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16 Super Facts About Superman

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Superman is back on the big screen right now, battling the Dark Knight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But this blockbuster clash of comic book titans might never have happened if not for the success of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978).

Today, comic book movies are ubiquitous, but in the 1970s they were an untested gamble. To make Superman, a trio of ambitious producers teamed up with a talented director, a great cast, and an unprecedented special effects team to create something unlike anything anyone had ever seen on the big screen before. The result was a storied, often tense, filmmaking experience. So, to celebrate the return of the Man of Steel to the big screen, let’s look at 16 facts about his first blockbuster.

1. IT BEGAN PRODUCTION WITHOUT A STUDIO.

When producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind first got the idea to make a film based on the Superman comic book, they started cobbling together financing for the production, but had no distributor. Eventually, they were able to convince Warner Bros. to take on U.S. distribution rights, but under what’s known as a “negative pickup” deal, meaning that the studio wasn’t actually required to help fund the movie. The burden was on the Salkinds to make the picture appealing to the studio, so the financial risk was massive.

2. THE ORIGINAL DIRECTOR HAD TO LEAVE THE PRODUCTION.

The Salkinds considered several directors, including Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist) to helm the production, but ultimately decided on Guy Hamilton, who was best known at the time for directing James Bond films like 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Hamilton took the job, and the production planned to shoot in Rome. When it became clear that it would actually be cheaper to move the shoot to England, a problem arose: Hamilton was an English “tax exile,” meaning he could only be the United Kingdom for 60 days out of each year. Because the production was likely to take longer than that, Hamilton had to drop out, and the search for a new director began.

3. RICHARD DONNER TOOK THE JOB WHILE ON THE TOILET.

Desperate to find a new director, the Salkinds turned to Richard Donner, who was riding high after the success of The Omen (1976). According to Donner, he was actually sitting on the toilet when he got the call from Alexander Salkind offering him the chance to shoot Superman and Superman II back-to-back.

“I’m making Superman. I don’t have a director and I’ll pay you a million dollars,” Salkind said.

“A million dollars! That was like saying ‘I’ll give you all the tea in China,’” Donner recalled. Donner agreed to see the script, which would present its own set of challenges.

4. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT WAS 500 PAGES LONG, AND DONNER HATED IT.

When the Salkinds began the project, they wanted a high-profile writer to boost the film’s profile, and decided on The Godfather author Mario Puzo. After spending some time with editors and DC Comics to familiarize himself with Superman lore, Puzo got to work and produced a massive script spanning two films and 500 pages. The script was later rewritten by David and Leslie Newman and Robert Benton. When Donner joined the film, which Alexander Salkind had assured him was “perfect,” he demanded rewrites.

“It was disparaging,” Donner recalled. “It was just gratuitous action. I’m reading this thing and Superman’s looking for Lex Luthor in Metropolis, and he’s looking for every bald head in the city. And then he flies down and taps a guy on the shoulder and it’s [Kojak’s] Telly Savalas, who hands him a lollipop and says, ‘Who loves ya, baby?’

“I was brought up on Superman as a kid. There was a whole point in my life where I read Superman. So when I was finished with it, I was like, ‘Man, if they make this movie, they are destroying the legend of Superman.’ I wanted to do it just to defend him.”

To “defend” Superman, Donner called in his friend Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die), and the two began reshaping the story.

5. MARLON BRANDO WANTED TO PLAY JOR-EL “LIKE A BAGEL.”

To further boost the film’s profile, the Salkinds went after major stars for key supporting roles, and pursued Marlon Brando for the role of Superman’s father, Jor-El. Donner, Mankiewicz, and Ilya Salkind flew to Brando’s Los Angeles home to meet with him. Before he met the actor, Donner asked famed Hollywood agent Jay Kanter for any negotiating hints, at which point he learned that Brando was going to attempt to do as little work as possible.

“And he said, ‘He's going to want play it like a green suitcase.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It means he hates to work and he loves money, so if he can talk you into the fact that the people on Krypton look like green suitcases and you only photograph green suitcases, he'll get paid just to do the voiceover. That’s the way his mind works.’ I said, ‘F*ck,’ and then I called Francis Coppola. He said, ‘He’s brilliant. He's got a brilliant mind. But he loves to talk. Keep him talking, and he'll talk himself out of any problem,’” Donner recalled.

