Superman Returns

This article is about the film. For other uses, see Superman Returns (disambiguation).
Superman Returns

A man in a costume floats above North America at night; his shirt and tights are blue, with a yellow insignia with a red border and stylized "S" on his chest; his cape, briefs and boots are red, and he wears a yellow belt with a similar insignia on the buckle as on his chest.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bryan Singer
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
  • Bryan Singer
  • Michael Dougherty
  • Dan Harris
Based on Characters appearing in comic books published
by DC Comics
Music by John Ottman
Cinematography Newton Thomas Sigel
Edited by
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • June 21, 2006 (2006-06-21) (Los Angeles)
  • June 28, 2006 (2006-06-28) (United States)
  • July 14, 2006 (2006-07-14) (United Kingdom)
Running time
154 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $204 million
Box office $391.1 million

Superman Returns is a 2006 American superhero film directed and produced by Bryan Singer. It is based on the DC Comics character Superman and serves as a homage sequel to the motion pictures Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980),[1][2] ignoring the events of Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987).[1] The film stars Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman, Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, with James Marsden, Frank Langella, and Parker Posey. The film tells the story of the title character returning to Earth after a five-year absence. He finds that his love interest Lois Lane has moved on with her life, and that his archenemy Lex Luthor is plotting a scheme that will destroy Superman and the world.

After a series of unsuccessful projects to resurrect Superman on the screen, Warner Bros. hired Bryan Singer to direct and develop Superman Returns in July 2004. The majority of principal photography took place at Fox Studios Australia, Sydney, while the visual effects sequences were created by a number of studios, including Sony Pictures Imageworks, Rhythm & Hues, Framestore, Rising Sun Pictures, and The Orphanage;[3] filming ended in November 2005.

Superman Returns received positive reviews, with critics praising its story, visual effects, musical score, and style. However, it received mixed reviews from audiences, who criticized the film for its length, the story, and lack of action sequences. Warner Bros. was also disappointed with the worldwide box office return. A sequel was planned for a summer 2009 release, but the project was later canceled. The Superman film series was rebooted in 2013 with the film Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder and starring Henry Cavill as Superman.


For five years, Superman (Brandon Routh) has abandoned his adopted home of Earth while on a journey to visit the remains of Krypton. His seemingly selfish decision has ruined his image in the eyes of many, including journalist Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), who writes a scathing article claiming that the world "doesn't need Superman". Billionaire Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), who lost his fame and fortune after being exposed as a criminal by Superman, secures an early release from prison and marries an old heiress, whose subsequent death makes him wealthy once again. Upon returning to Metropolis, Superman, in his human identity of Clark Kent, is shocked to discover the consequences of his disappearance. While covering the launch of a space shuttle, he narrowly saves a plane carrying Lois and other observers from crashing after a mysterious power failure, an act that earns him much goodwill. Unbeknownst to anyone, the accident was triggered by Luthor using Kryptonian technology stolen from the Fortress of Solitude.

Clark tries to fix his relationship with Lois, but soon learns that she is engaged to Richard White (James Marsden), nephew of Daily Planet editor-in-chief Perry White (Frank Langella), with whom she shares a young, asthmatic son, Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu). Luthor has his aide Kitty (Parker Posey) distract Superman, allowing Lex to steal a sample of kryptonite from a museum. Suspecting his involvement, Lois requests an off-the-record interview aboard his private yacht. Luthor admits that he is indeed responsible and reveals his true plan: to create a new continent modeled after Krypton that he can shape in his image, while triggering massive tsunamis that will wipe out the nations of the world and force humanity to turn to him for survival. Jason has an asthmatic attack when Luthor reveals the kryptonite, but has no subsequent reaction when Luthor holds the stone near him.

The Fortress of Solitude as depicted in the film.

When one of Luthor's henchmen threatens Lois, Jason crushes him with a piano. Realizing that he is Superman's son, Luthor and his thugs escape by helicopter as the new landmass emerges from the ocean. While working to contain the damage to Metropolis, Superman learns from Richard that Lois is in danger and saves her and Jason seconds before the yacht sinks.

