This post is inspired by my recent post about Superman in the real world, as I think this film was the perfect vehicle to showcase a “real world” reaction to Superman.

This particular movie remains much-maligned, even more so than the comedic turn of Superman III, or the maudlin Superman Returns, and it effectively killed the Superman movie franchise for over a decade. But I have long thought that the story had a great potential, and that it was mostly hobbled by the bad special effects. But with a decent budget and some script revisions, I think this could have been an epic film. First, an overview of the plot:

The arms race between the US and Soviet Union is continuing with no end in sight. Superman, inspired by a young boy who writes him a letter, takes it upon himself to rid the world of all nuclear weapons. He flies around the world, getting all the bombs, and tosses them into the sun.

Lex Luthor escapes from a prison, steals a strand of Superman’s hair, and uses it to create a super-powered clone of Superman, which he calls Nuclear Man, to fight and take down Superman, so that Lex can get rich by selling new nuclear missiles to foreign governments.

There are also a couple of sub-plots. The Daily Planet is bought out by a new publisher, who puts his daughter in charge. The new owners don’t care about hard news, and are more interested in selling papers by any means necessary, and basically turn the Daily Planet into a sleazy gossip-mongering tabloid, over the objections of Perry White, Lois Lane, and the rest of the staff. Also, Martha Kent has died, and Clark needs to sell the old Kent farm in Smallville. He’s gotten offers from some real estate companies that want to turn the land into strip malls or apartment buildings, but Clark is holding out for a buyer who wants to continue running the farm.

Now, see, right there you’ve got tons of story-telling potential which is relevant to today’s society. With the Smallville plot, it’s the issue of industrialization and its effect on farmers in the Midwest. The Daily Planet plot is even more relevant now than it was when the film came out. At least back on 1988, newspapers were still profitable. Today they’ve taken a hit from the internet and other forms of news, like TV and radio. But the issue remains of how do “real” journalists who want to report the news do so  in this TMZ/Reality show era that we find ourselves in today? What do you do when more readers seem to care about whatever Kim Kardashian is doing than about resolving the fiscal cliff?

But, most of all, it’s the main story of Superman’s mission that is most intriguing. In the film, there was no specific reason why Superman chose to do what he did, it was just a matter of his conscious. But if I were making the film today, I’d have some major terrorist attack happen. And, because of that, Superman decides that he’s actually shirking his duty by not taking a more active role in human affairs. And so he decides to rid the world of not just nuclear weapons, but all weapons of mass destruction. Bombs, missiles, drones, biological weapons, everything. In the film when Superman announced his intentions at the United Nations he got a unanimous standing ovation. And, throughout the film, as far as we can tell, the public seems to accept his actions. I don’t believe for one second that would actually be the case, in real life.

I bet every major government would be outraged at this, and would attempt to stop Superman. And that’s where the action scenes come in. Imagine seeing on the big screen, with modern special effects, Superman versus the U.S. Air Force (or the Air Force of any other major nation). A big battle in the sky of a group of squadrons shooting their missiles at Superman, with him dodging and deflecting them, disarming each fighter jet at super-speed (while being extremely careful to not injure any of the pilots, of course). And Superman underwater, battling nuclear submarines. That could be awesome.

And instead of Lex Luthor escaping from prison, I’d have Lex recruited from prison, by the U.S. Government, or United Nations, and given a full pardon in exchange for working on a way to stop Superman for good. He’d be given a lab at Area 51 and a multi-billion dollar budget to create anti-Superman weapons, which he uses to create a clone. And this time, with the enhanced budget, they can give us some really decent battles between Superman and his equally-powerful clone (who, in this film, would be played by the same actor who plays Superman, and use split screen tech to show them fighting) .

The real heart of the movie would come from the public’s reaction. Like I said, in the movie the public appears to completely support Superman’s plan, but I bet the majority of the people, even those who wholeheartedly trusted Superman before this, would be uneasy about this, if not downright hostile. We could show the debates people have about this, like who gives Superman the right to make this decision for everyone? Is he going too far, and impairing the ability of the human race to advance on its own? And why stop at WMD’s, what if next he decides to remove all firearms from private citizens? What if he just sets himself up as World Dictator? These are the kinds of things people would be afraid of. And perhaps even Superman would have his doubts about whether or not he’s truly doing the right thing, and we could see how conflicted he is about it.

Get someone like John Hamm for Superman/Clark Kent/The Clone (because this movie needs to take place during a time where Superman has been around for years, and so he’s older now), John Malcovich as Lex Luthor, and Neve Campbell as Lois Lane, and you’ve got yourself a box office smash to rival The Avengers.

Just my opinion.


  1. I am not ashamed to say I like this movie when it first came out. I liked the idea of Superman battling a clone (not like Bizarro). Now, however, looking back at it, yeah, it was cheesy. Your analysis for revision is thorough. I could definitely see John Hamm as an older Superman,


  2. In my opinion, none of the original Superman flicks really stand up to the test of time. The first one was too long in some parts, and that reversing time ending was a cop-out. Zod and crew were not very scary in the second one, and also had the cop-out ending with amnesia kiss that Clark gave Lois. The 3rd one was ruined by trying to be a comedy, with Richard Pryor, and the 4th was just terrible. The only thing that made any of them watchable was Christopher Reeves, who was the perfect Superman, but they all could have been much better.

    All still better than Superman Returns, of course.


  3. The comic book adaptation of the film, as well as the novelization, depicts these scenes and several photos of Superman’s battle with the first Nuclear Man can be seen online. Three of the “lost” minutes, consisting of two scenes (the “tornado scene”, in which Christopher Reeve’s daughter Alexandra plays the girl swept away by the tornado; and the “Moscow” sequence, in which Superman stops a nuclear missile from being launched) were used in the international release by Cannon Films, and in the U.S. syndicated television version prepared by Viacom . At one point the producers of this film considered using all the deleted footage (and presumably shooting new footage) in a fifth film (see Superman Lives ), but the poor box office performance of this film led to that idea being scrapped. Rosenthal commented on the DVD commentary that this showed just how out of touch Cannon Films was with reality.


    • Howdy! First, sorry your comment got held up in my SPAM folder, I hate when that happens. I’d heard that there were many deleted scenes, including an earlier version of Nuclear Man that Superman fights and defeats before Luthor creates a second one, and I remember something about Cannon planning a 5th Superman film, but I didn’t know about plans to use old footage in it. I also didn’t know there was a novelization of this film. I’m tempted to look that up and get it now.


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