A Timeline History of Superman: Part 3 - Mania.com

Superman Timeline

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A Timeline History of Superman: Part 3

Superman Movies and More!

By Tim Janson     June 12, 2013
Source: Mania.com

Contrary to what a lot of people may think, Superman was not the first superhero.  Costumed heroes date back to such characters as The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro in the early 1900s; Buck Rogers in the 1920s; pulp heroes like The Shadow, Doc Savage, and The Avenger; and newspaper strip heroes The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician.  In fact, Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created another hero several years before Superman called Doctor Occult.  But…none of those characters have had nearly the kind of pop culture impact that Superman has had.  As Superman celebrates his 75th anniversary this year with a new major theatrical film, “The Man of Steel”, Mania takes a look at the history of Superman in TV, film, animation, and even radio!
While Superman had been a huge hit on radio, TV, and Saturday morning cartoons something was still lacking something.  That something came in 1978 with the release of Superman, a big-budget, theatrical film.  The film’s $55 million dollar budget would still be considered sizable today and for 1978 was absolutely huge.  Technology had finally advanced to the point where the tagline “You will believe a man can fly” was not just an idle boast.
Many well-known actors were considered for the role of Superman, most of which today are laughable including Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Christopher Walken, James Caan, James Brolin, Nick Nolte, Jon Voight, Bruce Jenner, and Charles Bronson!  Patrick Wayne, the son of John Wayne was cast for the role but dropped out when his father developed cancer.  Unknown Christopher Reeve won the role and put on forty pounds of muscle to look the part.  Margot Kidder starred as Lois Lane, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and Marlon Brando (earning a cool $3.7 million) as Jor-El.  The film was capped by a rousing John Williams musical score featuring perhaps the greatest superhero theme music ever.

Superman earned over $300 million at the box-office making it the sixth highest grossing film up until that time.  So confident were the producers of Superman that they actually filmed the sequel Superman II simultaneously.  A lot of fans still consider Superman II (1980) to be the greatest superhero film of all time or, at the very least, it’s easily the best Superman film.  Original Director Richard Donner was removed from the film before it was completed and Richard Lester was brought in to finish the film.  Over 25 years later, the Donner version was released on DVD and featured numerous changes from the theatrical version.
The sequel finds Superman battling the phantom zone escapees General Zod, Ursa, and Non, all of whom have the same powers he has.  The city-destroying battle in Metropolis remains one of the greatest fight sequences in superhero film history.  The film is legendary for its many different versions.  Besides the theatrical version and Donner cut, television versions of the film also varied with the number of additional minutes of added footage.

As great as Superman II was, Superman III (1983) began the franchise’s demise.  Richard Lester continued his destruction of Richard Donner’s work with a silly, slapstick mess that played its story as much for laughs as action.  Richard Pryor was the hottest comedian in the business at the time and his stardom landed him a co-starring role as a computer programmer who goes to work for an evil businessman (Robert Vaughn) who is little more than a far less interesting Lex Luthor.
The film’s budget was nearly 20% lower than the first two Superman films and it showed itself with cheaper, sillier looking special effects including a woman who is turned into a super-powered cyborg.  The film did have some redeeming qualities such as a synthetic form of kryptonite that turns Superman into a jerk forcing his good and evil sides to battle for control and Annette O’ Toole as Lana Lang who would later play Martha Kent in Smallville.


Just when you thought it could get no worse for Superman, 1987 brought fans the truly awful Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.  The budget for the final film to star Christopher Reeve as Superman was a mere $17 million, a third of the budget of the original film a decade earlier.  While still under Warner Brothers the film was produced by Cannon Films, notorious for its low budget action films in the 1980s.
Concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Superman gathers all the nuclear missiles of the United States and Russian IN A GIANT NET, and hurls them into the sun.  Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (Hackman) steals a lock of Superman’s hair and uses it to create his own super powered villain called Nuclear Man.  By this time, Reeve and Hackman were going through the motions and Kidder’s role as Lois Lane had been reduced to a bit part.  After the disaster of Superman IV, it would be nearly 20 years before we would see Superman in another theatrical film.
With Superman dead on the big screen it was once again time for the Man of Steel’s return to television.  In 1988 the syndicated, live-action series Superboy debuted, produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, the producers of the first three Superman movies.  Superboy had the benefit of being written by a number of actual comic book writers including Mike Carlin and Andrew Helfer, Denny O'Neil, Cary Bates, J. M. DeMatteis and Mark Evanier. 
John Haymes Newton starred as Superboy/Clark for the first season but the Salkinds were unhappy with his portrayal and he would be replaced by Gerard Christopher (pictured) for the second season.  The show featured villains such as Lex Luthor, Metallo, Mister Mxyzptlk, and Bizarro.  Despite being only a 30 minute series the show was darker and more dramatic than you might think, particular the final two seasons which some have attributed to the success of the first Tim Burton Batman film.

