1. The story of Superman III begins back in November 1980, prior to the release of Superman II. Producer Ilya Salkind wrote a treatment for a third Superman film that included Brainiac, Mister Mxyzptlk and Supergirl. Dudley Moore was Ilya's first choice for the role of The Mr. Mxyzptlk, a character who would vary a lot from his good-humored comic counterpart, as in this treatment he uses his abilities to cause serious harm. Ilya also proposed that Brainiac would discover Supergirl in the same way that Superman was found by the Kents, making 'him' a surrogate father to Supergirl. Eventually Brainiac fell in love with his 'daughter', who did not reciprocate his feelings, as she had fallen in love with Superman.
Ilya presented the treatment to Warner Bros. who, unsurprisingly, did not like it. You can read the whole thing for yourself here as it was released online back in 2007.
2. When Richard Donner was hired to direct the first two films he found the scripts by David and Leslie Newman so distasteful that he hired Tom Mankiewicz for heavy rewrites. The Newman's had been the choice of the father/son production team Alexander and Ilya Salkind, now since Donner and Mankiewicz were no longer attached to the franchise the Salkinds were finally able to bring "their vision" of Superman to the screen and so once again hired the Newmans for writing duties.
3. The original title of the film was Superman Vs Superman.
4. Many Superman fans have expressed upset over the slapstick nature of Superman III, leveling the blame at both the Newmans and director Richard Lester. But it wasn't just the fans who felt that way, Christopher Reeve was also not that taken with the direction, as he revealed...
"[Richard Lester] was always looking for a gag - sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top. I mean, I didn't think that his going off the top of a building, on skis with a pink tablecloth around his shoulders, was particularly funny."
5. Talking of Richard Pryor, his casting came about after the comedian had appeared on The Tonight Show and told host Johnny Carson how much he enjoyed seeing Superman II, and that he'd love to be the star of a Superman movie. Pryor was likely, indirectly, referring to one of his more famous comedy routines, "Super N****r", about a black Superman who is disguised a janitor working for the Daily Planet.
However, his comments came to the attention of the Salkinds who sought him out for a role in the third Superman film. In his autobiography, Pryor received that when he received the screenplay he thought it was absolutely terrible but agreed to star as August "Gus" Gorman as he was offered $5 million!
6. Both Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder had spoken out about the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard Donner, with Hackman retaliating by refusing to reprise the role of Lex Luthor entirely (though he would later be persuaded to come back for Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, with which the Salkinds had no connection). Kidder later said that she believed the reduction of her role in Superman III to that of a brief cameo was the Salkinds way of "punishing" the actress for her comments regarding Donner's dismissal.
However, in his commentary for the 2006 DVD release of Superman III, Ilya Salkind denied any ill will between Kidder and his production team. He also denied the claim that her part was cut for retaliation. Instead, he said, the creative team decided to pursue a different direction for a love interest for Superman, believing the Lois and Clark relationship had been played out in the first two films (but could be revisited in the future). With the choice to give a more prominent role to Lana Lang, Lois' part was reduced for story reasons, and story reasons only.
It's difficult to know who to believe, as if you've read Ilya's treatment above from November 1980 it does indeed feature a similar reduced role for Kidder, going as far as suggesting Lois Lane needn't be in it at all. However, on his DVD commentary Ilya Salkind also went on to deny the reports about Gene Hackman being upset with him, stating that Hackman was unable to return because of other film commitments, which he may well have had but even if he was free it's unlikely Hackman would've considered the Salkind's offer.
7. Ross Webster was an original character created for the movie in the vein of a Lex Luthor style megalomaniac. The original choice to play Webster was Alan Alda, as the Salkinds wanted an actor who could be ruthless without losing any charm. Ilya Salkind later revealed that he favoured Frank Langella for the part. but was outvoted and Robert Vaughn was cast. Langella would, of course, later star as Perry White in Superman Returns.
8. Aaron Smolinkski, who played the baby Kal-El in Superman: The Movie has a cameo in Superman III. He's the young boy waiting by the photo-booth while Clark Kent changes into Superman.
9. A video game of Superman III was in development for the Atari 5200. This wasn't the same as the game Ross Webster played in the movie because that was nothing more than an elaborate computer sequence designed by Atari specifically for the film and would've been impossible to create on the Atari 8-bit platform.
The proposed video game tie-in was to be somewhat like Missile Command and revolved around Superman's fight with the super computer. You play the role of Superman who must fly around the screen destroying energy pulses being sent out by the computer with his heat vision. The game was never completely finished (although some box art exists) as focus groups who play-tested a near complete version of the title felt it wasn't strong enough for release and the controls were far too awkward.
10. Although Superman III was not a financial flop, earning $60 million from a $38 million budget, it was far short of the $100 million plus the first two Superman films had each made. The almost universal negative reviews clearly put a dampener on the box office take, although nearly every critic praised Christopher Reeve's performance as the high point of the movie.
Regardless of this Reeve swore that Superman III would be his final time in the cape and tights and resisted an offer from the Salkinds to appear, in cameo, in 1984's Supergirl movie.
However, after the Salkinds sold their licence to produce Superman films to the Cannon Group, Reeve was once again tempted back to play the Man of Steel, He wasn't the only one who would return now that the Salkinds were not involved as we'll find out tomorrow in 10 things you might not know about Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.
10 Things You Might Not Know About Superman: The Movie
10 Things You Might Not Know About Superman II
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