Fans marked the 40th anniversary of the release of Superman II on Twitter today. They added their personal memories and citing it as the best Superman movie ever made. With many of the more recent Superman movies failing to quite hit the heights of the original Christopher Reeve movies. As the movie turns forty, we share some of those thoughts and take a look at the first Superman sequel and how it had a troubled time making it to the big screen.
The film was made a year before its release in the US and much of the world. Superman II is based on a story by The Godfather author, Mario Puzo, who co-wrote the screenplay with David and Leslie Newman. In 1977, a decision had been made to film both Superman and the sequel at the same time. Issues arose between director, Richard Donner and producers when a decision was made to concentrate on completing the first movie, and to halt filming of the sequel which was 75% complete at the time. The following year, Superman was released in cinemas, and soon after Donner was fired from the sequel, supposedly over spiraling costs and an extended production schedule. He was replaced by Richard Lester. While several cast and crew refused to return for shooting due the firing of Donner, Lester re-shot much of the movie to be able to be credited as director.
Another major stumbling point in the sequel was Marlon Brando, whose intended scenes were cut from the film due to the producers not wanting to pay his monetary demands for using his image. Brando’s appearance in the original movie as Jor-El was meant to have continued in the sequel, but fans would have to wait over 25 years to view those scenes in the film.
The movie was released to positive reviews, with much praise given to Christopher Reeve as the titular hero, as well as Terence Stamp, who played Zod, and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The movie ended up grossing over $190 million on the back of its $54 million budget. While many were pleased with Superman II, there was always a “what if” hanging over the movie. This has now become known as the “Zack Snyder” effect. However, back then there were no campaigns, no petitions, and no way of Donner’s original vision ever being seen by fans. Except that was not the end of the story.
Unlike the 21st century, when TV versions of movies tend to be identical to the cinematic release with a few cuts for broadcasting reasons, when Superman II was prepared for its television release a few years later, the cut used for ABC’s network premiere in 1984 included 17 minutes of additional footage from the original Donner shoots. While, its international release included 24 minutes. Skipping forward to 2004, a fan-made cut featuring the additional footage from the international release; along with some scenes that were cut from the TV version due to censors or time reasons appeared on the internet but was subsequently removed due to legal action being threatened by Warner Bros.
In 2006, after a wait of 25 years, fans were finally given the Richard Donner cut of the movie. During filming of Superman Returns, Warner Bros. managed to acquire the rights from the estate of Marlon Brando to use the actor’s footage from the 1977 shoots in the movie. This allowed Donner to work unused footage of Brando, the footage he originally shot, some scenes of Lester’s and screen test footage of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder into one definitive version of Superman II, which included an alternative prologue and opening, as well as the original ending of the movie as it was intended before being used at the end of the first film instead. It is this cut that gained numerous mentions by fans celebrating the 40th anniversary on Twitter. Fans were active on Twitter discussing the Donner cut.
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