Fun with Numbers: How all Superman Films Compare at the Box Office


To celebrate the release of ‘Man of Steel’ on DVD this November 12th we take a look back at Superman’s past film efforts and see how they compare.

The Last Son of Krypton is destined to make another appearance on our TV screens with the release of Zack Snyder’s epic ‘Man of Steel‘ tomorrow. ‘Steel’ marks the sixth film to be released about the comic book hero* and will certainly not be the last as principal photography on the tentatively titled ‘Batman/Superman’ film begins in the new year. We decided to take a deeper look into all 6 films and see how they compare to each other taking into account inflation since 1978.


Domestic Total Gross: $134,218,018
-with inflation: $461,732,900
Reported Budget: $55 Million

Richard Donner’s 1978 epic about the Man of Steel showed how a film about a superhero could be a moving and romantic experience even for people who long ago gave up comic books. Beginning on the icy planet Krypton, the story follows the baby Kal-El, whose rocket ship lands in Smallville, Kansas. He is found there by a childless couple and raised as the shy Clark Kent (the young Kent is played by Jeff East). The film is perhaps most touching in these sequences, with expanses of wheat fields blowing in the wind and with a young man who can’t figure out what part in destiny his great powers are meant to play. The second half, with Reeve taking over as Clark/Superman, is bustling, enchanting (the scene in which Superman flies girlfriend Lois Lane–played by Margot Kidder–through the night sky is great date material), and funny, thanks largely to Gene Hackman’s sardonic portrayal of nemesis Lex Luthor.

Little Known Facts:
As the production budget and shooting schedule escalated, Richard Donner found the Salkinds constantly on his back. Richard Lester was brought in to mediate the relationship between the director and his producers as both parties refused to talk to each other.

The biggest budgeted film from Warner Brothers at the time of its release.

The film was 3 years in planning, 2 years in filming at the height of which there were over a thousand full time crew on 11 units spread over 3 studios and 8 countries. Over a million feet of film was used and at the time it had the highest production budget

Superman II

The meta-human heritage of the Last Son Of Krypton is tested as never before when a series of misadventures unlocks in Superman a very human emotion – love. Superman’s love for journalist Lois Lane reaches a seemingly impossible peak, but requires the ultimate sacrifice – as the incompatible molecular structure of Kal-El and Lois would gravely complicate the inevitable bearing of children, Kal-El must be purged of his superpower, to live as a mortal. Kal-El, despite the pleas of the spirit of his long-lost mother, willingly agrees, and now a normal human being, consummates his love for Lois – a decision that dooms the Earth as three criminals from Krypton, freed from their extra-dimensional prison, lay waste to the planet in a path of conquest aided by the planet’s most arrogant criminal, Lex Luthor, who intends to smoke out Superman for his destruction – unaware as he is of The Man Of Steel’s helplessness, a condition that only one last hope can rectify.

Domestic Total Gross: $108,185,706
-with inflation: $313,471,600
Reported Budget: $54 Million

Little Known Facts:
An early version of the script had four Kryptonian exile villains. Jak-El was supposed to be an evil prankster and source of comic relief. He is described as “a psychopathic jokester, whose pranks and practical jokes are only funny to him when they cause death and suffering to others.” The character was never cast.

Towards the end of the movie, when Clark Kent enters the Daily Planet floor to talk to Lois for the last time, a sign in the background on the white board says “Daha iyisi olamaz”. It’s in Turkish, and means “There can’t be anything better”.

Warner Bros. released the film in Europe at the end of 1980, and in the U.S. in the summer of 1981.

Superman III

In mortal enemies, the Man of Steel has no match. Even faced with a trio of sinister super-powered villains from his home planet, Superman saved the day. But can super-strength stand up to the diabolical circuitry of a criminally insane computer? Enter Gus Gorman, a genial half-wit who just happens to be a natural-born genius at computer programming. In his hands, a computer keyboard turns into a deadly weapon . . . and soon, Superman faces the microelectronic menace of his career. Clark Kent meets his old flame Lana Lang at a Smallville High School reunion and Superman turns into his own worst enemy after exposure to a chunk of red kryptonite.

Domestic Total Gross: $59,950,623
-with inflation: $153,207,100
Reported Budget: $?? Million

Little Known Facts:
The scenes in which Superman straightens the leaning tower of Pisa and then leans it back in the end were originally planned for Superman II.