When the director actually met with Brando, the actor proposed that he played Jor-El not as a green suitcase, but as a “bagel.” Brando reasoned that no one knows what the people on Krypton look like, but that Jor-El would know what people on Earth look like, and would therefore make his son look human so he could blend in. Mankiewicz even recalled that, at one point, Brando pitched the idea that maybe Kryptonians don’t even talk. They simply make electronic sounds that are translated through subtitles. Fighting to secure his star, Donner invoked Superman’s long comic book history.

“I said, ‘Jeez, Marlon, let me tell you something.’ He’d just told us the story about a kid [and how smart he was] and I said, ‘It's 1939. There isn't a kid in the world that doesn't know what Jor-El looks like, and he looks like Marlon Brando.’ And he looked at me and smiled [and said], ‘I talk too much, don't I?’ He said, ‘OK. Show me the wardrobe.’”

Brando was paid $4 million to play Jor-El, a massive sum for only a few scenes.

6. EVERY MAJOR STAR OF THE DAY WAS SEEMINGLY CONSIDERED FOR THE TITLE ROLE.

In order to secure the rights to adapt the comic book, the Salkinds had to bow to certain demands from DC Comics, and the publisher ultimately sent along a list of “approved” actors who were allowed to play Superman. The list was far-reaching, and basically included every major star of the time. Among the names on the list: Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, and Muhammad Ali.

7. RICHARD DONNER WANTED TO CAST AN UNKNOWN AS SUPERMAN.

The Salkinds, hoping to land a major movie star in the title role, offered Superman to Paul Newman and Robert Redford, who both turned it down. The Salkinds also booked a meeting between Donner and Sylvester Stallone, who was hot at the time because of Rocky.

“I tried to be nice and say, ‘This is wrong,’” Donner said.

Believing that a movie star in Superman’s costume wouldn’t be believable, because audiences would only see the movie star and not the character, Donner lobbied hard for an unknown. He eventually found his man in Christopher Reeve, who impressed the director with his theater work.

8. CHRISTOPHER REEVE GAINED NEARLY 50 POUNDS TO PLAY THE ROLE.

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Though he was impressed by Reeve’s acting ability, and believed he had the right face to be Superman, Donner was concerned about the actor’s size. Superman had to be muscular and really fill out the costume, and at the time they, met Reeve was 6’5” and weighed only 170 pounds. Donner was skeptical, but Reeve assured him that he’d been muscular before and could be muscular again.

“Before I went into acting, I was a real jock,” Reeve said. “I’ve lost 50 pounds. I can put it on.”

To help Reeve get into shape, the production turned to bodybuilder David Prowse (best known in film as the man in the Darth Vader costume for the original Star Wars trilogy), and asked him to put as much muscle on Reeve as he could in the span of about six weeks. According to Prowse, Reeve weighed about 212 pounds when he started production.

9. MARGOT KIDDER’S CLUMSINESS WON HER THE LOIS LANE ROLE.

For the role of Lois Lane, several actresses—including Lesley Ann Warren and Anne Archer—were considered, but Margot Kidder ultimately won the role by simply being herself.

“When I met her in the casting office, she tripped coming in and I just fell in love with her,” Donner said. “It was perfect, this clumsy [behavior]. She was one of the few [actresses] we flew to London to test with Chris. Anne Archer [also tested]. But they were magic together.”

To compound Kidder’s clumsy, silly side even further, an eye injury meant that she had to act without contact lenses one day. Donner was so charmed by the way it made Lois bump into things and widen her eyes that he made sure Kidder continued to play the role without her contacts.

“There was a law after that: every morning people had to come to me and make sure she didn't have her contacts in, and that she would act without her contacts. It just made her wonderful.”

10. THE ORIGINAL PERRY WHITE WAS REPLACED DAYS BEFORE SHOOTING.

For the role of Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet, Donner cast legendary character actor Keenan Wynn, but almost immediately after his arrival in London for shooting, Wynn had a heart attack. Desperate to find an actor in time to keep the production on schedule, Donner and Mankiewicz made a list of possible names, and just made calls until someone answered the phone. Jackie Cooper picked up, and ended up playing the character all the way through 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.

11. THE KRYPTONIAN COSTUMES COULDN’T BE TOUCHED BY BARE HANDS.

For the scenes on Krypton, costume designer Yvonne Blake wanted costumes that reflected some kind of “energy,” and ultimately decided to craft the suits from material traditionally used on movie screens “made out of miniscule balls of glass.” The glowing effect the material produced was fantastic, but because of its delicate nature, the crew could only touch it while wearing cotton gloves.