The same year that Superboy debuted, Superman returned to animation in a new series simply called Superman but better known today as the Ruby-Spears Superman, for the animation studio that produced the series.  The series was produced to coincide with Superman’s 50th anniversary in 1988 and ran for 13 episodes Saturday mornings on CBS. Each ½ hour show consisted of two episodes: a main Superman feature and a shorter “Superman Family Album” which told tales of Superman’s early life in Smallville from his adoption by the Kents to his move to Metropolis as a young man.  Longtime comic book writer Marv Wolfman serves as Story Editor and writes a few of the episodes himself. Legendary comic artist Gil Kane was the series’ Production Designer.

The animation was vastly superior to earlier Superman cartoons produced by Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. There were greater effects, more detailed backgrounds and movements, and the animation was much more fluid.  Most of the adventures are rather mundane with Superman facing a variety of monsters and alien threats with little source material from the comic books used.  The biggest negative to the series is the atrocious voice-acting. It may have been 1988, but the actors deliver their lines in overly dramatic 1960s/1970s cornball style. You have to keep from laughing many times at the melodramatic intonations of the actors. Beau Weaver is especially bad as Superman with a voice that is too high-pitched to take seriously.
Superman was not off TV for very long.  Just a year after Superboy ended in 1992, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman premiered in ABC.  It was a series that polarized its fan base.  While many comic book fans were put off by the fact that it focuses as much on the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane as on the adventures of Clark's alter-ego, it certainly attracted its share of non-comic book fans.  It starred Dean Cain as Superman/Clark Kent and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane.
Part 4 of the Superman Timeline continues tomorrow on Mania.com! Discover the History of Superman Part 1 and Part 2 here

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DarkXid 6/12/2013 12:57:50 AM

 Superman: The Movie has always been the top of the Superman movies for me.  As a kid I was put off by Superman II and it had GENERAL FREAKING ZOD in it.  Superman vs Kryptonian villians.  The fight should have been epic and powerful, and it was weak and boring.  

It starts with Superman thundering into the city and picking a fight with the three villians and then, it just gets lame.  There were a couple of high points I'll give you, Non getting punched out of the sewer by Superman was awesome.  Ursula throwing a man hole cover at him, but any fighthing with Zod, bah boring.  

A lot of it had to do with the effects at the time, but the rest of the fight drags.  And the film does too.  And the reason it was the greatest superhero battle ever put to film?  Because it was really the only one. The Avengers had a better fight, heck even the Incredible Hulk battle was better.  Thor?  Better.  Flash Gordon (not a superhero) but BETTER!!  

The Superman wanting to give up his powers was lame in both versions (Lester vs. Donner).  The Donner version being the most puzzling.  Is he worried about the shotgunning out her tubes with his super spunk?  Too late, from the way Lois is dressed he already didn't blow a load through her.

The explanation for him getting his power back?  Thankfully, and tragically it is explained in the Donner version.  And with the poor motivation it is made the sacrifice really tragic.  

The Donner version improves on the Superman reveal to Lois; totally tricked by her.  Superman the Movie, is tops.And the solution to the Lois problem?  Lame.  A Kiss vs let's fly around the world again and spin time backwards!!!


DarkXid 6/12/2013 12:58:29 AM

 Love your timeline though.  

jppintar326 6/12/2013 5:31:07 AM

I love Superman and Superman II,  which one of the best sequels ever made (in the original version, Forget Richard Donner's overhyped alternate cut).  I cannot get myself to hate III and IV.  Maybe it was Christopher Reeve's Superman that I would watch reading a phone book.  Yes III was silly and it was a mistake to sign Richard Pryor to a Superman movie, which he looked out of place.  Yes IV looked like it was edited with a chainsaw and had terrible special effects (at least the deleted scenes on the DVD help the movie make more sense).  Yet I still liked them. 

I have only seen the first season of Superboy on DVD.  Where are the rest?

I liked Lois and Clark mainly because I liked Dean Cain and especially Teri Hatcher (before she became on Desperate Housewives) as Superman and Lois Lane.  If only they didn't drag out the will or won't they so long that by the time they did, we didn't care anymore.  Also , the villains were a lot to be desired.  Watch out Superman or Downtown Julie Brown will get you!  Still, it was great to watch.


redhairs99 6/12/2013 8:12:26 AM

I'm not really a fan of the Donner Cut of Superman 2, and don't really get the love for it.  Sure, it has some decent moments that were cool to see, but am I the only one who think it makes Superman look like a total dick?  I mean, he still gets beat up by the trucker in the diner and then he gets his powers back and goes back to the diner and gives the trucker a little taste of his own medicine.  The twist is with the Donner Cut, he beats up the trucker after he's turned the world back on its axis undoing the entire movie including the initial confrontation in the diner.  So Clark comes into the diner and beats up some trucker dude who (in his mind) he's never seen before.  Just makes him look like a dick to me.