Superman tries to apprehend Luthor, but the kryptonite-poisoned atmosphere quickly strips him of his powers. Luthor's men torture Superman into submission, before Luthor stabs Superman with a Kryptonite shard and leaves him to die. With Richard's help, Lois gets him to safety and removes the shard. Fueled by the sun's radiation, Superman defeats Luthor's gang and covers the landmass with soil, allowing him to safely throw it into space. While helping Luthor escape, a disillusioned Kitty allows the helicopter to crash on a remote island, trapping him. Complications from Kryptonite exposure cause Superman to fall into a coma, and while doctors are able to remove most of the fragments, they cannot revive him. Lois visits him and whispers something into his ear while glancing at Jason, after which Superman comes to. Acknowledging that he has a much greater responsibility than himself, he recalls Jor-El's (Marlon Brando) last speech to Jason as he sleeps. Lois starts writing another article, titled "Why the World Needs Superman". Superman reassures her that he is now back to stay, and flies off into space, where he gazes down at the world.


Other cast members include Frank Langella, who plays Daily Planet editor Perry White, a role originally attached to Hugh Laurie;[19] Sam Huntington as Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen, Eva Marie Saint as Clark Kent's adoptive mother Martha Kent, and Kal Penn as one of Luthor's henchmen, Stanford. Jack Larson, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the 1950s television series Adventures of Superman, makes a cameo appearance as a bartender. Noel Neill—who portrayed Lois Lane in the television series and the film serials Superman (1948) and Atom Man vs. Superman (1950) -- appears as Luthor's elderly wife Gertrude Vanderworth. Richard Branson cameos as the engineer aboard the space shuttle. Another of Luthor's henchmen (Riley) is played by former Australian Rugby League player Ian Roberts.[20]


Director and producer Bryan Singer conceived the storyline of "Superman returning to Earth after a five-year absence" during the filming of X2 (2003). He presented the idea to Lauren Shuler Donner and her husband Richard Donner, director of Superman (1978). Donner greeted Singer's idea with positive feedback.[7] In March 2004, Warner Bros. was commencing pre-production on Superman: Flyby, which had a target theatrical release date of June 2006. McG was signed to direct with a script by J. J. Abrams, but dropped out in June 2004. That same month, Singer was approached by Warner Bros. to pitch his idea for Superman Returns, as he was preparing to leave for Hawaii on a short vacation with his X2 writers Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris. While in Hawaii, Singer, Dougherty and Harris began to outline the film treatment.[17] In July 2004, Singer signed on to direct and develop Superman Returns.[21]

Although he was not a comic book fan, Singer was most impressed with Donner's 1978 film, citing it as an influence of his, Dougherty and Harris's writing.[21][22] With Singer's hiring, he dropped out of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and also had the Logan's Run remake pushed back.[21] Superman Returns was financed 50/50 between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures,[23] and pre-production began in November 2004.[24] By February 2005, Dougherty and Harris had written six drafts of the script.[25] Early versions of the script contained references to the September 11 attacks before they were removed.[17]


Warner Bros. considered shooting Superman Returns at Warner Roadshow Studios in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. After filming, this could have been used as an attraction for the adjoining Warner Bros. Movie World theme park, but the idea was scrapped for being too expensive.[26] Set construction started in January 2005 at Fox Studios Australia for the film's 60 setpieces, while the start date was pushed back for two weeks. In an attempt to avoid public attention, Superman Returns carried the fake working title of Red Sun during filming.[9][27] Starting in late March 2005, principal photography lasted until November.[28] Filming of Superman Returns in New South Wales constituted hiring thousands of local workers, generating over $100 million into the local economy. 80% of filming took place at Fox Studios Australia, occupying all nine sound stages.[29] Scenes set in Smallville were shot at Tamworth,[30] while the Australian Museum doubled for the Metropolis Museum of Natural History.[31]

Design and effects

The face of a man appears in a crystalline wall, while a bald man with his back at the camera looks at him.
A digital recreation of Marlon Brando in the film, as Jor-El.

