Superman has a cinematic legacy that manages to be equally awe-inspiring, baffling and turgid. Few fictional characters have reached the highs of this iconic superhero and few have managed to see such lows.
The story of Superman on the big screen is a tale of triumph (1978's 'Superman: The Movie'), defeat ('Superman IV: The Quest For Peace'), failure ('Superman Returns') and, with the release of 'Man of Steel,' possibly resurrection.
Superman's journey through Hollywood has been nothing short of amazing and nothing short of bizarre. The countless behind-the-scenes stories will leave you gasping, laughing and completely and utterly baffled. These are but a few of them. Here are 10 things you maybe didn't know about the Superman movies.
J.J. Abrams Wrote a Superman Script
In the 20 years between 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' and 'Superman Returns,' many parties attempted to revive the damaged Superman brand and all of them failed to get off the ground. However, few failed as loudly and spectacularly as 'Superman: Flyby.'
Written by J.J. Abrams, the script attracted directors such as Brett Ratner and McG and was the first in a proposed trilogy. But then the internet got involved. When details of the script hit the still relatively young net, geeks all over the world were appalled by Abrams' reinvention of the Superman mythos. Lex Luthor as a government agent obsessed with UFOs who is secretly an alien? Krypton not being destroyed and being home to a civil war that Superman gets involved in? The potential of Ashton Kutcher putting on the red and blue tights? The fan outcry was enormous and severely tainted the project, but it was McG's refusal to shoot in Australia that ultimately killed 'Superman: Flyby.'
No One Wanted to Be Superman
When it came time to cast the original 1978 'Superman,' the producers looked at every single young star in Hollywood. The list of considered names is a laundry list of "Really!?" casting choices. The list of thespians on producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind's shortlist included Muhammad Ali, Al Pacino, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Jon Voight, Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Dustin Hoffman (who would later turn down the role of Lex Luthor) and Paul Newman (who turned down Superman, Lex Luthor and Jor-El).
There were a variety of reasons for why each actor didn't get the part -- Redford wanted too much money, Eastwood was too busy, Caan said there was "no way" he would get into the "silly suit" and Nolte wanted Superman to be schizophrenic. Meanwhile, young up-and-comers Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone lobbied hard for the role, but were both shot down by Marlon Brando, who had a hand in the casting. Eventually, a young unknown named Christopher Reeve was cast and the rest is history.
Steven Spielberg Was Offered 'Superman'
The original 'Superman' film represents the perfect marriage of director and material, with Richard Donner bringing a unique combination of epic scope and gentle humor to the character. However, he was far from the first choice for the job.
One of the first people the Salkinds talked to was a young Steven Spielberg, but they decided to hold off on hiring him until they saw how his "fish movie" turned out. Of course, once 'Jaws' came out, he skyrocketed out of their price range. They also had conversations with George Lucas (who was too busy with 'Star Wars' to commit) and the legendary Sam Peckinpah, who was removed from consideration after he pulled a gun on the producers during an early meeting.
Marlon Brando Wanted to Play Jor-El as a Bagel
When it came time to cast Superman's father Jor-El for the 1978 film, it was decided that only a true movie star should fill the role. And who was a bigger movie star in the '70s than the legendary (and legendarily difficult) Marlon Brando?
Even after negotiating a massive fee (including a substantial cut of the profits), Brando still exerted creative control, insisting that he play Jor-El as "a suitcase or a green bagel." (He acqueised only after Richard Donner told him that everyone who grew up with Superman comics knows what Jor-El looks like.) As Terence Stamp revealed on the 'Superman' special features, Brando also never bothered to learn his lines, forcing the use of cue cards for each of his scenes. You know that touching moment when he sends his infant son off to the Earth? He was reading his lines off the baby's diaper.
Christopher Reeve Bulked Up With the Help of Darth Vader
The 'Superman' producers were initially hesitant to cast Christopher Reeve, citing his small, skinny frame. However, the actor fully committed to the part, putting on 40 pounds of muscle to fill the iconic suit. But how did he manage such a feat? He turned to bodybuilder and actor David Prowse, AKA, Darth Vader, for assistance!
Prowse had auditioned for the role of Superman and lost the part, but that didn't stop him from overseeing Reeves' training regiment, transforming him from a scrawny boy into a true superhero.
