghosts Arrowverse jamie lee curtis reviews The Purge spanish justice league First Look 93rd Oscars History Vudu slashers foreign Disney+ Disney Plus Disney Channel live action basketball popular versus concert Brie Larson Lucasfilm unscripted hidden camera Academy Awards robots emmy awards comic movies australia war universal monsters Neflix Hollywood Foreign Press Association Cannes Musicals aliens National Geographic IMDb TV heist movie Crunchyroll spy thriller sopranos Nickelodeon Extras GoT social media Martial Arts binge TV movies lord of the rings Food Network football Chilling Adventures of Sabrina VICE Video Games Nat Geo mcc Legendary doctor who stoner deadpool 2017 Comedy Central new york APB Kids & Family Trivia die hard Crackle anime TruTV Columbia Pictures Fargo Quiz serial killer Mudbound Trophy Talk GIFs USA Disney streaming service Netflix blockbusters Musical Valentine's Day Tomatazos Stephen King Super Bowl Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt animated political drama book series Certified Fresh TV renewals cops comic books godzilla satire 2020 Toys dreamworks docuseries transformers Superheroe indiana jones adenture LGBTQ Disney Plus YA Thanksgiving Drama feel good Hallmark Christmas movies DirecTV aapi halloween king kong CNN gangster dragons spinoff singing competition NBA miniseries international Epix video Polls and Games films Esquire richard e. Grant Instagram Live Rock Reality zombie comedies scary live event south america San Diego Comic-Con Amazon Prime Video Pop TV Marvel japan SDCC natural history TLC true crime Lifetime Christmas movies mob Opinion streaming movies Netflix Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys Song of Ice and Fire harry potter new star wars movies ratings Paramount Plus Mindy Kaling Syfy New York Comic Con Teen remakes Schedule Fox News parents MSNBC golden globe awards The CW twilight sports green book rom-coms sag awards Action Marvel Studios Mary Tyler Moore Heroines Tags: Comedy Hear Us Out dark AMC Plus ABC Signature Spike Spring TV DGA technology Awards know your critic Cartoon Network trophy batman Sundance Now WGN Warner Bros. Masterpiece 4/20 BBC One Ovation politics video on demand cancelled television french saw kaiju worst movies BAFTA cooking documentary documentaries sequels Box Office mockumentary Lionsgate Broadway TV One Summer Universal a nightmare on elm street BET Awards cartoon Hulu tv talk 2016 TCA Winter 2020 streaming Winners Western blockbuster best TBS rt labs critics edition rt labs halloween tv screen actors guild james bond festivals canceled Character Guide Marvel Television psycho jurassic park Red Carpet Premiere Dates TCM black comedy HBO Go Alien hispanic heritage month The Walt Disney Company 71st Emmy Awards X-Men dexter Avengers Pop Comic-Con@Home 2021 spain theme song TV Land directors Apple Bravo festival AMC Country RT History 73rd Emmy Awards Sci-Fi stop motion Mary poppins monster movies news 007 Pacific Islander cancelled zombies book adaptation Grammys Star Wars CW Seed award winner Fox Searchlight children's TV spanish language Mystery period drama Discovery Channel what to watch revenge venice franchise Binge Guide nature Pirates scorecard dceu FX on Hulu olympics diversity royal family Apple TV+ toronto razzies Elton John Exclusive Video Infographic Black History Month OWN Rom-Com The Witch YouTube Premium WarnerMedia Sundance composers Ellie Kemper DC Universe Horror Captain marvel PaleyFest screenings biopic Emmy Nominations adventure TCA 2017 E! Mary Poppins Returns new zealand breaking bad Classic Film Watching Series critics Amazon Studios hispanic TV PlayStation The Walking Dead ID Adult Swim SXSW Family boxoffice Television Critics Association crime thriller quibi Winter TV Baby Yoda Trailer renewed TV shows HBO latino casting indie DC streaming service TCA Awards critic resources 2021 italian romantic comedy joker cats Awards Tour golden globes 1990s Chernobyl wonder woman ITV young adult dc fresh dogs Freeform TNT Shondaland Amazon reboot posters marvel comics A24 crime 72 Emmy Awards adaptation The Academy 2019 christmas movies canceled TV shows vs. Pet Sematary rotten movies we love 45 Lifetime Showtime Paramount Network Holiday Film historical drama scene in color comics talk show independent superhero Comics on TV Writers Guild of America OneApp archives supernatural CBS obituary Star Trek strong female leads 20th Century Fox Rocketman slasher IFC Films Turner Music Emmys toy story Universal Pictures Turner Classic Movies SundanceTV Sneak Peek Christmas cancelled TV shows 2018 Television Academy suspense Paramount superman Photos Best and Worst japanese HBO Max RT21 79th Golden Globes Awards Animation Cosplay cinemax kids VH1 disaster 90s FX docudrama nbcuniversal all-time crime drama Sundance TV FOX LGBT Amazon Prime Walt Disney Pictures American Society of Cinematographers Britbox Fall TV IFC mission: impossible fast and furious biography comic book movie movie action-comedy sitcom space NBC legend Acorn TV facebook 24 frames free movies Marathons GLAAD ABC target marvel cinematic universe based on movie Apple TV Plus cars Funimation BBC America Pride Month Tubi Disney high school Year in Review Calendar Fantasy Shudder Endgame police drama Set visit CMT Comedy Tumblr See It Skip It 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Logo Dark Horse Comics hollywood spider-man ABC Family Reality Competition blaxploitation anthology comiccon king arthur pirates of the caribbean Holidays 21st Century Fox debate kong ViacomCBS science fiction boxing spider-verse zero dark thirty Rocky Countdown elevated horror Election psychological thriller Pixar mutant classics women chucky 2015 Black Mirror crossover Spectrum Originals asian-american Ghostbusters 99% Superheroes werewolf NYCC Biopics rt archives