Superman Returns was shot using Panavision's Genesis digital camera.[32] Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Headquarters for the design of the Daily Planet.[33] ESC Entertainment was originally set to design the visual effects sequences, but Warner Bros. replaced them with the hiring of Mark Stetson from Sony Pictures Imageworks as the visual effects supervisor.[34] A total of 1,400 visual effects shots were created.[28] The script required a scene of Superman safely delivering a Boeing 777 in a baseball park where computer-generated imagery was used as it would have been impossible to assemble the number of extras for the shots. A second unit crew traveled to Dodger Stadium to photograph elements that were composited into the final images.[35] The scenes of Metropolis was actually a modified version of the skyline of Manhattan. Using footage from the original Superman (1978) film as a reference point, Marlon Brando was re-created by Rhythm & Hues using CGI.[36] The opening credits for Superman Returns are presented in an intended recreation of the style used for Superman, again to the accompaniment of John Williams's theme music.[37]


Singer hired regular collaborator John Ottman as editor and film score composer months before the script was written.[38] Ottman said in past interviews that John Williams, who composed the 1978 film, had influenced his decision to become a musician.[39] He was both cautious and enthusiastic to work on Superman Returns. "Bryan [Singer] said he wouldn't even greenlight the movie if he couldn't use the John Williams music." Ottman continued, "it was important for me to preserve the Williams theme right down to every single note for the opening titles." Ottman referred to his work on Superman Returns as a homage to, not a ripoff of, Williams.[40]


Originally budgeted at $184.5 million, Warner Bros. placed the production cost at $204 million, after factoring in tax rebates and incentives. Taking into account the development costs since the early 1990s, total expenditure is estimated to be around $263 million, with up to a further $100 million spent on worldwide marketing.[17][41]



Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth alongside pilots Christian Klien, Robert Doornbos and David Coulthard, who wear racing overalls with the Superman insignia on the chest. In front of them is the Red Bull Racing racecar, which has the Superman insignia painted atop and sideways of the chassis.
The Superman Returns cast with members of the Red Bull Racing team.

Warner Bros. promoted Superman Returns at 2005 San Diego Comic-Con International.[42] Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris came up with the idea of publishing a prequel limited series, spanning four comic book issues. The stories were written by Jimmy Palmiotti, Marc Andreyko and Justin Gray, with artwork by Karl Kerschl and Matt Haley.[43] During production, a series of "video diaries" on the Internet were released at, showing behind-the-scenes work being done. After 27 installments, the video diaries stopped for a while shortly before the teaser trailer debuted on November 17, 2005.[42] The main theatrical trailer premiered online on May 2, 2006.[44] The trailer appeared in theaters on May 5, with prints of Mission: Impossible III, while the international trailer came with The Da Vinci Code and X-Men: The Last Stand.[45][46] DC Comics published a comics adaptation by artist Matt Haley and writer Martin Pasko,[47] Marv Wolfman wrote a novelization,[48] and Electronic Arts developed a video game based on both the movie and the comics.[49]

The estimated budget for Superman Returns marketing campaign was $45.5 million, the second highest of the year behind Disney's $53.5 million campaign for Cars.[50] Warner Bros. made tie-in deals with General Mills, Burger King, Duracell, Pepsi, Doritos, Papa John's Pizza, 7-Eleven and Colgate.[45] The film was also advertised with Red Bull Racing Formula One cars at the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. David Coulthard managed to get the team's first top three finish that day; on the podium, he wore a Superman cape in celebration of his achievement.[51] NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon also sported the "Man of Steel" look by promoting the movie on his #24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo in the 2006 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.[52] Troy Bayliss appeared in promotional "Superman" leathers and sported a cape on the podium following a win and a 2nd place at the 2006 Brands Hatch Superbike World Championship round on his way to winning that year's championship.[53] The National Geographic Channel released The Science of Superman on June 29, 2006: a television special that studied popular science analogies with the Superman mythos.[54] Singer admitted at 2006 Comic-Con International that he was dissatisfied with the marketing and promotion. "A lot of people did their job, and a lot didn't".[55]

Box office

Bryan Singer convinced Warner Bros. not to experiment with test screenings. In addition, Singer removed 15 minutes of footage from Superman Returns after showing it to some of his "trusted associates". The final theatrical time length ran at 154 minutes.[56] Warner Bros. originally slated the movie for release on Friday, June 30, but moved it up to Wednesday, June 28.[57] Superman Returns was released on June 28, 2006 in the United States and Canada in 4,065 theaters. The film ranked at the top in its opening weekend, accumulating $52,535,096.[58] Within five days, Superman Returns took in $84.2 million, a new record for Warner Bros., beating out The Matrix Revolutions (2003), which has since been surpassed by The Dark Knight (2008).[59]

