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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And with its 2003 sequel, X2: X-Men United, Singer managed to not only up the ante but he also improved on the original. X2 was a more confident, action packed film that both fans and critics embraced. In fact it still stands as one of the highlights of the superhero genre. But none of that would mean much if it didn’t help the bottom line, and X2 succeeded in that area too. It saw a significant growth at the box office.

So, after helming two critically acclaimed and beloved X-Men movies it only seemed natural that Singer would direct a third entry in the series to close out the trilogy. But to the surprise - and ire - of many fans, that was not to be. While filming X2, Singer conceived a storyline about Superman returning to earth after having been gone for five years. He presented this idea to Richard Donner, director of Superman: The movie, and his wife Laura Shuler Donner, who were very receptive of Singer’s treatment. But at the time a project titled Superman: Flyby was in production. That movie was to be directed by McG from a script written by J.J. Abrams, but it fell apart in June of 2004. That same month Warner Bros. approached Singer about his idea for a Superman reboot. And a month later he officially signed on to direct what would become Superman Returns.


Initially, many fans felt disappointed that Singer was jumping ship instead of concluding an X-Men trilogy. But that eventually turned to excitement. If he could make two great X-Men movies, there was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be able to do the same for Superman, the ultimate superhero.

It should be noted that while Singer’s X-Men movies were beloved and made a lot of money, neither of them became box office smashes. More important, they didn’t cast a huge shadow or create a template that others within the genre slavishly adhered to.

During the lead-up to the release of Superman Returns, there was the usual slow reveal to raise anticipation. Official pictures were put out to give fans a glimpse of what was to come. This led to the first teaser trailer. It was a minute and a half long clip that was more interested in setting the tone and mood than giving fans the wow moments they might expect from a comic book movie. So, while it was intriguing in its own right, it didn’t really inspire the levels of excitement the studio might have been expecting. In fact, many people found the teaser outright boring.

When the actual trailers debuted, they didn’t do much to assuage concerns. They put the romantic elements front and center, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if they also contained some sort of payoff. But instead the trailers made it seem as if the movie would be boring. Around this time, Singer jokingly referred to Superman Returns as a “chick flick.” But he must not have realized that was an actual concern many fans had about the movie. There was even a “controversy” that many people thought this version of Superman would be gay. This might seem ridiculous now, but at the time it was serious enough that Singer had to actually “assure” fans that Superman was probably “the most heterosexual character” in any movie he ever made.

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