Tag Archives: millions

Superman II 2.55: One Hundred and Eight Million Dollars

Okay, we’ve spent eleven weeks talking about this double-headed hydra of a sequel, and here’s the bottom line:

On its first weekend in June 1981, Superman II earned the highest opening-weekend box office in history: $14 million, which was twice the opening gross for the first movie. It actually knocked Raiders of the Lost Ark out of the #1 spot, which had launched just a week before with a relatively small opening haul of $8 million.

This state of affairs didn’t last, of course. Superman II held on to the #1 spot for three weeks, but then Raiders came back even stronger, taking #1 back and holding onto it for nine more weeks. Raiders continued to perform well all the way through March 1982, ultimately earning $212 million. The Katharine Hepburn/Henry Fonda family drama On Golden Pond came in second for the year with $119 million, and Superman II came in third, with $108 million.

Superman II‘s take was a bit below the first movie, which made $134 million in 1978/79, but it performed very well. The comparable films in its weight class didn’t do nearly as well (besides Raiders, obviously): the year’s James Bond installment For Your Eyes Only made $55 million, Greek myth fantasy adventure Clash of the Titans got $41 million, and the pulp fiction inspired Tarzan the Ape Man earned $36 million.

But as successful as the Superman movies were, they were always overshadowed by the breakout hits that were even bigger: Jaws, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Return of the Jedi. The Superman movies could have been the iconic blockbusters of the late 70s/early 80s, if only George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had never been born.

Continue reading Superman II 2.55: One Hundred and Eight Million Dollars

Superman II 2.37: Another World

Everything seemed possible back then. If a movie about fishing could make $260 million and a movie about film-serial space battles could make $307 million — and now they were making a big-budget special-effects movie based on Superman, of all the crazy things — then maybe what people wanted was lighthearted, high-concept blockbusters. All they needed was a big idea, preferably somebody else’s.

“Comics Strip for Next Film Cycle,” Variety reported in 1978, proclaiming that “the next cycle of big budget films will be centered on comic book characters.” Then they rattled off a list of comics with a film in development — Flash Gordon, Popeye, Tarzan, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie, The Phantom. They even mentioned a live-action movie based on Marmaduke the Great Dane, which seemed deeply unwise. It was like last call at Kevin Feige’s place.

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Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

Well, obviously nobody expected The Empire Strikes Back to make as much money as Star Wars. Nothing had ever made as much money as Star Wars except for Star Wars, and everyone in 1980 knew that sequels always made less money than the original film.

In 1972, The Godfather was the highest-grossing movie of all time with a $134 million domestic gross — but Part II, released in 1974, only made $47 million.

Then in 1975, Jaws became the highest-grossing movie of all time, taking in $260 million at the box office — and followed it in 1978 with Jaws 2, which made $78 million.

The Exorcist II made half of the first film’s gross; ditto for Smokey and the Bandit II, and even more so for Damien: The Omen II. The Airport sequels dropped $20 million with every release. Herbie Goes Bananas was the fourth film in the Love Bug series, and I think they actually ended up owing the audience money.

The Superman films followed the same pattern: the first movie in 1978 made $134 million, Superman II in 1981 made $108 million, and in 1983, Superman III made an embarrassing $60 million, which didn’t even crack the top 10.

But that same year, the Star Wars series did something surprising: the third film actually made more money than the second one did. Star Wars got $307 million in 1977, The Empire Strikes Back made $203 million in 1980, and then in 1983, Return of the Jedi made $253 million. So obviously George Lucas did something right with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, because his series made more money as it went along.

Still, money isn’t everything. Oh, wait, of course it fucking is.

Continue reading Superman II 2.22: What Really Matters

Superman 1.100: One Hundred and Thirty-Four Million Dollars

Okay, let’s get into the money, because that’s the only thing that matters.

Superman: The Movie made 7 million dollars in its opening weekend in December 1978, and it was the #1 box office draw for 11 weeks, all the way into early March ’79. The total domestic box office was $134 million, making it the highest-grossing film of 1979.

