Superman Returns is a 2006 film based on Superman (after a cinematic absence of 19 years). It is directed by Bryan Singer and stars Brandon Routh, Kate Bosworth and Kevin Spacey. The screenplay is by Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris.
Following a five-year absence, Superman returns to Earth. He re-assumes his secret identity of Clark Kent, and discovers that Lois Lane -- now in a "long engagement" -- has a five-year-old son. Superman's nemesis, arch-villain Lex Luthor has devised a new plan to defeat Superman. Bryan Singer has said that the "loose" continuity established in the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films serves as its back-story, or, as he put it, a "vague history". The late Marlon Brando's role as Superman's biological father Jor-El is reprised with the help of computer-generated imagery and earlier footage.
- Perry White's The Daily Planet preparation headlines at the closure of the movie "SUPERMAN IS DEAD" and "SUPERMAN LIVES" are reminiscent to DC Comics's famous Superman storylines "The Death of Superman," "Funeral For a Friend," and "Reign of the Supermen."
- This was the first Superman movie to date to be wholly produced and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was co-produced by Warner Bros. and Cannon Films.
- The producers of Smallville were allowed to visit the set during production.
- During the scene in which the train set is being destroyed by the crystals, a sign displaying "Smallville" can be seen among the wreckage.
- According to Bryan Singer, Superman's age has always been in his late twenties to early thirties, and will continue to be so.
- Kitty Kowalski's name has been the source for much confusion. It has been alternately spelled as 'Koslowski'; in a production blog one of her costumes behind the scenes is labeled 'Kowalski' and her name in the credits of the film is as such. This confusion has been further exacerbated in various articles and websites that list her name as either Koslowski or Kowalski. She was featured in director Bryan Singer's production blog #23 entitled 'Derailed' on BlueTights.net, in which Lex Luthor tests out a stunning train set whilst ignoring Kitty, who is visibly bored and lonely. She was also the subject of costume-design blog #27 entitled 'Bespoke'.
- Tom Welling, who plays Clark Kent in the TV series Smallville talked with Brett Ratner, when he was still the director, about the role of Superman. Among topics in the discussion was the scheduling conflict with Welling's series and the movie.
- Routh put on 20 pounds of muscle for the role of Superman.
- One of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of Clark Kent's bed room is red, a reference to the red sun of Krypton.
- The movie was originally planned to be released on June 30, 2006, but Warner Bros. bumped up the date to Tuesday, June 27 (both conventional and IMAX theaters hosted special screenings at 10 p.m. on Tuesday night, a day ahead of its official June 28, 2006 theatrical release). Many see this as an attempt to collect three more days' worth of box-office revenue before the debut of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on July 7, 2006.
- The companion album to the score, Sound of Superman, was released on June 13, and features contemporary artists performing songs that merely reference Superman (such as The Sun's cover of The Kinks track '(I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman', but do not feature in any film soundtrack.
- Bo the Bartender, who serves Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen just prior to the airplane crisis, was played by Jack Larson, the original Jimmy Olsen of The Adventures of Superman series. Larson also appeared as a temporarily aged Jimmy in an episode of the Lois & Clark TV series. After Superman's rescue of the plane, one of the scenes of people celebrating include Larson hugging his current successor to the Jimmy Olsen role, Sam Huntington.
- Note: According to Daniel Wallace's Superman Returns: The Visual Guide, Bo's full name is Bo "Bibbo" Bibbowski. Bibbo is the bartender and supporting character from the modern Superman comic books.
- Gertrude Vanderworth, the old woman whom Luthor cons to gain her fortune, was played by Noel Neill, who was the first live-action Lois Lane (in the 1948 and 1950 Superman movie serials) and the second actress to portray Lane in the 1950s television series The Adventures of Superman. She has had cameo appearances in two other live-action Superman projects; as a young Lois Lane's mother in Superman, and as a Daily Planet employee in the live-action Superboy TV series alongside former Adventures costar Jack Larson.
- The concept of Superman's first public appearance upon his return in the film is reminiscent of the character's first public appearance as shown in The Man of Steel #1, by John Byrne. There, Clark Kent (sans glasses, and pre Super-suit) is in Metropolis for the launch of a new space plane being covered by the press. When something goes wrong, placing the lives of the crew and spectators below in danger, Clark instinctively springs into action and saves the plane. (It is here that he meets Lois Lane for the first time.)
- When Superman saves Kitty in the 'out of control car' sequence, the shot of him putting the car down, and the picture taken from the event seen on Perry White's desk in the following scene, is nearly identical to the cover of Action Comics #1 (Superman's first appearance).
