Their relationship strained from the start, it was perhaps inevitable the Salkinds and their co-producer Pierre Spengler would never ask Donner to return to direct any of the sequels. (Donner maintained he was never asked to return, while Spengler claims on the audio commentary on Superman II that he did ask Donner to return for the sequel, but that Donner declined for some reason.)

The Salkinds probably feeling that they had the character of Superman and didn’t need the director anymore turned to British director Richard Lester to finish Superman II and later on to direct Superman III.

The producers also felt that they didn’t need Marlon Brando anymore either, which would have meant paying the actor more money. So they decided not to use any of his footage shot for Superman II, and instead got actress Susannah York to stand in as Superman’s mother, even though as Donner rightly points on his commentary track on Superman II: the Richard Donner Cut it thematically makes more sense to feature Superman’s father instead.

Their instincts were proven right or at least as far as the box office were concerned: Superman II actually out-grossed its predecessor with a $108 million grab at the U.S. box office alone. (It took the third space at the U.S. box office in 1981, being beat out by On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark in first place. Raiders did almost double the business Superman II did, namely $209 million.)

Lester was best known for his light comedic films such as the Beatles flick A Hard Day’s Night and the two Three Musketeers swashbucklers which he also did for the Salkinds.

Considering the more serious tone that the first Superman movie took, he was probably a peculiar choice to finish Superman II, but while lighter in tone to the first movie, Superman II was hardly a train smash: a zippy funny comic book replete with a jaw-dropping fight sequence in which Superman is pitted against three super powered villains from his home planet of Krypton taken straight from the comic book pages.

Still fans wondered what would have been had Donner been allowed to finish Superman II. Ultimately Lester apparently only used about 20% of the footage filmed by Donner, but speculation was rife as to how much of Superman II was Donner’s and how much was Lester’s, especially when Superman III under Lester’s tutelage turned out to the disaster it was: more of a camp comedy than anything else with an annoying Richard Pryor overwhelming the entire movie with his larger than life comic presence.

This led to an Internet campaign by fans to convince Warners to let Richard Donner finish his version of Superman II – several decades later . . .


Next: "It could be argued that Stamp’s campy performance — 'kneel before Zod!' — is arguably one of the film’s biggest pleasures . . ."




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