“Any time the material was touched by hand it would lose its reflective quality,” Blake said.

12. THE CREW CRIED WHEN SUPERMAN FLEW FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in making Superman was creating a convincing special effect that would allow Superman to fly. Donner was adamant that old, crude methods of flying on camera (like the ones used in the Superman TV series) could not be used. It had to feel authentic, and that meant the special effects team had to essentially invent new methods of onscreen flight. Finally, optics expert Zoran Perisic designed a system that used two zoom lenses interacting with each other to create a flight effect.

“Christopher Reeve would be basically in one place, on a pole arm … that you don’t see, and all he does is sort of make the moves, and it’s the camera and the projector that make him look like he comes straight up,” Perisic said.

According to Donner, crew members actually cried the first time they saw Reeve take flight.

13. THE PRODUCTION WAS CHAOTIC.

The Salkinds’ plan was always for two Superman films to be shot simultaneously, but because of the immense number of sets and effects needed to achieve that, Donner had to break the filming up into manageable pieces. To make it all work, seven different shooting units were filming at the same time, with Donner driving back and forth between them on a golf cart.

“I had a bunch of these handheld radios in my golf cart and I would get a call from production and they would say ‘Get over to stage blah blah. They’re doing the tests. We’re ready to shoot,’” Donner recalled. “I’d go over there and go back and shoot the principals, and then get a new setup that would take hours, because it was so vast.”

14. DONNER AND THE SALKINDS CONSTANTLY FOUGHT OVER THE BUDGET.

As production on both films continued, tension developed between Donner, the Salkinds, and producer Pierre Spengler. Donner was attempting an unprecedented comic book movie feat, and according to him, the producers constantly urged him to spend less while never actually telling him what he was allowed to spend. The Salkinds always claimed the film was over schedule and over budget, while Donner claims that he never actually had a schedule or a budget.

“They’d say, ‘You can’t do this,’ but I would have no alternative and they wouldn’t show me the budget. They never ever told me what the budget was. I had no idea what I was spending. I was making a movie and they wouldn’t tell me the budget,” Donner said. “So there was no way I knew what I was spending. Sometimes I’d authorize something and nothing would be there; they would just arbitrarily cancel it. They didn’t want anyone to know where that money went, I guess.”

15. THE ENDING WAS ACTUALLY STOLEN FROM SUPERMAN II.

As production went on, Superman was helped out by increased financial support from Warner Bros., as studio executives grew more and more impressed with footage they received from Donner. According to Mankiewicz, their favorite effect was the scene in which Superman flies into space and begins reversing Earth’s rotation in order to turn back time. Because the studio was determined to make Superman a hit, they wanted this dazzling effect to be the climax of the film. The problem was that the footage was intended to be the end of Superman II.

According to Mankiewicz, the original ending of Superman involved the Man of Steel throwing a nuclear missile into space, at which point it would collide with the Phantom Zone prison containing General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his acolytes, freeing them and setting up the sequel. Well, because Warner Bros. was convinced there wouldn’t be a sequel if Superman didn’t work, they lobbied for Superman to reverse time to end the film, and Mankiewicz and Donner made it work.

“We talked and talked and finally we stole it from Superman II and figured when we finished that, we would have come up with a new ending,” Donner said.

16. DONNER DIDN'T COMPLETE SUPERMAN II AMIDST INCREASING TENSION.

As Donner continued to fight with Spengler and the Salkinds over budget and scheduling issues, the Salkinds drafted director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night) to act as a “go-between” for both parties. Lester assured Donner that he was there to help, and Donner requested that Lester have no part in the actual production of the films.

After Superman was released to massive success in December of 1978, Spengler encountered Variety columnist Army Archerd at a Christmas party, and assured him that, though there had been tension, he was proud of Donner’s Superman work and looked forward to working with him on the sequel. Archerd then contacted Donner and told him what Spengler had said. Donner’s response was “If he’s on [Superman II]—I’m not.”

“The Salkinds are very loyal people,” Spengler said. “I’d been there from the outset, and if the gentleman (Donner) didn’t want to work with me, then we had to find someone to replace the gentleman.”

The Salkinds then turned to “go-between” Lester, and hired him to finish Superman II. Lester reshot, and sometimes even rewrote, portions of the film (Mankiewicz, loyal to Donner, refused to return to work on the script).