Superman Returns: An IMAX 3D Experience was released simultaneously in 111 IMAX format theatres worldwide, which included 20 minutes of converted 3-D film material. It was the first Hollywood full-length live-action film to be released in this combined format.[60] One of the key scenes Singer took out was "the Return to Krypton sequence". $10 million was spent on this sequence alone, but it was deleted. Singer noted that it could not be released as part of a DVD featurette because it was converted to IMAX 3D. He hoped it could have appeared in an IMAX reissue.[55] The film's second week gross rapidly declined from the first week, due to the presence of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and The Devil Wears Prada.[59] Superman Returns went on to gross $200,081,192 in North America and $191 million internationally, earning $391,081,192 worldwide.[58] Domestically, the film was the sixth-highest-grossing film of 2006.[61] In worldwide totals, Superman Returns was ninth-highest.[62]

Critical reception

Superman Returns received mixed to positive reviews from film critics. Based on 258 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 76% of the reviewers enjoyed the film.[63] Metacritic gave the film a score of 72/100, based on 40 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews."[64] Richard Corliss of Time praised Superman Returns, calling it one of the best superhero films. He was mostly impressed with Singer's direction and the storyline.[65] Joe Morgenstern from The Wall Street Journal also gave a positive review, but observed Routh's and Bosworth's acting was "somewhat dead or super average. Nothing special." Morgenstern believed Lex Luthor's characterization was "well written by the writers and well played by Kevin Spacey". He also praised Newton Thomas Sigel's cinematography and Guy Hendrix Dyas's production design.[66]

Peter Travers, writing in Rolling Stone, felt the film "perfectly updates Superman for the modern audience".[67] J. Hoberman of The Village Voice called it "surprisingly well made. It's a summer blockbuster filled with mythology and sensitivity."[68] James Berardinelli reacted positively to the movie, comparing it favorably with Richard Donner's 1978 film. He felt Spacey was better than Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, describing him as "more cruel and less flippant" than Hackman. "There are no miscasts to be found in the supporting cast, either," Berardinelli said. "Superman Returns is near the top, if not at the top of the superhero movie pile. It offers nearly everything: romance, action, humor, and plenty of goose bumps."[69]

However, Roger Ebert argued the film was a "glum, lackluster movie in which even the big effects sequences seem dutiful instead of exhilarating." He also felt that "Brandon Routh lacks charisma as Superman", surmising that he "may have been cast because he looks a little like Reeve".[70] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle felt that Warner Bros. should have rebooted the series along the lines of Batman Begins. He also felt Bosworth, at 22 years old, was too young to portray Lois Lane, and the climax did not "match the potential of the tiring 154 minute long film".[71]

Superman Returns was nominated for both the Academy Award for Visual Effects and BAFTA Award for Best Special Visual Effects, but lost to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.[72][73] The film was successful at the 33rd Saturn Awards, winning Best Fantasy Film, and categories for Direction (Bryan Singer), Best Actor (Brandon Routh), Writing (Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris) and Music (John Ottman). Kate Bosworth, Tristan Lake Leabu, James Marsden, Parker Posey, and the visual effects department were nominated for categories.[74] However, Bosworth was also nominated a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actress.[75]

On May 3, 2009, almost three years after the debut of Superman Returns, the Academy Award winning filmmaker and screenwriter Quentin Tarantino declared his appreciation for Bryan Singer's directorial work on Superman Returns and that he would write a 20-page review about Superman Returns.[76]

On January 9, 2012, more than five years after the movie was released, the independent film community daily news site indieWire released a two-part video essay that probes the melancholic nature of Superman Returns. Produced by Matt Zoller Seitz and Ken Cancelosi, the critique was inspired by a review that Seitz wrote for the New York Press in 2006, in which he stated that "From the moment its hero returns to the sky to rescue Lois Lane from a plummeting jet, Superman Returns flirts with greatness."[77]

A critical commentary of the film written in English around the time of its release by a Pakistani columnist, Dr Haider Mahdi, accused the film of being "American propaganda" and portraying opponents to the United States as evil, while defending American foreign policy. It claims previous adaptations of Superman advocate American aggression and coincided the films release with America's war in the Middle East and South Asia. It alleges that American society has always needed an "external threat" to justify invasions and aggression and the portrayal of Superman in film glorifies him when he eliminates these "external threats".[78]

