Today’s Crap Fest: In honor of the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice slug fest, we take a look at arguably the Man of Steel’s worst film of all time – Superman III.
Back in the late seventies and early eighties, superhero movies were barely a thing. When the first two Superman films hit, they were exciting and mind blowing as ever. The first movie introduced us to the exciting world of Krypton in one of the greatest opening sequences of all time. The sequel pitied the Man of Steel against not one, but three equals, resulting in a climactic battle across Metropolis and the Fortress of Solitude. Great Caesar’s Ghost, what are they going to do with Superman III!?!?!?!?! THE FILM OPENS WITH…Richard Pryor at the unemployment office? Yup. That’s right. This perfectly sets the tone for one of the most boring superhero movies ever made.
For those of you too young to remember this gem, or haven’t seen it, consider yourself lucky. I know many believe Superman IV: The Quest for Peace to be the worst of the Christopher Reeve movies with its atrocious special effects, but at least that was entertaining. I have to respectfully disagree with Michael Bolton of Office Space, in that Superman III was underrated. Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the super-sized crap fest that is SUPERMAN III:
Release Date: 1983
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Jackie Cooper, Annette O’Toole, Robert Vaughn
No Gene Hackman. Margot Kidder barely shows up as Lois Lane. Do you get the feeling they rushed this sucker?
The Director: Richard Lester
This is the same guy who’s credited with directing Superman II. I’m not going to pretend like I know all the ins and outs, but there was apparently tons of drama with original Superman director Richard Donner. The first two Superman films were originally supposed to be one movie, but Donner was replaced during the production of Superman II – in came Richard Lester. You can tell there’s still a ton of Donner influence when you watch Superman II, even to the point where there’s a Richard Donner cut of the film.
With this movie, it’s all Richard Lester, and it shows. If there’s any hint of Richard Donner in Superman III, I sure as hell can’t find it.
The Pathetic Award: I already talked about opening at the unemployment office, but remember the awesome credit sequences in space from the previous films, as the John Williams score blasted from the speakers? The credit sequence for this movie is nothing but a bunch of pratfalls and bad comedy. What the hell? This is a Superman film! Not only that, but the theme is barely farted out as the title springs by, almost embarrassed to be there.
The Set-Up (This is the Plot? Really?): Lame business guy hires Richard Pryor to hack a weather satellite so he can ruin Colombian coffee crops.
[Insert cough sound here]
To be fair, the plot for the original Superman movie wasn’t that great either, as Lex Luthor tries to blow up half of North America for a real estate scheme. The difference is you had Gene Hackman delivering the plan. This isn’t Gene Hackman. You also don’t have Mario Puzo writing the screenplay either. When you look past the initial set-up, all this turns into is Superman punching a giant computer. Lame.
Worst Richard Pryor Moment: I have no doubt Richard Pryor was one of the great comedians of his generation, but what’s he doing in a Superman movie? He’s really not funny. The worst Pryor moment is when he reenacts Superman saving the day and makes all these horrible flying noises: “Whoooosh!” It’s like the studio couldn’t afford the budget to show Superman doing all these cool acts, so they have Richard Pryor describe it all. Ugh.
I Hate Jimmy Olsen: I’m so happy Jimmy Olsen hasn’t been confirmed in the new DC Movie Universe yet. He’s one of my least favorite comic book characters, and is such a relic of his time. He’s one of these elements that annoying old school Superman fans can’t let go of. These are the types of people who complain about Man of Steel. I’ve never liked Olsen in any Superman iteration there is, whether it be these movies, the animated series, or even Smallville.
I don’t have anything specific to rant about with Olsen in this particular movie, other than to say he’s just really, really annoying. Although, he does have one of the worst lines in the movie: “I don’t know, Mr. Kent. Most of the people I went to high school with are still in high school.”
If Zack Snyder is reading this, please continue not to use him in the new movie universe. I’m begging you.
Worst Scene: Superman agrees to attend a kid’s birthday party, and the entire town throws a big welcome party for him. Oh, this is so horrible. Again, for all the Man of Steel haters out there, is this what you want Superman to go back too? I take back my worst Richard Pryor moment. It’s actually this scene. He comes on stage dressed in a military uniform and starts ranting and raving uncontrollably. I literally have no clue what he’s even saying in this scene.
WTF Moment: Richard Pryor takes control of traffic lights, and there’s really bad animation where the Walk/Don’t Walk signals come to life and fight each other? Wow. Can you imagine something like that happening in a superhero movie today?
The Saving Grace: Thank heavens for Christopher Reeve. No matter how bad these Superman films got, he always brought it 100%. The one cool element to this entire movie is when Superman becomes dark Superman, which I guess is our only version of Bizarro Superman. When Superman’s personality becomes affected by the weird kryptonite, he turns into a Superman without inhibitions. At first he’s just a dick. He gets drunk and straightens out the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Okay, that’s kind of funny. But later he turns more sinister, and Clark Kent actually has an inner battle with his bizarro self at a junkyard. This is actually a really good scene, and performed superbly by Christopher Reeve. If you’ve never seen this movie, just fast forward it to the evil Superman parts.
My Big Gripe: The biggest problem I have with this movie is quite simple – it’s boring! Everything about it is just so uneventful. The villains and evil plot are completely forgettable. Richard Pryor isn’t funny. Aside from the junkyard fight, there isn’t even a memorable action scene. Clark Kent returns to Smallville for his high school reunion, which could definitely work, but the writing is flat as hell, as Clark tries to reconnect with Lana Lang and her kid. It’s a lifeless movie.
The Legacy of Crap: Watching Superman III definitely makes you appreciate the superhero movies we have today. This isn’t even the worst Superman film. That honor belongs to Superman Returns, but I already broke that sucker down a few years ago. I left no meat on the bones there. And while Superman IV: The Quest for Peace has more glaring weaknesses, Superman III is much worse. There’s not even a legacy to talk about. It’s so forgettable and meaningless, I can’t even get that worked up about it. The best analogy I can make is that it’s like paper. What am I supposed to say about paper? What the hell do you want from me?!
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.