“They hastily rewrote a lot of scenes with Chris and I,” Kidder said.

Decades later, Donner’s previously shot footage for the film was restored and re-edited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, and previously unused footage of Brando as Jor-El was incorporated into Bryan Singer’s sequel to Superman II, Superman Returns (2006).

Additional Sources:
You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (2006)
Taking Flight: The Development of Superman (2001)
Making Superman: Filming The Legend (2001)

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10 Amazing Facts About Stan Lee
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

Comic book legend Stan Lee’s life has always been an open book. The co-creator of some of the greatest superheroes and most beloved stories of all time has become just as mythical and larger-than-life as the characters in the panels. In 2015, around the time of Marvel’s 75th anniversary, Lee had the idea to reflect on his own life, as he said, “in the one form it has never been depicted, as a comic book … or if you prefer, a graphic memoir.”

The result, published by the Touchstone imprint of Simon & Schuster in 2015, was Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir—which was written by Lee with Peter David and features artwork by cartoonist and illustrator Colleen Doran. Here are 10 things we learned about Lee, on his 95th birthday.

1. HIS WIFE IS ALSO HIS BARBER.

As a bit of a throwaway fact, Stanley Martin Lieber (Stan Lee) reveals the secret of his slicked back mane on the second page of his memoir. “My whole adult life, I’ve never been to a barber,” he writes. “Joanie always cuts my hair.”

2. HIS CONFIDENCE COMES FROM HIS MOTHER.

Amazing Fantastic IncredibleCourtesy POW! Entertainment[2].jpg

Stan Lee writes that as a child he loved to read books by Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and others, and his mother often watched him read. “I probably got my self-confidence from the fact that my mother thought everything I did was brilliant.”

3. YOUNG STAN LEE WROTE OBITUARIES.

Before writing about the fantastic lives of fictional characters, Stan Lee wrote antemortem obituaries for celebrities at an undisclosed news office in New York. He says that he eventually quit that job because it was too “depressing.”

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA WAS HIS FIRST BIG BREAK.

A week into his job at Timely Comics, Lee got the opportunity to write a two-page Captain America comic. He wrote it under the pen name Stan Lee (now his legal name) and titled it "Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge." His first full comic script would come in Captain America Issue 5, published August 1, 1941.

5. HE WROTE TRAINING FILMS FOR THE ARMY WITH DR. SEUSS.

After being transferred from the army’s Signal Corps in New Jersey, Lee worked as a playwright in the Training Film Division in Queens with eight other men, including a few who went on to be very famous: Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), director Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939] and It’s a Wonderful Life [1946]) and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

6. HE DEFIED THE COMICS CODE AUTHORITY WITH AN ANTI-DRUG COMIC.

In 1971, Lee received a letter from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare asking him to put an anti-drug message in one of his books. He came up with a Spider-Man story that involved his best friend Harry abusing pills because of a break-up. The CCA would not approve the story with their seal because of the mention of drugs, but Lee convinced his publisher, Martin Goodman, to run the comic anyway.

7. AN ISSUE AT THE PRINTERS TURNED THE HULK GREEN.

The character was supposed to be gray, but Lee writes that the printer had a hard time keeping the color consistent. “So as of issue #2,” Lee writes, “with no explanation, he turned green.”

8. HIS WIFE DESTROYED HIS PRIZED TYPEWRITER.


Rich Polk/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

According to Lee, during an argument, Joanie destroyed the typewriter he used to write the first issues for characters including Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. “This happened before eBay," he writes. "Too bad. I could’ve auctioned the parts and made a mint.”

9. A FIRE DESTROYED HIS INTERVIEWS AND LECTURES.

When Lee moved his family to Los Angeles, he set up a studio in Van Nuys where he stored videotapes of his talks and interviews, along with a commissioned bust of his wife. The building was lost to a blaze that the fire department believed was arson, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

10. HIS FAVORITE MARVEL FILM CAMEO WAS BASED ON ONE FROM THE COMICS.

Beginning with the first Spider-Man film in 2002, Stan Lee has made quick cameos in Marvel films as a service to the fans. He says that his appearance in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) was inspired by the story of Reed and Sue Richards’ wedding in Fantastic Four Annual Volume 1 #3, in which he and artist/writer Jack Kirby attempt to crash the ceremony but are thwarted.

All images courtesy of Touchstone unless otherwise noted.

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Space Goat Publishing
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These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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