- Superman saves a plane from disaster in a fashion that is similar to a sequence in the Fleischer Superman cartoon Japoteurs.
- In the film, there is a small reference to Gotham City in a news segment reporting where Superman has been sighted. Gotham City is, of course, the home of Batman.
- One of the space shuttle pilots is played by Sir Richard Branson. His proposed company, Virgin Galactic, plans to make space flight affordable to civilians. The Virgin Galactic brand is seen in the in-flight presentation given to reporters in the movie. Also as part of the film's UK promotion, one of Virgin's Pendolino trains was given a relivery with large images from the movie along its side, the first time any unit in this class has deviated from the company's standard livery since its introduction in 2001. 
- At the end of the movie, the pajamas Lois Lane's son is wearing have DC Comics' Aquaman on them.
- Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, the writers of the film, make a small cameo in the museum before Lex Luthor's thugs shoo them away from an exhibit.
- "Alienation" and "Zod" are words briefly glimpsed on the Scrabble board in the Kent house at the beginning of the film.
- While Superman remains in critical condition, Perry and Richard White discuss two alternate headlines, "Superman is Dead" and "Superman Lives." (The date on the former is September 29, 2006). This could be an homage to the ending of 1961 newspaper-set film The Day The Earth Caught Fire. Superman Lives was also the name of the abandoned fifth Superman film.
- Routh as Superman parts his hair to the opposite side that Reeve parted his in the previous Superman films.
- As evidence of Superman's pop culture influence, two summer movies have used Superman themes in their trailers: The Devil Wears Prada and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Additionally, the teaser for The Simpsons Movie, due the following summer used a similar theme whilst panning over a Superman 'S' (revealed to be Homer Simpson's T-Shirt).
- The F-35 Lightning II makes its first cinematic appearance in the plane scene, escorting the shuttle attached to the Boeing 777.
- During the quake, Superman used almost all of his powers; super strength and speed, heat vision, flight, and super breath.
- The film is "dedicated with love and respect to Christopher Reeve and Dana Reeve".
- The filming location - Australia - is referenced (presumably unintentionally) in the film in at least two ways. Firstly, when Superman's mother's radio stops as he crash lands outside her house there are abbreviations on the dial referencing Australian states - such as QLD for Queensland. Also, when Lois arrives at the hospital to see Superman it is clear she is in a car made for left hand driving, the side of the road used in Australia.
- Superman does not commit a single act of personal violence on any one in the entire movie, the closest is when he subdues an armed criminal. The only on-camera violence exacted on Superman is the torture session Lex and his thugs put him through.
- Although the setting of the movie is Metropolis, in the scene where Clark takes Lois in the sky, you can clearly see the island of Manhattan, as well as Central Park. This is in keeping with Donner's depiction of Metropolis as New York City.
- Kate Bosworth (Lois Lane) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor) play mortal enemies in this movie. However, in Beyond the Sea (2005), Spacey plays Bobby Darin, while Bosworth plays Sandra Dee, Darin's wife.
- During the Daily Planet rooftop - Lois' cigarette scene, Superman made a face closeup move toward the camera. Routh's face in the shadow clearly resembled Reeve's face.
Connections to Superman and Superman II
Singer has said that Superman Returns uses the first two films that began with 1978's Superman as a vague history to the events of this film. By establishing the plot as taking place after the first two films, it consequently retcons Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace out of existence. The many references to the first two films include:
- In the first full trailer for the film Martha Kent is heard in voice over "Your father used to say that you were put here for a reason", directly quoting a Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford) line from the 1978 Superman.
- In the Kent house there is a framed photo of Jonathan Kent, Clark Kent’s adopted father, displayed with other framed family photos. The photo is of Glenn Ford, the actor who played the character in the 1978 film.
- When Kitty and Luthor are in Fortress of Solitude, Kitty says to Lex Luthor "You act like you've been here before" (he had, in Superman II).
- Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor paraphrased a quote made by Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor in the original 1978 movie: "Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they'll pay through the nose to get it!" Along with that, after Spacey's Lex prefaces his sentence with, "Do you know what my father used to tell me," Kitty answers, "Get out," at one point in jest, the same response Miss Teschmacher gave Hackman's Lex in the original when he rhetorically asked a similar question.
- Kitty also has a lapse of judgment similar to Teschmacher, and her final refusal to help Lex.
- The threat of "billions" of people dying is again referenced to and by Luthor, his scheme is again a real estate themed threat to destroy part of America and make profit on the newly expensive plot of land.