In 2013, Singer stated that Superman Returns was made for "Perhaps more of a female audience. It wasn't what it needed to be, I guess." Singer stated that he would have cut about the first quarter off of the film and started it with "the jet disaster sequence or something. I could have grabbed the audience a little more quickly. I don't know what would have helped. Probably nothing. If I could go again, I would do an origin. I would reboot it."[79]

Empire Magazine ranked the movie 496 on its "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.[80] Stating that "It may have been a slighter return than some people had hoped for, but Singer's vision of the Man Of Steel is an heroic effort. Plenty of spectacle and a lot of heart helps Kal-El soar."[81]


The film received eleven nominations in the 33rd Saturn Awards including categories of Best Fantasy Film, Best Direction (Bryan Singer), Best Actor (Brandon Routh), and Best Actress (Kate Bosworth). The results were the following: four nominations and five wins. These are the results:

Year Award Category Recipient Result
2007 Saturn Awards Best Actor Brandon Routh Won
Best Actress Kate Bosworth Nominated
Best Supporting Actor James Marsden Nominated
Best Young Actor Tristan Lake Leabu Nominated
Best Score John Ottman Won
Best Visual Effects Superman Returns Nominated
Best Screenplay Michael Dougherty & Dan Harris Won
Best Director Bryan Singer Won
Best Fantasy Film Superman Returns Won

Home media

Superman Returns debuted on DVD on November 28, 2006 in two versions, one with a single disc, and a double-disc edition which featured over three hours of behind-the-scenes features.[82] That same day, a 14-disc DVD box set titled Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition was released, containing special editions of all five Superman films, as well as the documentary Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman.[83] It debuted at the top spot of the DVD charts, and also generated $13 million in rentals during its first week.[84] The film was also released in both high definition formats, HD DVD, which featured both standard and high definitions on the same disc, and Blu-ray.[82] It was the best-selling title on both formats in 2006,[85] and was among the best-sellers of both formats of 2007.[86]

Unproduced sequel

In February 2006, four months before the release of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. announced a mid-2009 theatrical release date for a sequel, with Bryan Singer reprising his directing duties.[87] Brandon Routh,[88] Kate Bosworth,[89] Kevin Spacey,[90] Sam Huntington,[91] Frank Langella,[92] and Tristan Lake Leabu were to reprise their roles.[93] Due to his commitment, Singer dropped out of directing a remake of Logan's Run and an adaptation of The Mayor of Castro Street.[94] Writer Michael Dougherty wanted the sequel to be "action packed", featuring "other Kryptonians"[95] with Brainiac[96] and Bizarro also considered for primary villains.[93] The "New Krypton" landmass floating in space at the end of Superman Returns would have served as a plot device.[97] Although Superman Returns received mostly positive reviews, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures were disappointed by the film's box office return.[98] Warner Bros. President Alan F. Horn explained that Superman Returns was a very successful film, but that it "should have done $500 million worldwide. We should have had perhaps a little more action to satisfy the young male crowd."[99] Singer reacted incredulously to the studio complaints, saying, "That movie made $400 million! I don’t know what constitutes under-performing these days..."[100] $175 million was the maximum budget Warner Bros. was projecting for the sequel, as Superman Returns cost $204 million.[17][41][101]

Filming for the Superman Returns sequel was to start in mid-2007,[102] before Singer halted development in favor of Valkyrie.[103] Filming was then pushed to March 2008,[104] but writers Dougherty and Dan Harris left in favor of other career opportunities.[105] The 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike pushed the release date to 2010.[106] Singer still listed the sequel as a priority in March 2008, saying that the film was in early development.[100] Routh expected filming to begin in early 2009.[107] Paul Levitz, president of DC Comics, expected Routh to reprise the title role from Superman Returns[88] before his contract for a sequel expired in 2009.[108] However, with Warner Bros. deciding to reboot the film series, Singer dropped out in favor of directing Jack the Giant Slayer. In August 2008, Warner Bros. President of Production Jeff Robinov reflected, "Superman Returns didn't quite work as a film in the way that we wanted it to. It didn't position the character the way he needed to be positioned. Had Superman worked in 2006, we would have had a movie for Christmas of this year or 2009. Now the plan is just to reintroduce Superman without regard to a Batman and Superman movie at all."[109]

See also


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