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Film / Superman III

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"I ask you to kill Superman, and you're telling me you couldn't even do that one simple thing." *mic drop*
Ross Webster

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 actress, 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, an idiot-savant whose hacker talents are co-opted by the sinister executive Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) when caught skimming from the payroll. Thus blackmailed, initially Gus willingly helps the forces of evil — turning Superman evil with faux-Kryptonite and designing a supercomputer that could be used to conquer the planet. But he eventually relents and assists Superman, who's managed to conquer his dark side, in destroying it.

Superman III was directed by Richard Lester (best known for directing A Hard Day's Night and Help!), who completed Superman II after Richard Donner was canned following a litany of disagreements with the producers, and its emphasis on comedy was (and still is) derided in some circles — although this discontent has more to do with the acrimony going on behind the scenes. A very serious 'duel' between Superman and his Clark Kent personality (as the hero literally grapples with his darker nature) is widely considered one of the finest moments from the film series. Richard Pryor's performance is also a polarizing affair, as he was an avowed fan of Superman and tried his best to do the film justice (because if unnecessary comic relief is going to be shoehorned into a film at all, it might as well be left to an actual comedian).

Perhaps the biggest impact on canon was the reinvention of Lana Lang and Superman's relationship. In the comics Lana had been a prominent supporting character for over three decades by this point but she had essentially been a redhaired, teenage version of Lois (in the Superboy stories) or an adult version of same in the Superman stories (she's a glamorous cable news reporter). The movie repainted her as a Girl Next Door from Clark's past who was more interested in him than his superpowered alter-ego, essentially turning her into the Betty to Lois's Veronica. Most stories since have followed this interpretation of the character.

This film contains examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: One of the other students in Gus's computer class asks about programming two bilaterial coordinates at the same time. The instructor declares this to be impossible. Gus shows the instructor that he just did it.
    • Ross orders Gus Gorman to find out the chemical formula for kryptonite so he can synthesize some to kill Superman. Gus manages to use a satellite to get a list of all of the elements in kryptonite except for one unknown to current science. Looking for inspiration, he reads the tar content on his package of cigarettes, and decides that since tar in cigarettes isn't healthy, it would probably be bad in synthetic kryptonite too, so he substitutes tar as the missing element. Even though the synthetic Kryptonite doesn't have the intended effect of killing Superman, it turns him into a trouble-making super-jerk and stops him from interfering with their plans regardless.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Webster's supercomputer gets a little out of control.
  • Affably Evil: Ross Webster
  • All-Natural Gem Polish: Superman crushes a lump of coal into a large, perfectly faceted diamond.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization reveals the reason why Gus skied off Webster's roof; Vera had hosed the snow with water to make ice earlier, although she had been hoping Lorelai would take the plunge instead.
  • Anti-Villain: Gus. He's not vindictive nor does he covet power. He just got caught up in his own scheme to take that money.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Bermuda is north of the Caribbean, Lois. The Bahamas is about as far north as the Caribbean gets.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Gus being able to ski down the side of the angled glass roof after taking a flying leap off Webster's skyscraper gets him out of Not the Fall That Kills You…, but in reality he was going so fast that he should have plummeted right through the glass. Now, had he angled his skis up, he might have generated enough resistance to slow his fall (which is what ski jumpers do).
  • Badass Boast: Coming from Clark, of all people...
    (To an evil Superman) I can give as good as I get!
  • Batman Gambit: Gus pulls this on Brad, pretending to be a liquor salesman, then getting him so drunk he passes out and allows Gus access to WheatKing's computer.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: A common theme throughout the franchise (i.e. the bully at Don's diner) with Clark; this movie's highlights: the sneeze at the bowling alley (Clark did it to help Ricky); the junkyard fight; and Brad's poor attempt at assaulting Clark (Clark even props one of those folding hotel beds up to trip up Brad).
  • Beware the Superman: When Superman gets drunk, and starts flicking beer nuts at supersonic speed and melting the mirror with his heat vision, it's pretty obvious he's one hair away from going from Superdick to nasty villain.
  • Big Blackout: Caused by the Supercomputer.
  • Blind Mistake: Some slapstick arises in the opening scene when a blind man loses his guide dog.
  • 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'... let's leave it at that.
    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?note 
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs:
    Gus: I don't want to go to jail because there are robbers and rapers and rapers who rape robbers!
