Superman Wiki
''Superman III''
General Information
Directed by: Richard Lester
Produced by: Ilya Salkind
Pierre Spengler
Written by: Characters:
Jerry Siegel
Joe Shuster
David Newman
Leslie Newman
Music by: Ken Thorne
John Williams (Themes)
Duration: 125 mins
Budget: $39,000,000
Gross Revenue: $59,950,623
Previous Film: Superman II
Next Film: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Superman III is the 1983 sequel to Superman II. It is the third entry in the original four part Superman film series, which was then followed with a sequel of sorts in 2006. Christopher Reeve reprises the role of Superman and faces a new enemy, Ross Webster played by Robert Vaughn and the film also features a version of Bizarro.


In this third installment, Gus Gorman, an unemployed ne'er-do-well, discovers a knack for computer programming. After embezzling large amounts of money from his new employer's company payroll (through a technique known as salami slicing), Gorman is brought to the attention of the company CEO, Ross Webster. Webster, a wealthy man who runs a large conglomerate called Webscoe Industries, is obsessed with the computer's potential in aiding him in his schemes to rule the world, financially. Joined by his sister Vera and his "psychic nutritionist" Lorelei Ambrosia, Webster blackmails Gorman into helping him.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent has convinced his newspaper to allow him to return to Smallville for his high school reunion. En route, he extinguishes a fire in a chemical plant containing numerous vials of acid which, when superheated, will produce clouds of poisonous vapor that can eat through virtually anything. Superman saves the plant by freezing the surface of a nearby lake and dropping the enormous icy mass onto the inferno.

In Smallville, Clark is reunited with childhood friend Lana Lang. Lana is now a divorcee with a young son named Ricky. Clark and Lana begin to share affection for each other, though Lana's former boyfriend Brad, Clark's childhood bully and now an alcoholic security guard, is still vying for her attention.

Meanwhile, Webster schemes to monopolize the world's coffee crop. Infuriated by Colombia's refusal to do business with him, he orders Gorman to command an American weather satellite, Vulcan, to create a hurricane to decimate the nation's entire coffee crop. Webster's scheme is thwarted when Superman flies into the eye of the hurricane, neutralizing it and saving the year's harvest. Perceiving Superman as a threat to his plans, Webster then orders Gorman to use his computer knowledge to create synthetic kryptonite, remembering Lois Lane's Daily Planet interview from Superman, during which Superman identified it as his only weakness. Gus uses a computer to locate Krypton's debris deep in outer space, but after the computer fails to analyze an "unknown" element in kryptonite, he improvises by replacing the unidentified element with tar (not an actual element on the periodic table), garnered from a pack of cigarettes.

Lana convinces Superman to make a personal appearance at Ricky's birthday party, but Smallville turns it into a hometown celebration. Gus and Vera, disguised as an U.S. Army Lieutenant General and a WAC officer, give Superman the chunk of kryptonite as a gift, and are dismayed to see that it appears to have no effect on him. However, the compound begins to produce symptoms: Superman becomes selfish, focusing on his lust for Lana, which causes him to delay in rescuing a truck driver from his jackknifed rig. Superman begins to question his own self-worth, and, as the Kryptonite takes effect, he becomes depressed, angry, and casually destructive, committing petty acts of vandalism such as blowing out the Olympic torch and straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Ross, seeing this, creates new plans and orders a supercomputer to be built.

Superman assuages his depression with a drinking binge, but is overcome by guilt and undergoes a nervous breakdown. After nearly crash-landing in a junkyard, he splits into two personas: the evil, selfish Superman and the moral, righteous Clark Kent. The evil Superman and Clark Kent, the embodiment of Superman's remaining good qualities, engage in an epic battle. Although Clark is initially overpowered by his alter ego, he eventually takes the upper hand, feverishly strangling his evil identity until it fades from sight. Thereafter, he is restored to his benevolent former self.

After defending himself from an MX missile, he does battle with Gorman's supercomputer, which, after attempting to suffocate him with a skin bubble, severely weakens the Man of Steel with a ray of real Kryptonite. Gorman, guilt-ridden and horrified by the prospect of "going down in history as the man who killed Superman", manages to destroy the deadly weapon with a firefighter's axe, whereupon Superman flees. The computer begins to malfunction by becoming self-aware, defending itself against Gus and draining power from nearby electrical towers, causing massive blackouts. Ross and Lorelei are able to escape from the control room, but Vera is pulled into the main entrance of the computer and transformed into a cyborg. Empowered by the supercomputer, Vera attacks her brother and Lorelei with beams of energy, which weaken and immobilize them.

Superman returns with a small vial of acid derived from the chemical plant he saved earlier in the film; the intense heat emitted by the supercomputer causes the acid to turn volatile, destroying the machine and turning Vera back to normal. Superman flies away with Gus, leaving Webster and his cronies to face the authorities. After dropping Gus off at a West Virginia coal mine, where he gives him a job reference, Superman returns to Metropolis and reunites with Lana Lang, who has decided to relocate to the big city and finds employment as Perry White's new secretary. Flying away into outer space, he smiles to indicate that all is well.


