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 if that wasn’t enough, the TV spots were all over the place. Some appeared to be advertising an explosive action packed movie, while others seemed to be selling a romantic date movie. At least one TV spot even referred to it as “the Titanic of superhero movies.” The schizophrenic advertising did nothing to establish the stakes at hand and didn’t win back the audiences that might have grown skeptical of the Man of Steel.

Although its impact wasn’t initially clear, a major event occurred between the time when X2 raised the bar for superhero movies in 2003 and when audiences largely ignored Superman Returns in 2006. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins hit the big screens in 2005 and set the stage for the next phase of the superhero genre.

On paper, Batman Begins could have been seen as a commercial disappointment. Domestically it grossed $205 million and had a worldwide total of $374 million. Although that is a lot of money, it was by no means record breaking. And it becomes less impressive when its $150 million production budget is taken into consideration. Also, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that WB spent another $100 million to advertise the movie.

But those numbers don’t show the whole picture. Audiences and critics alike loved Nolan’s dark, and moody vision. His revisionist take was heavily indebted to Frank Miller’s version of the character, which itself helped revitalize Batman in the comic books. Now Nolan was doing the same thing on the big screen. But more important, it helped people forget the horrible Batman and Robin.


It was the sequel, The Dark Knight, that secured the stranglehold Christopher Nolan had on the genre. But Batman Begins certainly set the wheels in motion. It primed audiences, who often think cynicism and realism are the same thing, for more dark and brooding heroes. Unfortunately, Singer went almost the exact opposite direction with Superman Returns.

Superman Returns reveled in its old fashioned nature. But it was so reverent of the Richard Donner/Christopher Reeve 1978 film, Superman: The Movie, that many accused Singer of not actually having any original ideas. And when compared to Batman Begins - which seemed to signify the future of superhero movies - it looked outdated.

Forgoing the ever-popular origin story, Singer set up Superman Returns as a quasi sequel to Superman II. It asks audiences to pretend Superman III and IV never happened and most people were more than happy to oblige. Many, including Bryan Singer, look back on this decision as a mistake. But in its own way, it was a bold move or at the very least, it was a risk worth taking. In tying Superman Returns to the past, the movie was able to question and challenge the character’s relevance. Do people - and by extension, audiences - still care about or even need the Man of Steel?

As Lois Lane, (Kate Bosworth) knowingly, states, “Let’s start with the big question, where did you go?” When astronomers thought they had found the remains of Krypton, Superman (Brandon Routh) leaves earth to investigate and search for survivors. Unfortunately all he finds is the ruins of a once great civilization. Now, five years later, he has returned to find that the world kept spinning without him. This also has real world implications in the fact that Superman has been absent from the big screen for almost 20 years.

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