What Went Wrong With Superman Returns

No, I haven’t seen it yet — and I still don’t intend to. But I found this analysis by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez (link no longer available) compelling (probably because it turns on several of the reasons I’m not interested). I don’t think his prediction that Superman Returns won’t break $200 million is likely to be accurate, though, because I believe Warner will do whatever it has to to avoid that.

20 Responses to “What Went Wrong With Superman Returns”

  1. Charles LePage Says:

    I enjoyed SR a great deal, so much so I attempted to see it again this past weekend, though my son threw a wrench into those plans. I intend, though most likely it won’t happen, to write a response to all the criticisms I’ve read of the movie, as I believe most of them I’ve read have been unfounded or exaggerated.

  2. Adam Arnold Says:

    I’m a die-hard Superman fan and loved every second of the movie. I’d even go so far as to say it’s THE best Superman movie as it easily surpasses Superman: The Movie and Superman II.

    I read the article you linked to, but I guess I don’t watch enough TV or read enough entertainment magazines to have even heard most of the stuff they’re saying about the actors or the “chick flick” comment. Heck, I didn’t even know Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey were supposedly gay until a week after I’d seen the movie…so it’s pretty obvious that none of X-Men 1-3’s gay undertones ever registered with me either.

    See…I just view movies for what they are…entertainment. And as pure entertainment…Superman Returns rocks.

  3. Rob Says:

    I’m not a Superman fan, but I hold the original (1978) film in the highest regard. It still has the magic and spark that the character should generate all on his own, without thousands of shots of cgi effects.
    I found ‘Superman Returns’ to be somber, unimaginative, and completely devoid of emotion. Those are neither unfounded or exaggerated, they are my reactions.
    I was bored through most of the film, when I wasn’t thinking of the wealth of source material that could have been used to make this a fantastical, epic adventure. Some of the recent miniseries have had good to great ideas of how to handle Superman, and the animated series made some of his villains into more than one-dimensional plot devices.
    One of the things that most folks have overlooked is the music, but that’s not surprising; there isn’t a single memorable bit of scoring in the entire film. It uses the original Williams opening (even aping Donner’s credit sequence) and then… nothing. Very strange considering the importance of music and mood in ‘Usual Suspects’ and ‘X-Men’ (the Claremont-inspired scene at the climax always gets me).
    Well, maybe the next one, right?

  4. Charles LePage Says:

    Rob, I certainly didn’t mean to diminish your opinion of the movie. Many of the criticisms I’ve read have been nitpicks at the plot which have been easily answered by the movie itself.

    I found the plot to be quite imaginative. Superman’s victory was not cut and dry, as he had to give up the tokens of his heritage in order to save his adopted planet. Luthor didn’t get to keep the “fire” he wanted, but neither did Superman. This movie WAS an epic to me, and I’ll be first on the block to get the DVD.

    I would like to know what Lois remembers from Superman II, however.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Charles: I’d love to see it, when you do.

    Adam: The primary reason I’m not planning to see the film is that, based on all the pros and cons I’ve read, the movie doesn’t sound like it would entertain me (emphasis on me there). I’m with you on the criteria — I just don’t agree with you that this film fills it.

    Rob: I fear I would feel the same way. It just sounds too long and with too much of what I don’t want to see in a Superman film. (Exhibit A: someone I can’t believe as Lois Lane, followed by someone I don’t believe as Superman.)

  6. James Schee Says:

    I saw the movie and enjoyed it. I thought Routh and Bosworth were fine in their roles, they just didn’t get enough to do in their roles.

    Editing and pacing were the things most lacking in the film. There were times I was waiting for it to get past some sequences. While other scenes a bit more time could have been spent on to really get the most from.

    I don’t think “chick flick” really hurt it, as much as it isn’t your typical action flick. I think Singer probably, and the first ads didn’t help much, gave it very high intellectual look. “Superman is back to show you the way.” isn’t a typical action move plot.

  7. Charles LePage Says:

    Here’s a link to a 1979 review of the first Superman movie:


    Entertaining reading.

  8. Johanna Says:

    What a great time capsule!

  9. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I never thought the first Superman was a masterpiece but — ouch! Interestingly, several of Kael’s comments were pretty much repeated in some of the less-glowing reviews of Superman Returns.

    As for hitting the $200m mark, if its not at least at $175m after next weekend — $31m over the next six days after a disappointing Monday — its dead in the water because the following weekend its going to get pushed out of at least half the theaters it opened in and then disappear completely by the middle of August. Warner Bros. is going to have to invest heavily in a big promotional push this week to have any chance of saving face.

    I saw a new [to me] trailer tonight that focused on Superman doing super things with a tagline of “Imagine…flying higher…going faster…being stronger…than you ever believed.” If they’d led with that one and based an entire campaign around that tagline, they’d have had a much better opening weekend and now be worrying about hitting $250m instead of $200m.

    PS: Thanks for the link. You always generate great traffic, but this one was far and away the most ever. One of these days I’ll figure out how to earn my way onto your permanent links. :-)

  10. Barry Says:

    This was one of those movies where I thought that the trailers really did leave out the best parts of the movie. The plane sequence was truly one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever seen put to film (I was actually sweating when it was over) and the climax to it one of the most rousing. And even though I went into the movie with great misgivings over the idea of Superman leaving Earth for 5 years and Lois having a son, the movie’s heart and warmth did away with that completely.