  • Brick Joke: Superman re-leaning The Leaning Tower of Pisa then the angry Italian man again smashing the Leaning Tower replicas.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Ross and Vera Webster.
  • Burger Fool: One of Gus' previously failed employments was in a burger joint which lasted 28 minutes. Apparently Gus couldn't cope with the many demands on each customer's orders (Some cheese but no sauce, some sauce but no cheese, ketchup not relish, relish not mayonnaise, etc.).
  • The Cameo: Frank Oz appears as a doctor about to perform brain surgery in an alternate scene shown during the extended TV cut.
  • Canon Discontinuity: When Superman Returns was released, this film, alongside Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Supergirl, were completely ignored. However, when the Superman Returns version of the character made a guest appearance in the Arrowverse version of Crisis on Infinite Earths (2019), he does mention he went evil and fought himself once, which is shown in this movie.
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • Black Kryptonite was introduced into comic-book continuity in 2005 storyline Girl Power. Smallville and Supergirl (2015) also reimagine red Kryptonite as having "make you evil" effects on Kryptonians, similar to the synthetic green Kryptonite in this film. Effectively, the synthetic Kryptonite here resulted in black Kryptonite (splits someone into good and evil halves) and modern red Kryptonite (makes a Kryptonian a titanic jerk).
    • The idea of Brainiac, the name of Gus' supercomputer, being a case of A.I. Is a Crapshoot and turning against its master would be introduced in Superman: The Animated Series.
  • The Casanova: When Superman put the moves on Lana, that was the first hint that something was wrong with him.
  • Character Development:
    • Clark seems much more confident than in the previous two pictures.
    • Lana rekindles her relationship with Clark, which eventually leads her to getting out of Smallville and away from Brad.
    • Gus initially submits to Ross' blackmailing and does his dirty work, but eventually, realizing Ross needs his skills too badly to follow through on his threats, bargains with him to get the supercomputer built. When he becomes aware of how badly others are suffering thanks to the engineered oil shortage he begins feeling guilty, and when he realizes the supercomputer will actually manage to kill Superman, he makes a Heel–Face Turn to stop it.
  • Chekhov's Gun: "Beltric acid" (see Hollywood Acid, below).
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Lana Lang, who is hired by the Daily Planet at the end of the film, doesn't appear in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and Lana's absence isn't mentioned or explained.
    • In an ironic shout-out, Gavin O'Herlihy, who played the first Chuck Cunningham on Happy Days, appears in the film as Brad Wilson, whose only other appearance was a minor role in the first movie as a teenager, played by Brad Flock.
  • Class Reunion: The reason for Clark's return to Smallville.
  • The Comically Serious: Vera
  • Contrived Clumsiness: Clark spills an ashtray on himself then pretends to sneeze, so as to "quietly" help little Ricky with his bowling. He kinda overdoes it; see Unusually Uninteresting Sight, below.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Ross Webster, in a manner almost prophetic of how Post-Crisis Lex Luthor would be portrayed.
  • The Cracker: Gus is 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 Soul: Vera is turned into an evil cyborg by Gus's computer.
  • 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 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.
  • Denser and Wackier: This movie is considered the campiest of the series with divisive effects on the fan base.
  • Description Cut: The Websters discover that someone has skimmed a lot of money from Webscoe through computer hacking, but Ross says they won't find out who because anyone who did such a thing would keep quiet about and not draw attention to themselves "unless they were a complete and utter moron". Loud music out in the parking lot heralds the arrival of a complete and utter moron in his new Ferrari.
  • Digital Head Swap: Pre-CGI example: In the junkyard fight, Clark's head was matted onto a double's body when Superman grabs Clark ("You always wanted to fly, Kent") and tosses him in a pile of junk. Later, the same is done with Superman's head at the end of the fight.
  • Disaster Dominoes: The title sequence follows wacky trouble breaking out on the sidewalks of Metropolis.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: The cause of the Disaster Dominoes was Lorelei walking by. Speaking of which, Jimmy took way too many pictures of her, according to Perry.
  • Down in the Dumps: Superman's good self vs. evil self fight with himself takes place in a junkyard, with the evil self almost coming out on top by putting his good self into a crusher before his good self busts out in a rage and permanently subdues his evil self.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Superman arrived too late to save a diesel rig from falling over the bridge and killing the driver, he starts committing acts of petty vandalism and goes on a drinking binge, where he flicks peanuts into the bottles and drink glasses, warping the mirror with his heat vision.
