Superman III

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Superman III, released in 1983, is the third of the Superman films starring Christopher Reeve.

The Man of Steel's mythology is further explored as Clark returns to Smallville for his high school reunion and meets back up with his old friend, Lana Lang (whose actor, Annette O'Toole, went on to play Ma Kent in Smallville). The main plot of the film involves heavily-promoted co-star Richard Pryor as Gus Gorman, a bumbling-but-brilliant computer programmer who falls in with the forces of evil -- as epitomized by business executive Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) -- and ends up helping said forces of evil turn Superman evil and create a supercomputer which could be used to conquer the world.

Superman III was directed by Richard Lester (who completed Superman II after Richard Donner was fired), and its emphasis on comedy was (and still is) generally derided as unwelcome and unnecessary -- although the serious battle scene between Superman and Clark Kent (as the hero struggles against his new, darker nature) is widely considered the highlight of the film. Richard Pryor's performance is also a "love it or hate it" affair, as he was an avowed fan of Superman and tried his best to do the film justice (because if comedy is going to be inserted into a film, it's best left to an actual comedian).

Tropes used in Superman III include:
  • Big Blackout: Caused by the Supercomputer.
  • Brainless Beauty: Subverted by Lorelei, who pretends to be an airhead, but is actually a genius. Alone, she delves into deep reading, and reveals she's a computer expert, too. She's so intelligent she knows behaving intelligently will get her fired, since her job is to be "Ross'".

Lorelei: (reading Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason") How can he say that Pure Categories have no objective meaning in Transcendental Logic? What about Synthetic Unity?

  • Canon Discontinuity: When Superman Returns was released, this film, alongside Superman IV and Supergirl, were completely ignored.
  • Canon Immigrant: Black Kryptonite was introduced into the Superman continuity a few years after the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: "Beltric acid" (see Hollywood Acid, below.)
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ross Webster, in a manner almost prophetic of how Post-Crisis Lex Luthor would be portrayed.
  • The Cracker: Richard Pryor plays a wage-slave who gets some basic computer training and is soon able to crack into just about anything. At one point, the character was supposed to be Brainiac in disguise, explaining his abilities, but Executive Meddling turned the character into comic relief.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Assistant
  • Demoted to Extra: Lois Lane shows up in the beginning, says she's going to Bermuda and disappears for most of the movie. Then she comes back before the movie's over as if nothing happened! This was largely done in retaliation after Margot Kidder criticized the producers for their decision to dismiss director Richard Donner from the franchise. It's a testament to how iconic the Superman mythos is in general, and Lois Lane in particular, that it wasn't worse.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The title sequence follows wacky trouble breaking out on the sidewalks of Metropolis.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted with Lorelei Ambrosia. While she acts dim, she's really just playing off the stereotype so she can trick the other villains. She's also not above using her looks to get what she wants.
  • Enemy Without: The fight sequence between a red Kryptonite-infected Superman and his moral base, Clark Kent. It's also shown to be a metaphor for Superman's internal struggle not to do whatever he pleases.
  • Everything Is Online: One of the most Egregious examples, and one of the earlier ones too.
  • Evil Twin: Even the film's detractors generally enjoy seeing Clark Kent separate from the "evil" Superman to fight him.
  • Genius Book Club: Lorelei appears to be a standard Dumb Blonde. However, while alone she reads Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and disputes one of its arguments, thus showing her stupidity is a facade she puts on to manipulate others.
  • Good Is Impotent: Clark takes quite a beating from the "evil" Superman, at least for a while.
    • Beware the Nice Ones: ..right up until Clark decides he's had enough and beats the hell out of Evil Superman, beginning with exploding out of the side of a trash compactor.
  • Hollywood Acid: "Beltric acid," which becomes super-corrosive if heated up enough. It ends up being a Chekhov's Gun in the final fight against the rogue computer.
  • I Ate What?: Clark Kent and Lana Lang have a picnic out near the wheat fields with her son. Clark tastes what he thinks was good pate that Lana made, only for Lana to point out that it was dog food. Clark still continues to eat it.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Ricky invokes this, though he doesn't fight Supes. It does cause a fight, though.
  • If I Had a Nickel:

Clark: If I had a dime for every kid who asked me to get Superman's autograph...

