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.