  • 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.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Black Kryptonite wouldn't appear again until Supergirl (2005).
  • Easily Forgiven: Gus spends a good portion of the film stealing or as an active accomplice to the attempted murder of Earth's most noble protector, but is easily forgiven in the end after his Heel–Face Turn. Given that he's played by Richard Pryor, the audience is never really expected to see him as a villain.
  • Eating Pet Food: 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.
  • 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.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: None of the villains care that Gus is black, with Ross in particular seeing him as a valuable ally. Even Vera, the one most skeptical of and hostile towards him, never brings up his race.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Lorelei clearly didn't want Superman to die and is horrified when Gus is knocked out by the Supercomputer. She also seems unnerved by Ross' oil scheme.
  • 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.
  • Expospeak Gag: At the computer site, Vera starts barking orders about power coordinates and defensive systems. Lorelei just answers:
    In other words, push this red button.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Superman, thanks to synthetic kryptonite.
  • Foreshadowing: When Vera starts ranting over the stolen money, Ross tells her to get ahold of herself, muttering to himself no-one else ever will. Later, the supercomputer gets ahold of her and transforms her into a cyborg.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Only a placard on Gus' computer reveals its name: Brainiac.
    • Apparently, the key to running two functions simultaneously is to run a BASIC program that has a lot of PRINT statements.note 
    • The computer programming school's phone number is "Metropolis 12345678". At least it's easy to remember... with eight digits.
  • Funny Background Event: Sort of. Clark slams a car door on Gus as he arrives in Smallville and quickly apologizes. Seems nobody noticed Gus's grimacing in pain.
  • Future Loser: In the first film, Brad is a Jerk Jock who bullies Clark while moving in on Lana. By this movie, he's now a pathetic drunk working a security job (which he does poorly) while trying to cling on to his past glory and rekindle his relationship with Lana. She doesn't bite, and takes Clark's offer for a job at the Daily Planet.
  • 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.
  • Genius Ditz: Gus is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his computer skills are something else.
  • Going for the Big Scoop: Perry White's been pressuring Jimmy Olsen to keep his eyes peeled for big stories no matter where he goes. So when Jimmy and Clark learn of the chemical plant fire while on their way to Smallville, the former sneaks into the crisis and climbs a firetruck ladder to get some dramatic photos of the blaze. The ladder collapses and he breaks his leg; luckily for him Superman's on the scene to save him from the flames.
  • Good Is Impotent: Clark takes quite a beating from the "evil" Superman, at least for a while...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.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Once the Websters' supercomputer (as stated above, this continuity's counterpart to Brainiac) develops a mind of its own, it becomes the major threat and they cease to be significant as villains.
  • Hack the Traffic Lights: the supercomputer causes the figures in a Walk/Don't Walk sign to animate and fight each other.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Gus, in the climax. He starts to truly regret his alliance with Ross and company when their manufactured oil crisis hurts "the little guy[s]" he used to be one of. When Ross crows that Gus will be "going down in history as the man who killed Superman" thanks to his computer figuring out how to create a pure kryptonite ray, Gus makes his turn and tries to shut it down to save the hero, and when that doesn't work, at least manages to destroy the ray.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Superman, after his Face–Heel Turn. Only Colombia abstained from a UN vote of censure against him (he had saved the country from the hurricane that Gus created by means of the satellite).
  • Hollywood Acid: "Beltric acid" becomes super-corrosive if heated up enough. It ends up being a Chekhov's Gun in the final fight against the rogue computer. There's also a pool full of a different Hollywood Acid, seemingly just because, at the scrapyard where Superman dukes it out with himself.
  • Hollywood Hacking: A very early example of computer hacking. Computers were still so novel that Gus just being able to use a computer is treated as evidence that he's a hacker genius. Regardless, his "hacking" simply involves typing OVERRIDE ALL SECURITY into his computer and then typing his exact desires into it.
  • Hollywood Science
    • Weather satellites report on the weather in real life, but they're used to control it here. Gets made fun of in the MAD parody of the movie. Kinda brave of them, too, considering Mad is owned by the same parent company that made the film.
    • Gus later sends the very same satellite to the former location of Krypton and scans the remains to find out what kryptonite consists of. Apparently the satellite is equipped with a geological spectroscope and an FTL drive, since Krypton is a long way off, and that's assuming they even know where to look.