    It’s a shame that this might be considered a failure, at least financially. It’s one of the best superhero movies ever made.

  11. Joshua Macy Says:

    I tend to think things like the linked piece oversell marketing as an explanation; if it really worked like that, blockbuster movies wouldn’t be such a crap-shoot. My suspicion is that if it was doing better at the box-office the exact same things that are now being listed as marketing failures would be cited as marketing successes. Why is bad marketing a better explanation than bad word-of-mouth for a big drop-off from week one to week two?

  12. Johanna Says:

    I think the two are linked. If marketing makes me think “hmmm, that doesn’t look like a typical action film, looks kind of slow” and friends tell me that impression is correct, then the two reinforce each other.

    Word-of-mouth seems to be king these days, doesn’t it?

  13. Lyle Says:

    Joshua, from my experience playing box office prediction games, marketing of blockbuster films generates the first weekend take and WOM determines the film’s longevity.

    IMO, marketing is a huge factor, partly because it takes incredilby positive WOM to turn around the negative first impressions from a so-so marketing campaign but also because it’s the main chance to get a “Why you should see this” message out… and I do think Warner failed to make a good point on why this film was better than watching whatever Superman DVDs you have at home.

    A 59% second weekend drop isn’t very surprising, actually. From what I recall that seems about right for a blockbuster or horror film (both genres tend to be frontloaded because their audiences are “see it ASAP” types). The movies that don’t get that kind of drop-off are the real surprises (and the real hits) and they’re incredibly rare.

  14. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    Joshua: What Johanna and Lyle said.

    Lyle: A 50-52% drop is typical for the average blockbuster movie — and sub-50% is the sign of a suprise hit — but the high 50s is a warning sign that WOM isn’t very good, and over 60% is simply a bomb that was marketed well.

  15. Joshua Macy Says:

    Lyle, so the difference between Superman Returns’ $52 million and Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest’s $132 million was marketing? I’m skeptical.

  16. Lyle Says:

    Joshua, essentially, yes the difference to me was marketing. Pirates’ marketers had additional factors in their favor (playing on people’s fondness for a movie that’s better remembered due to time) but they key point I see is that they articulated their message better — “This is why you can’t wait to see our movie.”

    Being a sequel to a very popular film, Pirates had a very simple message it had to get out “More of the same thing you loved.” It’s a message I’ve seen get screwed up before (usualy on sequels to blockbusters where the parties involved feel insecure about having succeeded on a minless blockbuster or movies where a cast member is much more fameous when the sequel comes out than in the original).

    Meanwhile, the marketing for Superman talked either about things people didn’t associate with Superman (the returning ex-boyfriend stuff), chatter about what the movie wasn’t (whether that be the much-publicized debate over the size of Routh’s bulge, or the gay debate that started with the gossip that Singer wanted to cast a closeted actor who’d come out during the film’s promotion) and respect for a decades-old film (as opposed to the way Smallville and Lois & Clark promised an exciting and new interpretation of the familiar concept… which the original Pirates did, too, I realize).

    To some degree, it might be a question of how you define marketing. If a movie’s audience is partly generated from people loving the previous installment, I think the marketers still have to get the right message out and have plenty of opportunities to drop the ball.

    Similarly, Guy, I guess judging the drop-off depends on how you define a bomb. I believe I’ve seen films that have had about at 59%ish drop-off that went on to be considered a non-bomb (because of their frontloaded genre) but sometimes it all comes down to how the media decides to cover it. (Like how Charlie’s Angels 2 and Terminator 3 performed similarly over the same summer, but Angels was declared a bomb as T3 got a pass.) I think Warner will make back their money in foreign and anciliary markets, but it won’t be very profitable.

  17. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    Lyle, re: dropoff, my fingers were moving faster than my brain on the 60% part of my comment. I meant to say “and over 60% for a movie that opened big is simply a bomb that was marketed well, or had a built-in audience that was going to see it regardless.” We pretty much agree on that point, though; just wanted to clarify myself.

    As for Superman’s foreign box office, I wouldn’t be too optimistic there. Much more than Batman and Spider-Man, Supes is a blatant American icon (even without “and the American Way”) and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pull in considerably less than Batman Begins’ $166m. Not having a simultaneous worldwide release (Europe and Latin America were delayed because of the World Cup) will hurt it, too. It’ll do fine on DVD, but its chances for a sequel aren’t looking too hot right about now.

  18. Julia Says:

    I’m so glad a director finally made something out of the fact that Superman is essentially solar-powered. No one ever made that explicit before… I loved the moment when he went closer to the sun to ‘recharge’ after expending a lot of energy. Beautiful stuff. That and the bullet bouncing off his iris. Still my guy!

  19. Raj Says:

    This was a boring, lazy movie of the greatest Icon, and is is sad that the Production hs spent so much on the Effort, Time and Money for a storyline hardly original and silly plot twist, the cast was Okay, but seriously we deserve a better and fully conceptualised Superman storyline from the original DC comics for this 21st Century viewers!

    if only they had taken the first few comics of Superman Rebooted edition, this wud have been the Most successful movie of the Entire Superman Franchise! they Messed it up…they shud start all over again….God save Superman’s future!

  20. Casper Says:

    Raj- God has heard your prayers.




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