The Superman Movie That Time Forgot:
A Look Back on Superman Returns

By Felix Quinonez

March 30, 2016

He's great as everything except Superman. Pretty much.

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For better or worse, starting with 2013’s Man of Steel, Zack Snyder has cemented his status as the driving force behind Superman’s current cinematic portrayal. Although that film wasn’t met with the universal enthusiasm Warner Bros must have been hoping for, it has nevertheless become the foundation for the burgeoning DC cinematic universe.

And now the follow-up - finally - brings the product of a million fanboy dreams to the big screen by pitting Superman against Batman. That movie also serves as a commercial for the inevitable Justice League movie(s). And if things go according to plan, DC characters will be hitting the big screen at the same rate Marvel movies have been invading cinemas.

But it wasn’t that long ago that a completely different version of Superman was taking flight on the big screens. In 2006, franchise hopes were quickly dashed when Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was met with a collective shrug. Although it got good reviews, audiences simply didn’t show up for the man of steel’s cinematic return. Because of this, the franchise was put on hold and eventually the studio went in a completely different direction with the 2013 reboot.

Now, 10 years later, Superman Returns has been relegated to the hall of shame within the superhero movie genre. But even though audiences seem happy erasing it from their collective memory, it still has its loyal supporters. And since Superman is back on the big screens, it might be time to reappraise just where Superman Returns belongs in the annals of cinematic history.


In 1987, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace brought the previous cinematic incarnation, starring Christopher Reeve, to a very disappointing conclusion. After that Superman didn’t appear on the big screen for almost 20 years but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. There had been many attempts that didn’t manage to take off.

Perhaps the most famous of these aborted films was Superman Lives, which Tim Burton would have directed with Nicolas Cage in the title role. Even though that attempt got pretty far along in preproduction, the plug was pulled before it was ever shot. Many other big names such as J.J. Abrams, Dan Gilroy, Kevin Smith, Brett Ratner, Wolfgang Petersen, Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher, among others were at one point attached to bring the Man of Steel back to the big screen.

But it wasn’t until Bryan Singer came on board that things really began to move forward. Singer burst onto the scene with his 1995 feature length debut, The Usual Suspects. Shot on a $6 million budget, it went on to win many awards, and it cemented Singer’s place as a sought after new talent. Unfortunately, his follow up Apt Pupil, released in 1998, was considered both a critical and commercial disappointment. The movie failed to even match its modest $14 million budget and it holds a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Then, in 2000, Singer's career was jumpstarted when he directed X-Men. That movie not only proved to be a career defining hit for Singer, but it also played a major role in kickstarting Hollywood’s current obsession with comic book adaptations. X-Men was very well received by fans and critics alike. And because the movie was respectful to the source material, it showed audiences that these characters, in the right hands, could make the leap the big screen without being campy or childish. Casual viewers were introduced to a whole universe filled with potentially entertaining stories. And fans were vindicated when X-Men proved what they already knew all along, that comics aren’t just for kids.

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