  • Honey Trap: Lorelei seduces Superdick into poking holes in an oil tanker.
  • Hydrant Geyser: In the opening scene the car hits a fire hydrant and begins filling with water as a result.
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: At the end of the day, Gus and Lorelei are this to the Websters. Lorelei is the one who points out that they can use kryptonite on Superman to the Websters, and also seduces his evil half into doing their bidding. And despite his moments of stupidity and Minion with an F in Evil status, Gus and his computer skills are what allow them to do their plotting in the first place while carrying out some very vital grunt work.
  • "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 Brainiac, but it's no intergalactic collector of worlds.
  • Jekyll & Hyde: After Superman is exposed to the synthetic kryptonite, he starts hitting on Lana, ignores news reports of a jackknifed semitruck hanging on the bridge (which falls over and kills the driver), blows out the Olympic flame, straightens out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, vandalizes an oil tanker ship which leaves the oil spilled on the surface, goes to a bar and flicks the peanuts into the drinking glasses and bottles, and warps the bar mirror with his heat vision. When Ricky tries to snap Superman out of his slump, Superman goes to the junkyard, where he splits into corrupted Superman and Clark Kent emerges from within, representing the good side of Superman. After a grueling fight, Clark defeats the corrupted Superman and makes what he can right again.
  • Karma Houdini: The Disaster Dominoes scene includes a bank robber escaping from the bank's security guards.
  • Kill Sat: Or rather, weather-changing, kryptonite-analyzing, computer-hacking satellite.
  • Knight of Cerebus:
    • While Ross, Lorelei and Vera and their pawn Gus are generally played as comedic villains, the effects of the energy crisis created by Ross' scheme are presented seriously, with long lines, rationing, and even brawling at gas stations.
    • "Evil" Superman's scenes are Played for Drama and creates a Mood Whiplash as seeing Reeve's good-natured Superman becoming a mean-spirited jerk caused by the tobacco-laced kyptonite's influence breaks hearts of fans.
    • In the final showdown, the computer getting the mind of its own and turning Vera into a cyborg also can give viewers nightmares after being given laughs in this movie.
  • Latin Land: This continuity's version of Colombia.
  • Like a Duck Takes to Water: Gus Gorman has no experience as a computer programer at the beginning of the movie, but once he tries it out becomes good enough to embezzle hundreds of thousands and make a computer that is capable of killing Superman, among other things.
  • 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.
  • Made of Iron: Clark, during the junkyard fight, considering who he was up against.
  • 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.
  • Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex: Averted. Superman (while under the influence of the above mentioned "artificial" Kryptonite) has sex with Lorelei. Admittedly it is merely heavily implied rather than outright confirmed. Judging by the scared look on Lorelei when Superman takes advantage, you have to think she was wondering if this Trope applied or not. (Lucky for her, it did not.)
  • Mind-Control Eyes / Monochromatic Eyes: Vera after the supercomputer absorbs her.
  • Mirror Match: Clark and the "evil" Superman.
  • Mood Whiplash: Superman III's first half is Denser and Wackier than the previous films, with loads of zany moments, many of which with Richard Pryor involved. Then, the Evil Superman shows up, and there's still a bit of humor, but it slowly begins to take a back seat. THEN, the supercomputer run by the villains turns on them and horrifically turns Vera into a cyborg.
  • Morality Pet: Ricky becomes this for "evil" Superman.
  • Mundane Utility: Superman crushes a piece of coal in his bare hands to produce a diamond to replace the one in the ring Lana had to pawn off. Some of Supes' acts of Superdickery, like putting out the Olympic flame, breaking liquor bottles by flicking peanuts at them, or melting the bar's mirorred walls with his heat vision.
  • Mythology Gag: As Gus chooses a mule over a balloon as transportation down into the Grand Canyon.
    Gus: I don't believe a man can fly!
  • Never My Fault:
    • Gus during the opening scene, while looking through his employment history.
      • First, the unemployment clerk notes he was fired as a messenger for losing a product. When Gus tries to explain it stolen by a pickpocket, the clerk incredulously reminds him that the lost product was a television set. Gus, again, tries to save face by saying the TV set was "one of them little bitty two-inch screen Japanese jobs".
      • Then, regarding his 28-minute fast food job, he says that people should not expect him to learn all the order demands in one day.