To give you a sense of scale, there were only seven movies in the 1970s that grossed more than $100 million, and Superman was in the top five: Star Wars ($307m), Jaws ($260m), Grease ($160m), Animal House ($141m) and Superman ($134m), followed by Close Encounters of the Third Kind ($116m) and Kramer vs. Kramer ($106m).

So, yeah, it was a big hit, and a big deal. So, the question is: why didn’t they make any other superhero movies for basically a decade?

Continue reading Superman 1.100: One Hundred and Thirty-Four Million Dollars

Superman 1.97: Man of Steal

Okay, we’re almost done with the story of Superman: The Movie, which means that it’s time to call in the lawyers. Last week, we talked about that mad moment in mid-November 1978, when executive producer Alexander Salkind told Warner Bros. that he wouldn’t release the final print of the movie in time for the premiere, unless they gave him another $15 million for foreign distribution rights. And just as they were wrapping up that little scheme, Salkind was arrested in Switzerland by Interpol, for a different but related crime.

Now, I’ve been writing a lot about the Salkinds and their bumbling financial crime syndicate, and people have asked me, “So what ultimately happened to them? Did they get caught? Did they get punished?” There’s no real mystery, so I might as well answer those questions now.

What happened to the Salkinds?

Nothing. They kept on making movies for another fifteen years, which got smaller and less successful until everyone got tired of them. Their last production was the 1992 movie Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, which was astonishingly badly-reviewed.

Did they get caught?

Yes, ceaselessly. Their production company folded in 1993, when Alexander’s son, Ilya, filed suit against his father for fraud and racketeering.

Did they get punished?

Nope. People like this never go to prison. They’re just forces of chaos, whirling through the world like Tasmanian Devils. They pick you up and spin you around, and then they go on their way, leaving you exhausted and confused, and with a different amount of money in your pocket. There’s no way to predict how much money you’ll have at the end of it, but it’s a different amount than when you started.

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Superman 1.91: Defining Disaster

Time is running out. There’s a pair of misguided missiles streaking across the country in opposite directions, and nobody knows how to turn them off, except the guy who doesn’t want to.

Superman is currently chasing the first rocket, striving to save Hackensack, and Bergen Country in general, from a desperate fate. But while he’s not looking, the second rocket is headed straight for a fault line. He doesn’t have time to launch the first rocket into the stratosphere, and keep control of the second rocket.

You know, it’s amazing to me that the people who decided to make two superhero movies at the same time never noticed that the climax to their first movie is based on the idea that you shouldn’t try to do two things at once.

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Superman 1.13: … Except for Star Wars

A planet explodes into fragments, and boils away into the void. A tiny space capsule streaks across the stars, heading for a crash landing on a seemingly unimportant planet. An orphan with a destiny grows up on a farm, unaware that he’s the latest in a line of noble heroes.

With a blend of space opera, high-stakes action, romance, danger and comic relief on an epic scale, Superman: The Movie was the biggest, most exciting cinema spectacle of its time… except for Star Wars, which did the same stuff but bigger, better, and eighteen months earlier.

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Superman 1.3: Brando and the Money

From “Godfather” to “Superfather”? Marlon Brando has been offered a reported “unprecedented” salary to play the father — or older brother — of “Superman” for Alexander Salkind. (Variety, June 30, 1976)

The two Superman films, to be lensed simultaneously, will ring up a super budget of $25-30,000,000. Of that figure, $2,700,000, goes to Marlon Brando who plays papa to “Superman”. (Variety, Dec  27, 1976)

Even Brando, long-famed for his temperament, posed no problems. Perhaps even he could hardly believe the money he was being paid for his 12 days — $2.5 million, the most expensive salary on record. (LA Times, July 31, 1977)

We’ve read that white-wigged Marlon Brando, for just 12 days of work as Jor-El, Superman’s father on the planet Krypton, snagged $2.7 million or $3.7 million or $4 million. (New York Times, December 10, 1978)

There are a handful of stories that make up the core mythology of Superman: The Movie — the dinner in Paris, the lollipop, the dentist, the workout, the flying unit, the extra director. But the most important and enduring story — the thing that everyone is sure to mention when they talk about the movie — is Brando and the money.

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