She’s only got three minutes, and she lands four solid jokes, which is four more than practically anyone else in the movie. Lois Lane — up until this point, the single most important human being in the world — has been suddenly and mysteriously called away to Bermuda, for a surfside adventure that’s probably way more interesting than anything we’re going to experience in Smallville. She is with us, and then she is gone, like a forgotten promise, and Superman III has to stumble along without her.
Obviously, this is a dreadful mistake. If Warner Bros had asked people in pre-market testing whether they wanted Lois Lane to appear in the next Superman movie, 94% of respondents would have said yes, and the other 6% wouldn’t have understood the question, because it’s such a stupid idea that you’d think they must be asking about something else.
Continue reading Superman III 4.8: The Loss of Lois
So, let’s say you’re a Salkind. You’ve been producing movies for your father for ten years now, including some of The Three Musketeers and a couple of Superman movies, but people still think that you’re just a money guy — specifically, your dad’s money guy.
But you’ve been working in the same building as creative people for so long, you’ve started to hallucinate that you’re a creative contributor as well. Since nobody has any idea what to do with Superman III, you sit down at the typewriter and write an eight-page treatment, which you send to the Warner Brothers and ask them for millions of dollars so you can make it.
In the years to come, you’ll tell people that Warner Bros thought it was too “sci-fi”, and too embedded in Superman lore. That is not the reason Warner Bros rejected your treatment. They rejected it because they were grown-ups who read movie treatments for a living, and yours is bugfuck insane.
Continue reading Superman III 4.2: It Was Ilya’s Other Idea
Richard Pryor wrote:
I went off to London, to play the villain in Superman III. And yes, the movie was a piece of shit. But even before I read the script, the producers offered me $4 million, more than any black actor had ever been paid.
“For a piece of shit,” I’d told my agent when I finally read the script, “it smells great.”
Continue reading Superman III 4.1: The Sweet Smell of Shit
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
“I think it’s been a little bit overanalyzed,” says Ilya Salkind, “because, really, a lot of the decisions were pretty logical and common sense. I want to clarify a little bit, because it’s much simpler than all of the things that have been said. I mean, Richard Donner did a fantastic first film, as we all know, and it was a tremendous success, and what happened after was really, I would say, normal film history. Things happened.”
Okay, great, so that’s all cleared up. It was normal film history! I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.
Continue reading Superman II 2.2: It Wasn’t Ilya’s Fault
So here’s how to torpedo your own film in six words, courtesy of Army Archerd’s Hollywood gossip colum in Variety:
Producer Pierre Spengler allows that he and Superman director Dick Donner differed during filming, but he says all’s now well, and Spengler expects to return to complete Superman II. Donner, however, declares, “If he’s on it — I’m not.“
It’s late December 1978, and Superman: The Movie has just opened in theaters to, if you’ll pardon the expression, boffo box office. Everybody who worked on the film is feeling that Christmas spirit — except for Richard Donner, who fucking hates Pierre Spengler, and is not shy about letting people know his truth.
Continue reading Superman II 2.1: Things That Richard Donner Probably Shouldn’t Have Said
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
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.
Continue reading Superman 1.97: Man of Steal
The telephone trills.
It’s mid-November 1978 in sunny Los Angeles, and all four of the Warner Brothers, seated at their identical desks, reach for their four matching telephone receivers. “Hello?” they chirp, in unison. “These are the Warner Brothers.”
“Good afternoon, Mizter Brothers,” says the voice, in an imaginary Russo-Swiss-Mexican accent. “Zis is Alexander Salkind.”
Mr. Salkind is the executive producer of Superman: The Movie and the head of a bumbling, crumbling international crime syndicate, and he’s making a transatlantic person-to-persons call to make Warner Bros. an offer that they can’t refuse.
Continue reading Superman 1.94: The Shakedown
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.
Continue reading Superman 1.91: Defining Disaster