    • During the oil crisis, one car tries to cut in front of another for the gas pump, causing the two cars to crash. Then the man who tried cut in has the gall to start beating the man he tried to cut in front of.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The theatrical trailer for the movie frames the supercomputer as being the cause for most of the movie's plot, including the weather changes that happen in Colombia and Superman turning evil. In actuality, the computer itself is only built during the last third of the movie. The weather changes are caused by a satellite Webster already owns that Gus hacks into, and Superman's corruption happens because of the synthetic Kryptonite, not due to the computer "reprogramming" him.
  • New Old Flame: Basis for this movie's romantic subplot.
  • Nice Guys Finish Last: Brad tried to invoke this on Clark. He ended up unconscious.
  • Noodle Incident: The closing scenes reveal Lois went on an adventure of her own on her vacation, returning with a big story about Caribbean corruption (it all started when a cab driver kidnapped her...).
  • 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: Gus does an analysis of kryptonite, and the results indicate that a certain percentage of it is simply "unknown".
  • Not What It Looks Like: Brad thought Clark was proposing marriage to Lana, and that got him mad.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Lorelei.
    Ross: I've got to get rid of him.
    Vera: Shoot him? You know about him and bullets.
    Lorelei: (not even looking up, matter-of-factly) Kryptonite.
    Vera: ... what?
    Lorelei: (suddenly remembering to act like a Dumb Blonde) Or krypton-ham, or krypton-heimer? I forget what you call it, but it's stuff that can hurt Superman.
  • 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.
  • Offscreen 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. In a movie with Superman's name on the title, you would think that Superman saving an entire country would be directly depicted, not shown in flashback with descriptions or simply recounted verbally by the comedian co-star.
    Gus: Superman's bad!
  • Out-of-Character Alert: What is the first sign that Superman is not well? He blew off an emergency to put the moves on Lana, who doesn't like him that way anyway.
  • Pac Man Fever: More literal than usual: Ross fights Superman with a supercomputer... one that is apparently part Atari ST given the gorgeous graphics... and part Atari 2600, complete with sound effects lifted directly from that console's execrable version of Pac-Man. In this case, Atari themselves created the computerized footage, and made it blockier than they could have on purpose, and were planning to release an Atari 5200 game based on the film. So they probably provided the 2600 Pac-Man sound effects themselves, especially considering that, at the time, Atari, Inc. was owned by DC Comics parent company and Superman film distributor Warner Communications.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": When the company's payroll division asks for Gus to enter the security code to proceed, Gus types "Override all security". And it works.
  • Penny Shaving: After his boss mentions that the computer is tracking amounts of money too small to be displayed, Gus begins his criminal career by instructing a computer he works with to put any amount of money less than a cent into his bank account.
  • Phlebotinum du Jour: Computers, whose presence and potential were just reaching popular imagination. An increasingly silly form of this, the film starts out with Everything Is Online and builds up into "Because computers!"
  • Photo-Booth Montage: Of Superman, as he changes clothes in the opening credit sequence.
  • Poke the Poodle: "Evil" Superman 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 flame. That said; The oil rig bit would be the closest to a genuinely evil act, he caused a freakin' oil spill....which can result in some very dire environmental damage.
  • Product Placement: KFC (multiple references, like the "chicken-in-a-bucket" line), Bloomingdale's (on an invoice), Bacardi (a bottle is seen at the bar where Supes got intoxicated), Johnny Walker (what Supes was drinking at the bar), Ferrari (Gus shows up in one at his computer job after embezzling money to afford it) and Atari (Webster's computer screen). Calgary, Alberta is home to Canada's first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. Gus was fired from a McDonald's as well.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: An egregious example of this trope. Fighting traffic sign stick figures, anybody?
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When Webster and Gus trick the tankers into going into the middle of the Atlantic with forged orders to make an oil embargo, one captain finds this idea baffling and ridiculous and chooses to ignore it and maintain his original course, causing evil Superman to be sent to sabotage his ship. Bonus points as Ross also told Gus to say the orders were irreversible as a means of trying to prevent anyone else from undoing them.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Lorelei tries this just after the computer developed a mind of its own.
  • Shaped Like Itself: "This fire's spreading like wild... fire."
  • Shout-Out:
    • There's one to The Public Enemy (1931) with the husband and wife at the breakfast table after seeing the whopping $176,784.57 department store bill — he smushes a sliced grapefruit into her face.