The first time Christopher Reeve had top billing in a Superman movie. In the first film, he was behind Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman; for the second he was behind Hackman.

According to Ilya Salkind, an earlier version of the script included the comic book villains Brainiac and Mr. Mxyzptlk teaming up, and Superman meeting his cousin, Supergirl, which would lead to the potential Supergirl spin-off.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Superman does a lot in his newest adventure. Archvillain Lex Luthor, determined to make the world safe for nuclear arms merchants, creates a new being to challenge the Man of Steel: the radiation-charged Nuclear Man. The two super-powered foes clash in an explosive screen extranvaganza that sees Superman save the Statue of Liberty, repulse a volcanic eruption of Mount Etna, rebuild the demolished Great Wall of China and perform many more spetactular feats.

Domestic Total Gross: $15,681,020
-with inflation: $32,284,500
Reported Budget: $17 Million

Little Known Facts:
The movie’s original budget was $36 million. Just before filming was to begin, Cannon Pictures, which was experiencing financial problems, slashed the budget to $17 million. As a result, the filmmakers cut corners by doing things like reusing special effects.

The vast majority of the external scenes were filmed in and around Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus couldn’t afford to shoot in New York.

A scene cut out of the U.S. theatrical version featured Superman saving a group of Soviet generals from a nuclear missile in Moscow. The scene appears on the video release, but not on the DVD.

Superman Returns

After eliminating General Zod & the other Kryptonian arch-villains, Ursa & Non, Superman leaves Earth to try to find his former home world of Krypton after astronomers have supposedly found it. When he finds nothing but remnants, he returns home to Earth – to find out that Lois Lane is engaged to a relative of his boss, and that Lex Luthor is at it again – after swindling an elderly, terminally ill woman. The psychopathic Luthor, whose plans to destroy California failed because of Superman’s heroics, vows vengeance against the Man of Steel and contrives a new sinister plot – using the crystals of Krypton to build a continent that will wipe out most of North America! Embedded in the continent’s structure is Kryptonite – the lethal substance that is Superman’s only weakness. Upon learning of Luthor’s sinister scheme, Superman must again race against time to stop the psychopathic Luthor before millions – possibly billions – are killed.

Domestic Total Gross: $200,081,192
-with inflation: $245,901,300
Reported Budget: $270 Million

Little Known Facts:
Alias creator and writer J.J. Abrams wrote a complete shooting draft of the script, which both Brett Ratner and McG were planning to shoot when they both left the project for both creative and budget reasons.

Milliskin, a type of cloth, was used as the material of Superman’s suit. Unfortunately, this cloth restricts movement when new. Worse, it sags after being worn and becoming comfortable. As a result, 80 suits, 100 capes, 30 boots and 90 belts were made.

Will Smith was offered the role of Superman/Clark Kent but declined, saying: “You mess up white peoples’ heroes in Hollywood, you’ll never work in this town again!”

Man of Steel

A young boy learns that he has extraordinary powers and is not of this Earth. As a young man, he journeys to discover where he came from and what he was sent here to do. But the hero in him must emerge if he is to save the world from annihilation and become the symbol of hope for all mankind.

Domestic Total Gross: $291,045,518
Reported Budget: $225 Million

Little Known Facts:
Ben Affleck turned down directing the film because he wasn’t experienced in visual effects shots: “A lesson I’ve learned is to not look at movies based on budget, how much they’ll spend on effects or where they will shoot. Story is what’s important.” He ironically was cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne in Batman vs. Superman.

Henry Cavill and Russell Crowe had met years prior to playing father and son when Henry was an extra in Proof of Life and received words of encouragement to pursue acting and an autographed picture from Crowe, who was his favorite actor.

According to Zack Snyder, the filmmakers outfitted Henry Cavill in the Superman costume to see how well he fit the role. Despite the outfit bearing a lighter blue color and red trunks, no one laughed at Cavill. Snyder knew then that Cavill was right for the role.

*This article does not take into account 1984’s ‘Supergirl’ which took in $14,296,438 at the domestic box office which would be $32,218,447.17 in today’s numbers, putting it in even lower than ‘Superman IV: Quest for Peace’.

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