  • Christopher Reeve as Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El and Evil Superman
  • Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman
  • Robert Vaughn as Ross Webster
  • Annie Ross as Vera Webster
  • Pamela Stephenson as Lorelei Ambrosia
  • Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
  • Jackie Cooper as Perry White
  • Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen


Box office

The total domestic box office gross (not adjusted for inflation) for Superman III was $59,950,623. It was considered a financial disappointment, since the first two movies each grossed over $100 million domestically. Despite poor feedback from the critics, the film was highly successful in international territories, much like the Supergirl film the next year. In fact, the film still became one of the highest grossing films of 1983. What also likely hurt the box office performance was the fact that Superman III was released during the same year of other sequels and very high profile movies, such as the sequel Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, the James Bond sequels: Octopussy and Never Say Never Again.

In July 1983, ITV showed the Royal Premiere of Superman III. This show included interviews with actors in the film, who had flown to London for the United Kingdom and European premiere. Some clips from the film were shown, including where Superman is flying Gus to the coal mine and explaining how he used the acid to destroy the supercomputer, thus revealing the ending of the film.

Critical reaction

Reviews for the film were mixed from fans and mostly negative from critics. A frequent criticism of Superman III was the inclusion of comedian Richard Pryor. Pryor, who initially came to fame in the 1970s as a profane observational comedian, had a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s such as Stir Crazy, Silver Streak. and The Toy (directed by Richard Donner). After an appearance by Pryor on The Tonight Show, telling Johnny Carson how much he enjoyed seeing Superman II, the Salkinds were eager to cast him in a prominent role in the third film.

Audiences also saw Robert Vaughn's villainous Ross Webster as an uninspired fill-in for Lex Luthor. Gene Hackman, along with Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), were angry with the way the Salkinds treated Superman director Richard Donner. After Margot Kidder publicly criticized the Salkinds for their treatment of Donner, the producers "punished" the actress by reducing her role in Superman III to a brief cameo.

In his commentary for the 2006 DVD release of Superman III, Ilya Salkind denied any ill will between Margot Kidder and his production team and refuted the claim her part was cut for retaliation. Instead, he said, the creative team decided to pursue a different direction for a love interest for Superman, believing the Lois & Clark relationship had been played out in the first two films (but could be revisited in the future). With the choice to give a more prominent role to Lana Lang, Lois' part was reduced for story reasons. Salkind also denied the reports about Gene Hackman being upset with him, stating that Hackman didn't return due to prior commitments. Hackman himself denied such problems with the producers, and remarked that constantly placing Lex Luthor in the forefront was akin to those incessant horror movie sequels where the killer keeps coming back from the grave. (Hackman, however, did agree to reprise his role as Lex Luthor in Superman IV, of which the Salkinds had no connection).

Fans of the Superman series also placed a great deal of the blame on director Richard Lester. Richard Lester made a number of popular comedies in the 1960s - including The Beatles' classic A Hard Day's Night - before being hired by the Salkinds in the 1970s for their successful Three Musketeers series, as well as Superman II. Lester broke tradition by having Superman III open with a prolonged slapstick sequence with difficult-to-read titles (the first two movies opened up in outer space with big and bold credits). Superman III is commonly seen as more or less a goofy (albeit uneven) farce rather than a grand adventure picture like the first two movies.

On Richard Lester's direction of Superman III, Christopher Reeve stated:

"[He] was always looking for a gag - sometimes to the point where the gags involving Richard Pryor went over the top. I mean, I didn't think that his going off the top of a building, on skis with a pink tablecloth around his shoulders, was particularly funny."

The film's screenplay, by David and Leslie Newman, was also criticized. When Richard Donner was hired to direct the first two films, he found the Newmans' scripts so distasteful that he hired Tom Mankiewicz for heavy rewrites. Since Donner and Mankiewicz were no longer attached to the franchise, the Salkinds were finally able to bring their "vision" of Superman to the screen and once again hired the Newmans for writing duties.

Film critic Leonard Maltin said of Superman III that it was an "appalling sequel that trashed everything that Superman was about for the sake of cheap laughs and a co-starring role for Richard Pryor."

Reeve further stated he disagreed with Mankiewicz's hiring, having been fired for an earlier screenplay that was so goofy it risked giving the Superman films a reputation akin to Batman being associated with the campy TV show of the 1960s. In his autobiography Still Me, Reeve wrote:

"There had been a scene in Superman {I} where Superman flies in pursuit of Lex Luthor, then grabs him. As he flies away, the man suddenly turns to him and says 'Who loves 'ya, baby?" and offer Superman a lollipop, a 'la Kojak, only for Superman to realize he mistakingly captured Telly Savalas (in a planned cameo). [Dick] Donner had done away with much of that inanity."

Despite such harsh criticisms, Superman III was praised for Reeve's performance of a corrupted version of the Man of Steel, particularly the spectacular junkyard battle between this newly-darkened Superman and Clark Kent. One of the film's few good reviews was from the fiction writer Donald Barthelme, who praised Reeve as "perfect" and described Vaughn as "essentially playing William Buckley - all those delicious ponderings, popping of the eyes, licking of the corner of the mouth."


Main article: Superman III (Soundtrack)

As with the previous sequel, the musical score was composed and conducted by Ken Thorne, using the Superman theme and most other themes from the first film composed by John Williams, but this time around there is more original music by Thorne than the Williams re-arrangements. To capitalize on the popularity of synthesizer pop, Giorgio Moroder was hired to create songs for the film. However, Moroder's work was sparsely heard in the film, despite his long string of hits such as "Chase" in Midnight Express.

1978-1987 Film Series
Superman Films:   Superman  • Superman II  • Superman III  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Supergirl Films:   Supergirl