Switching over to Lois & Clark, even with all the campy villian of the week's and what not, I loved this show and still watch my DVDs of the series form time to time.  My main beef with the show was the angle with the Lois clone.  I wasn't the biggest fan of that storyline, but I still loved the show overall.  I thought Dean Cain was excellent.  I've always been a fan (and maybe I'm in the minority) of Clark being who he is and Superman is a disguise he uses so he can use his powers to help people and still lead a somewhat normal life.  I never really thought Clark had to be some bumbling nerd.  Not that I don't love Christopher Reeve's protrayal.  I just like the way the character is protrayed in Lois & Clark.  And Teri Hatcher was easy on the eyes too.

Have they released the other seasons of Superboy?  I have season 1, but I don't recall the rest ever being released for some reason or another.

monkeyfoot 6/12/2013 8:46:10 AM

I remember the father and son producing team of the Salkinds actually knew very little about Superman originally. It was just a good project to buy the rights to. I also remember DC/Warner decided to quietly end the lawsuit from the creators Siegal and Shuster with a paltry 25,000 a year for life so there would be little bad publicity from it.

The first two movies are indeed geat watermark in comic book cinema history. But I think alot of fans have grown up watching it from childhood and it is a Shining Super Beacon of their comic book lives. They don't seem to notice or care about the many changes that were made to the Superman legend.

Krypton & the Fortress of Solitude all crystal based.

The famous S symbol is Kryptonian family crest (similar to current MoS)

Superboy totally eliminated (he existed as Supes youthful version in comics at the time)

Superman becomes a Jesus metaphor

Luthor becomes a toupe wearing villain played with lots of laughs with moronic Otis as his henchmen.

Can you even imagine the fanboy onslaught if it were released today! I was pissed as a kid when I first saw it. Plus, I thought the FX were crappy compared to anything Lucas & Spielberg did with ILM. It took a second viewing in the theater and something clicked. I saw the Red Sun light and I found Jesus...I mean Superman!

Davewriter 6/12/2013 9:01:41 AM

There are very, very few movies I have ever walked out of.  Superman II was one - but only because the theater did not get the correct lens with the copy of the film, so what was projected was stretched and out of focus.  But I later went and enjoyed - with some reservations. 

So Supes couldn't have disarmed the Effel Tower bomb from miles away?  At least one good blast of cold breath should have given him pleanty of time to save the day.  Supes uses a mirror to reflect Zod's heat vision to him and it hurts!?!  I mean, I know that Supes uses his to shave with, but Zod was only using his with enough strength to set a gas tank on fire.  Hot much could that be?  The town the K3 first take over - when the little boy begs "Please don't hurt my daddy" with a british accent.  I know is was shot in England, but it was supposed to be a US town.  What in the freak was the deal with the S chest shield being removable - and used as a weapon?  Where did that come from???  There are several others... but I'm too lazy to type so I'll just save the worst for last... THE KISS!!  Where did that super power come from?  If it worked that well, why didn't he use it on others?  One good, big wet smack and make Luthor forget all his reasons for being bad.  How about a gang-bang kiss at the UN and create world peace?

I did like the Donner version better, and if he had been able to complete his and add in what he needed, both in scenes and effects, would have kicked.  At least it gave a feeling of being thought out.  It had originally been written as a single film, this would have had more of that feeling.

redhairs99 6/12/2013 9:23:14 AM

Davewriter, did you see the Robot Chicken DC Superheores special?  They did a whole thing where Superman realizing his amazing kissing ability and begins to use it on every villian in his Rogue's gallery.  Pretty darn funny and funny too the results from him doing so in the episode.

tjanson 6/12/2013 9:31:40 AM

while i love the battle against Zod, ursa, and Non...the one thing that still stands out are the blatant ads for Marlboro and Coke...that was the first movie I really recall where placement ads were just so in your face

redhairs99 6/12/2013 10:10:49 AM

Tim, let's not forget the blatant product placement in Superman: The Movie where Martha Kent sets a box of Cheerio's on the kitchen table right in the middle of the shot and where a small spotlight convinently highlights the box. 

tjanson 6/12/2013 10:18:19 AM

Redhairs...i HAD forgotten that one. 

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