  • In Name Only: The supercomputer's name is Braniac.
  • Literal Split Personality: Superman gets exposed to some "artificial" Kryptonite that turns him evil, then splits him into an evil Superman and a good Clark Kent.
  • Loves My Alter Ego: Inverted, as Lana Lang becomes romantically interested in Clark Kent as opposed to Superman.
  • Magical Computer: Played for laughs. Even if everything was networked to that extent, getting the green traffic light man to fight the red traffic light man is an impressive feat of hacking.
  • Mirror Match: Clark and the "evil" Superman.
  • Missed Moment of Awesome: A bizarre case. The original theatrical cut only has Gus telling Ross and company what Superman did. The television cut actually shows Superman performing incredible feats. Why this was removed is anyone's guess.
  • New Old Flame
  • No OSHA Compliance: Okay, it's funny when a drunken Superman falls into a giant pit of acid. But the only thing preventing the regular junkyard workers from falling in is the sign that proclaims it to be acid. On ground level, no guard rail, open top...
  • Not of This Earth: Richard Pryor's character does an analysis of kryptonite, and the results indicate that a certain percentage of it is simply "unknown."
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lorelei.
  • Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: Almost. The writer's original name for the film was Superman Vs. Superman: Superman III, which was supposed to be a play on the "Superman Vs. Enemy" format that the comics (supposedly) often employed. However, the producers of Kramer vs. Kramer somehow got the idea that it was supposed to be a rip-off of their film, and threatened to sue the pants off the Salkind Company, resulting in the title being changed to just Superman III.
  • Pac-Man Fever: More literal than usual: Ross fights Superman with a supercomputer... one that is apparently an Atari2600, complete with sound effects lifted directly from that console's execrable version of Pac-Man.
  • Photo Booth Montage: Of Superman, as he changes clothes.
  • Poke the Poodle: The "evil" Superman in Superman III is really more of a superhuman Jerkass; straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa (which is something they've been trying to do for years), tearing a hole in an oil rig, and blowing out the Olympic Torch.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: An Egregious example of this trope. Fighting traffic sign stick figures, anybody?
  • Shout-Out: Office Space has an explicit one, with Gus Gorman's plan being the inspiration for the heroes' criminal scheme.
  • Shrug Take: Used twice:
    • Early in the film, when Superman changes identities in the back seat of an occupied police car, the cop in the front seat notices, but then dismisses it.
    • On a picnic, Clark reacts rather mildly to the announcement that he's eating dog food.
  • Super Dickery: The "evil" Superman isn't really evil -- he's just a dick.
  • Sudden Videogame Moment: The scene where Ross is firing missiles at Superman, specially designed for the film by Atari.
  • Suspicious Spending: After Gus's "shave and collect fractional pennies" scam is discovered, Corrupt Corporate Executive Ross Webster doesn't think there's any way of catching the perpetrator unless he does something really stupid. Immediately, Gus shows up in a fancy sports car far above what he could afford on his salary.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: In addition to what went on with Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman refused to reprise his role of Lex Luthor, also in protest for Donner's dismissal. That's why Robert Vaughn was cast as Ross Webster.
  • Swivel Chair Antics: The programmers in a 80's mainframe center move about by pushing themselves backwards on swivel chairs; despite a two-lane corridor, two of them collide.
  • Throw It In: Reportedly, Richard Pryor was encouraged to ad-lib a lot, but because he was a Superman fan he mostly stuck to the script.
  • Two-Keyed Lock: Used to activate a satellite positioning system.
  • Weather Control Machine: The Vulcan Weather Satellite. Of course...
  • Weather Satellites Do Not Work That Way: They report on the weather, Ross Webster, they don't control it! (This is acknowledged, however, by Ross, who wants Gus to somehow cause them to disrupt it.)
    • Lampshaded in the Mad Magazine parody of the movie. Kinda brave of them, too, considering Mad is owned by the same parent company that made the film.[1]
  1. A fact pointed out in the very same parody in the panel where Superman is fighting the missiles and Lorelei points out that it looks likes an Atari video game (as the parody notes, Warner both released the movie and owns Atari... "And why is Mad publicising this bomberoo and doing a satire of it, as opposed to doing another, more important movie?" "Don't tell me it's because Warner owns them, too? Oh, WOW!")