'Man of Steel' Star Henry Cavill Almost Played Superman Once Before
In many ways, the casting of Henry Cavill as Superman in 'Man of Steel' feels inevitable. After all, the newest Superman film was not the British actor's first brush with this iconic character -- he was initially cast as Superman by McG back in 2004 for 'Superman: Flyby' (see above), but the film fell apart soon afterward.
Cavill then spent the next decade brushing against iconic characters time and time again. He was rumored to play Batman in 'Batman Begins,' was Stephanie Meyer's number one choice for Edward in 'Twilight' and was one of the final contenders for James Bond in 'Casino Royale.' After years of chasing superheroic roles, it must have felt like fate to land the part of the greatest superhero of all time…again.
Jonathan Lemkin Wrote the Strangest Superman Script Ever
Remember that 20 year break between 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' and 'Superman Returns'? Well, that hiatus produced more failed scripts than you can possibly imagine, but none were as outright bonkers as Jonathan Lemkin's 'Superman Reborn.'
Pitched as a mainstream, toy company-friendly take for the "MTV generation," the script featured Superman dying at the hands of the villainous Doomsday…only for his spirit to leap into Lois Lane's body and impregnate her, causing a virgin birth (!). A few weeks later, a fully grown Superman emerges from Lois (!!) to save the day. The script was thrown away about as quickly as you'd expect.
Tim Burton, Nicolas Cage and Kevin Smith Almost Made a Superman Movie
If there's one failed Superman project that sounds like it would've been a bigger disaster than 'Superman: Flyby,' it's 'Superman Lives,' which came disturbingly close to hitting the big screen in the late '90s. The project would've seen Tim Burton stepping behind the camera (reuniting with his 'Batman' producer Jon Peters), with Nicolas Cage stepping into the Superman costume.
Geek icon Kevin Smith penned the script and he hasn't been shy about his bizarre and hellish experience on the project. On various occasions, he has talked about Peters' ludicrous demands, which include insisting that Superman not fly, that a random scene where the Man of Steel fights some polar bears be inserted and that the movie's "big bad" must be a giant mechanical spider. Eventually, that giant spider made its way into Peters' 'Wild Wild West,' but all that remains from 'Superman Lives' is Smith's hilarious anecdotes and a few pieces of concept art, which, as you can see below, is definitive proof that this project needed to die.
'Superman IV' Forced the Cancellation of a 'Spider-Man' Movie
The creative and financial failure of 'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' is one of the blackest spots on Superman's legacy. One of the worst superhero films of all time, it damaged the character's reputation so badly that it took decades to bring the character back.
Everyone knows that the film was made on a shoestring by the now-defunct Cannon Films and still managed to bomb. Everyone knows that Christopher Reeve despised the film before it was released. Heck, it's public knowledge that the film was cut from 134 minutes to 90 minutes shortly before release. Less known is that the film's failure caused Cannon to abandon a proposed 'Spider-Man' movie (although that iconic character would eventually make it to the screen in 2002). Although considering how terrible 'Superman IV' was, it's safe to say we all dodged a speeding bullet when Cannon's Spider-Man project fell apart.
The Superman Flight Effects Started a Bit…Cruder
The promotional materials for the 1978 'Superman' declared "You Will Believe A Man Can Fly," but figuring out how to make a man fly was one of the toughest challenges the production faced. Even before Richard Donner was hired to direct, numerous tests were conducted to see what would work best. The first attempt: put a crash test dummy in a Superman outfit and shoot it out of a cannon. This looked about as good as you'd imagine. After that, they experimented with hand drawn animation (which is how Superman flew in the 'Adventures of Superman' TV show) and a remote controlled plaster model, both of which failed to live up to expectations.
Ultimately, the crew opted to go with blue screen, wires, harnesses and various camera lens tricks to achieve the now iconic flight effect.
Bonus: 'Superman' Originally Had a Musical Number
If the thought of Lois Lane breaking into song in the middle of the original 'Superman' film turns your stomach,well, you're certainly not alone. In the 1978 film, Superman takes Margot Kidder's Lois Lane on a romantic flight over Metropolis and we hear the intrepid reporter's interior monologue as she wonders "Can you read my mind?"
This (slightly hokey) scene was originally conceived as a musical number, with Kidder performing her thoughts in song. Thankfully, director Richard Donner nixed this idea, replacing it with a spoken voiceover and an orchestration. However, "Can You Read My Mind?" was eventually recorded by Maureen McGovern and became a minor hit in 1979. It's not a bad song, but it sure would've felt out of place in the film.