- Superman also struggles with kryptonite while trying to keep to the surface of a body of water, in Superman: The Movie, Lex places a kryptonite necklace around Superman while he drowns in his pool. In Superman Returns Lex stabs Superman and drops him to the ocean. Both times, a woman rescues him.
- The score composed by John Ottman features leitmotifs created by John Williams for the original film. Aside from the main "Superman March" theme, Ottman references "The Planet Krypton" theme, the "Death of Jonathan Kent"/"Leaving Home" themes and the "Lois Lane Theme" (aka "Can You Read My Mind") in the score for the film. The teaser trailer relies on the cue "The Planet Krypton", which was featured in the 1978 film.
- Some of John Barry's Kryptonian designs for Superman, including the Fortress of Solitude and the baby Kal-El's transport pod, have been recreated.
- In the original film, after saving Lois, Superman says, "I hope this hasn't put you off flying. Statistically speaking, it is still the safest way to travel." Then she faints. In Returns, after he saves an entire press corps on board a flight by preventing the plane from crash landing he recites the same dialogue and Lois again faints.
- When Luthor and his henchmen steal the Kryptonite from the museum, the placard indicates that the specimen was recovered from Addis Ababa in 1978. The kryptonite in the original Superman film was taken from Addis Ababa and the movie was released in 1978.
- The film mentions Lois' article "I Spent the Night with Superman" — written by the character in the 1978 film.
- Lois still smokes (unlike her comic counterpart) prompting Superman to say in Superman and Superman Returns, "You know you really shouldn't smoke Miss Lane."
- As in the original two films, Lois is still a horrible speller (as implied by the original film quotes, "How many T's in bloodletting?" and when Perry White points out that she incorrectly put two P's in "rapist"). In the new film, she asks, "How many F's in catastrophe?"
- In Superman II, Lois hoped to win a Pulitzer Prize by doing a story on French terrorists who were attempting to destroy the Eiffel Tower. In Superman Returns, she has won the Pulitzer for her essay "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman".
- In both Superman: The Movie and Superman Returns, Lex Luthor (while holding Kryptonite) states that he will defeat Superman by using "mind over muscle".
- The final scene, now computer-generated, shows Superman in space, smiling at the audience, in almost the same pose as in the final scene of the 1978 film (which was re-used at the end of the other three Reeve pictures).
- As established in the first two Christopher Reeve movies, Metropolis is essentially New York City. Featured are the Twin Towers, the Statue of Liberty, etc. (Richard Donner confirms this in his commentary for the film). This is in contrast to comic book continuity which maintains that the two cities co-exist (although even in the comics they are identifiable as the same city). Singer's film continues the canon established by Donner by setting Metropolis in place of New York City. This is supported not only by the maps on Lex Luthor's yacht, but also aerial shots of Metropolis in which Manhattan Island is clearly identifiable (its shape, Central Park, etc.) as well as its proximity to Roosevelt Island, the Hudson River, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, etc. The only difference between the two cities' skylines is the presence of the Daily Planet building (with its iconic spinning globe) in Metropolis.
- While the design of Kal-el's spaceship is essentially the same as in the first film there are some differences. The ship in Superman Returns was given a larger size to accommodate Kal-el as an adult. Also, in the Richard Donner classic, the ship starts to deteriorate as it enters Earth's orbit (and the wreckage of the ship is then hidden in the Kent barn), which is not apparent in the 2006 film.
- In the first movie, Lex Luthor plots to destroy the coastal area of California for real estate speculation purposes. In Superman Returns, his creation of the Kryptonian landmass would have flooded most of the U.S., except the California coastal area. Also, in both Superman II and Superman Returns, Lex makes explicit references to "beachfront property".
- Answering a question in the Fortress of Solitude, Lex calls it a "monument to a long lost civilization." Similarly Zod refers to the fortress as "a sentimental replica of a dead civilization" in Superman II.
- Lois makes a reference to Luthor's double life sentence that was mentioned in Superman II. (However, according to a prison guard in Superman II, Luthor only received a "Life + 25" sentence.)
- Clark describes one of Richard's ideas as "swell". In the original movie, Clark also used "swell" as an adjective, to which Lois responded, "You know, Clark, there are very few people left in the world who feel comfortable saying that word." In Superman Returns, they simply give him an incredulous look.
- About halfway through the movie, Lois drops a pack of cigarettes, and she and Clark both reach to pick it up. This is a reference to a scene the end of Superman II, where a similar thing happens, after which the two kiss.
- Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor, like Gene Hackman's, disguises his baldness with a hairpiece. Upon his arrest in Superman, Luthor smugly discards the hairpiece when he informs the prison guard who he is. In Superman Returns, his goal accomplished, he smugly tosses his hairpiece to the child of a family whom he has just swindled out of their fortune.
- In both Superman and Superman Returns, Superman approaches Lois for an interview because a lot of people have questions. In both interviews Superman makes a point to not know Clark. In Superman Lois tells Superman, "Clark said that you were just a figment of somebody's imagination, like Peter Pan" and Superman responds, "Clark? Who's that, your boyfriend?" In Superman Returns Lois says, "Clark said the reason you left without saying goodbye was because it was too unbearable for you; personally I think that's a load of crap." In return Superman simply replies, "Clark?"
- In Superman, after Clark's first day at work at the Daily Planet, Lois and Clark leave the building, and Clark gets stuck in the revolving doors on his way out. Similarly, in Superman Returns, as Lois and Clark leave the Daily Planet, Clark gets himself stuck in the same slot of the revolving door as Lois, as they awkwardly exit the building.
- In Superman and Superman II, the opening credits show the titles coming at the audience in a simulated 3-D effect in space. Superman Returns utilizes similar opening credits with the titles coming at the audience in 3-D fashion as the camera moves about outer space.
- In Superman Returns, Superman is seen to be flying around the Eiffel Tower. In Superman II the Eiffel Tower was the setting for the opening action sequence.
- In Superman, Jimmy Olsen accidentally calls Clark, Mr. Clark, which Clark then corrects him, saying it's Mr. Kent. In Superman Returns, when Clark returns to the Daily Planet for the first time, Jimmy gets overexcited and starts calling him Mr. Clark, but then corrects himself.
Allegories and allusions (specific to other lore)
- Prometheus: Lex Luthor uses this tale as a premise for his raid on the Fortress of Solitude, as Prometheus stole the fire for mankind from the Gods. Lex incorrectly identifies Prometheus as a God, when he was actually a Titan.
- Clarke's three laws: In reference to Kryptonian technology, Lex Luthor states a version of Clarke's third law twice: that to a relatively primitive mind, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This quote is referenced from Arthur C. Clarke, who mentioned "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." from "Profiles of The Future", written in 1961.
- Moses: Superman's castoff to Earth has been alluded to the casting of Moses in the rushes for his safety (in Superman's case, from the destruction of Krypton) This is probably due to Superman's creator's Judaism. (See Cultural influences on Superman.) Also covered in other works.
- Dog Eat Dog: a literal take on the aphorism; one of Kitty's dogs is found to have eaten its counterpart while she and Luthor were conducting the Fortress raid.
- Christian God: "I have sent them you, my only son;" allusion of the sacrifice of a son for the people. Also covered in other works.
- Jesus: "Everyday, I hear people crying for a savior;" Superman's point to Lois Lane on "why the world needs Superman." Also covered in other works. Late in the film, Superman is stabbed in the side as Jesus was believed to be during the Crucifixion; after casting the Crystal Continent into space, the fatigued Superman strikes a pose almost identical to that of a man being crucified. Superman wakes from coma in what seems the third day by biblical timekeeping, mirroring Jesus' awakening on the third day after crucifixion.
- Life imitating art: Luthor's experiment with the crystal destroys his model city, as his growth of the Crystal Continent nearly destroys Metropolis.
- Atlas: Superman stops the Daily Planet globe from falling on a crowd, assuming Atlas' ancient pose.
- Achilles' heel: Superman's reaction to Kryptonite. Also covered in other works.
- Humans intervene to rescue Superman on two occasions: the idea of "mortals" assisting someone greater than themselves is a flip of the premise of the Gods partaking in human affairs (ala Greek Mythology).
The film contains some typical obligatory back-references to prior Superman media besides just the theatrical films:
- Jimmy showing photos to Perry White and Lois Lane, the three characters exchanging dialogue from the 1940s cartoons, "Look, [Chief], up in the sky!" "It's a bird." "It's a plane." "It's--"(Clark walks in)
- Perry White: "Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?" (In the 1940s cartoons, Superman stood for "Truth and justice and tolerance". Later he would stand for "Truth, justice and the American way") after World War II broke out.
- Perry White: "Great Caesar's ghost!", a line often used by John Hamilton as White in The Adventures of Superman, as well as by the character in current comics.
- People wondering, for at least a moment, if Clark might be Superman.
A significant sub-plot concerns the paternity of Lois' son, Jason. The initial impression is that Jason is Richard and Lois' son. A progression of scenes suggest that Superman may be his actual biological father. Numerous foreshadowings imply this revelation, some more obvious than others:
- Jason is around five years old, which is roughly the same amount of time that Superman was away from Earth following the events of Superman II. That film included an implied sexual encounter between Lois and Superman, during a portion of the film when Clark had given up his super powers and had a one-night stand with her, even though Clark removed Lois' memories of the whole encounter.
- In a private conversation at home, Richard questions Lois concerning an article she published long ago titled "I Spent the Night with Superman," but she says it was purely journalistic in nature; and, when asked, she denies ever having been in love with Superman.
- When Lois and Jason are being held hostage by Luthor, Jason flinches when Luthor brings out the Kryptonite cylinder. This prompts Luthor to ask Lois who Jason's father is, which Lois says is Richard. After one of Lex's henchmen calls in their position, he asks, "Are you sure?" (this is deliberately timed to confuse the target of his question). Later, when informed that one of his henchmen is killed, Lex's first question is, "Where's the boy?"
- On Luthor's yacht, one of his henchmen is prevented from attacking Lois when he is struck by a grand piano, which Jason was playing only moments before. Although Jason isn't shown lifting or throwing the piano, he is seen with both hands outstretched. Lois and the thug were also on a raised platform at the edge of the room, while Jason was sitting at the piano on a lowered section of the floor.
- After Brutus is killed by the piano, Jason is about to take a breath from his inhaler but instead he puts it away and does not use it. This scene is reminiscent of an earlier flashback of Clark as a teenager learning that he could fly, and reaching for his fallen glasses until he realizes he does not need them.
- Some of the treatments that Jason receives throughout the film may be a reference to the development of Jason's powers (i.e. the problem for which he takes eye drops may be caused by developing heat/X-ray vision, the inhaler may compensate for developing super breath, vitamins for muscular growth, etc.)
- From the plane, Jason was the one to spot Superman in the ocean, amidst countless acres of raging waters.
- As the plane is falling after being unable to take off, Jason is seen holding onto his seat as if holding the plane up. The next scene shows the plane leveling off which could suggest that it was thanks to Jason.
- During Superman's convalescence, Lois tells Superman she needs to tell him something important, looks over to see that Jason is not listening, and whispers something inaudible into Superman's ear.
- Throughout the film, Superman is referred to as a god, which would make Jason the son of god (Jesus.) This would liken Lois to the virgin Mary (which would also make sense, as she has no recollection of sexual relations with Superman (and neither would Mary at all have a recollection of sexual relations.)
- In one of the film's final scenes, Superman recovers and visits the sleeping Jason in his bedroom. Superman then recites the words "The son becomes the father, and the father the son," his own father said to him when he was an infant leaving Krypton in a gesture of affection..
- Exactly what Superman found when he went to find if any life was left on Krypton is unknown. Given the fact that he mutters later "That place was a graveyard. I'm all that's left," it is most likely that there were no survivors of Krypton. However, Ma Kent replies to the effect you never know what is out there, leaving open speculation there are survivors, i.e. Superman's cousin, Kara Zor-El. The official comics adaptation indicates that it was Lex who engineered the rumour that Krypton had been found, hoping Kal-El would die there.
- The novelization and a deleted scene both shows his visit to Krypton and the barren wasteland that is Krypton.
- How and when Lois Lane met Richard White is not explained at any point, although a comic-book tie-in suggests that they met shortly after the events of Superman II and after Superman left earth, just after she became pregnant.
- The circumstances that led Lex Luthor and Kitty Kowalski to become a couple are not known, but the Marv Wolfman novelization reveals that she became attracted to him upon learning of his ambitions and attempts for power, while he was in prison.
- The New Krypton Island Superman heaved into space at the end of the film is left ambiguous as to what will happen next. In the official novelization, Lois mentions to Perry White that it has settled in orbit around Jupiter and Saturn and is still growing. She suggests the name New Krypton when he is unable to come up with a name for the story. It was supposed to be involved in the canceled sequel.
- In a feeling of guilt, Kitty drops the super crystals Lex stole from the Fortress of Solitude onto New Krypton, denying him the chance of creating another Krytonian landmass. Those crystals contained the knowledge and memory chips of Jor-El and were the only means of connection between Superman and the race of Krypton. How or if Superman will retrieve these or if he will find a way to contact Jor-El's spirit somehow is not yet revealed.