    • The old teacher Clark chats with at the reunion has the last name Bannister — the credits reveal her full name is Minnie Bannister. Richard Lester, early in his career, directed a few productions featuring Goon Show cast members; one of them, supporting player Graham Stark, plays the blind man in this film's opening sequence.
    • Lorelei does her best Mae West impression when seducing Superman.
      Superman: I hope you don't expect me to save you, 'cause I don't do that anymore.
      Lorelei: I'm long past saving.
    • Lorelei is named after Marilyn Monroe's Genius Ditz character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
  • 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.
  • Siblings in Crime: Ross and Vera Webster work together through their corrupt scheming.
  • Siding with the Suffering: Gus, who's been hired by Webster to hack computers, almost goes through with his plan to kill Superman but when he sees the kryptonite ray is hurting Superman, he slides down the cable to go rescue him.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Gus replaces the "unknown" parts of Kryptonite with cigarette tar. This results in a substance that turns Superman evil.
  • The So-Called Coward: Evil Superman taunted Clark, calling him chicken...
  • Social Engineering: How Gus gets into the WheatKing subsidiary after hours to use their computer. He dresses up in a cheesy suit, pretends to be an alcohol salesman that needs to install a bar for the boss, and gets the lone security guard Brad drunk enough to pass out.
  • Stock Footage: The footage of Superman flying toward the camera to save Ricky was reused in this film when Superman went looking for Ross and company after the junkyard fight.
    • There's also the traditional "flying off into the sunset" shot at the very end of the film.
  • Sudden Videogame Moment: The scene where Ross is firing missiles at Superman, specially designed for the film by Atari (with assistance from an uncredited Pacific Data Images).
  • Superdickery: The "evil" Superman isn't really evil — he's just a dick.
  • Suspicious Spending: After Gus's Penny Shaving 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.
  • 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.
  • Temporary Substitute: Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were both quite vocal in their protests over Richard Donner's firing. As a result, Lois Lane is largely absent with her role going to Lana Lang, while Hackman refused to appear at all, leading to Robert Vaughn appearing as Ross Webster. Both returned for the next movie.
  • Tilting Tower of Pisa: Provides the trope image: as part of the montage of Superman's tainted Kryptonite-induced rampage of Superdickery, he straightens the Leaning Tower, pissing off a poor seller of tower replicas that witnesses it. Supes' final act before the credits roll is to go back to Pisa to re-lean the tower, pissing off the man (who had started to sell replicas of the straightened tower) again.
  • Two-Keyed Lock: Used to boot up a computer system at the Wheat King in Smallville. Gus manages to pull this off with an unconscious Brad serving as the required second person.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Sadly a problem with too many of Richard Pryor's roles at the time. His character here feels like a white writer's parody of his stand-up persona.
  • Unwilling Roboticisation: During the climax, the supercomputer drags Vera Webster into its internals and covers her skin with metal plates amd turning her into a cyberzombie with fritzy hair. However when it is destroyed, she is completly fine and untouched, even her hair returns to it's former immaculate shape.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight:
    • Come on. No one noticed a little boy just shattered 10 bowling pins with an almost supersonic bowling ball? Jesus, Richard Lester. There's comedy and there's breaking the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
    • Clark's costume change in the backseat of a police car during the Smallville fire. Might be a Callback to the office worker in Superman: The Movie.
    • Clark blowing on a wind-up penguin that's caught fire. At least he looked around and did it as surreptitiously as possible.
    • Not to mention all the other cock-a-mamie things going on in the opening sequence, while many people on the street just ignore it and carry on with their own business. (Then again, this is Metropolis, so unless supervillains are knocking over buildings or tossing school buses around, they're not going to let minor stuff distract them from getting to work.)
  • The Vamp: Lorelei
  • Vile Villain, Laughable Lackey: Ross and Gus.
  • Weather-Control Machine: The Vulcan Weather Satellite. Of course...
  • Wetware Body: What Vera becomes to the computer.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Lorelei climbs atop the Statue of Liberty and threatens to jump so she can seduce Superman; in return, she wants him to stop the runaway oil tanker in the middle of the Atlantic.
  • You Are Too Late: Superman doesn't get to the bridge in time to save the driver.


Video Example(s):


Gus Saves Superman

After seeing how the kryptonite ray is hurting Superman, Gus turns against Webster and goes to rescue Superman.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / SidingWithTheSuffering

Media sources: