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Superman III producers debunk trivia about Christopher Reeve's superhero sequel

On the 40th anniversary of Superman III, we spoke to two of its producers to bust some myths about the superhero sequel

Prod DB © Dovemead Films / DR SUPERMAN III (SUPERMAN 3) (SUPERMAN III) de Richard Lester 1983 USA avec Christopher Reeve et Richard Pryor d'après la bande dessinée (BD) comics creee par Jerome Siegel et Joe Shuster
Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor in 1983's Superman III. (Alamy)

1983's Superman III is a movie that splits opinion – mostly depending on your age when it came out. If you were over 18, it’s clearly a lesser film than the first two — both bona fide classics — with a campier tone and not enough of Christopher Reeve as Supes.

If, however, you were younger, it’s an enjoyable romp with a heap of memorable elements: Superman going bad, Superman fighting with Clark Kent, Pamela Stephenson’s sexy henchwoman, Richard Pryor zingers and perhaps most importantly of all, that bit where one of the baddies gets, well, eaten by a super-computer and turns into an android.

The latter moment, in particular, haunted many dreams and remains just as effective to this day, probably because you’re seeing a human covered in practical effects rather than a CGI creation.

Read more: Ten actors who nearly played Superman

It's also a film with an interesting backstory and several myths attached. Yahoo UK asked its executive producer Ilya Salkind and producer Pierre Spengler to clear three of them up for us.

Was Tony Danza cast as Superman briefly when Christopher Reeve dropped out?

TAXI, Tony Danza, 1978-1983, (c)Paramount. Courtesy: Everett Collection
Tony Danza starred in Taxi, before being linked with playing Superman. (Everett/Alamy)

This is one of the biggest stories about the project online, that TV comedy star Tony Danza was hit up by the filmmakers to take over from Reeve when the star decided he wanted out.

“This is bulls***,” says Spengler.

“Theoretically, Christopher had a contract for seven pictures. But as we all know you can bring the horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. He in the meantime had engaged a lawyer, who was also Richard Donner’s lawyer.

Superman III Year 1983 Director Richard Lester Christopher Reeve Based upon Jerry Siegel s and Joe Shuster s comic strip
Christopher Reeve as Superman in 1983's Superman III. (Alamy)

"He was a notoriously tough and difficult lawyer. He took a look at the agreement we had for seven pictures and tried to find holes in it… For Superman III there was a renegotiation of that original agreement, but it was a negotiation where both parties knew they had to agree something.”

“I don’t know where that came from,” agrees Salkind.

Read more: What you need to know about James Gunn's Superman reboot

“Never did I cast Tony Danza. I wanted Chris Reeve and he was willing to do it. I actually met [him] in New York with the script of Superman III and he liked it.”

Did the original Superman III script include Supergirl, Braniac, and Mxyzptlk — played by Dudley Moore?

Promotional shot of actress Helen Slater as she appears in the movie 'Supergirl', 1984. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
Helen Slater in 1984's Supergirl. (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

“I wrote an outline in ’82 I guess, and in the outline there was Supergirl and Brainiac and there was Mxyzptlk,” says Salkind.

“The only thing that ended up in the film was Superman becoming bad. Brainiac made him become bad and that ended up in the film. Warner Bros. kept a very strong influence and they rejected a lot of the stuff from my treatment."

Actor Dudley Moore in a scene from the film 'Santa Claus', 1985. (Photo by Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)
Dudley Moore in 1985's Santa Claus: The Movie. (Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images)

Was Moore ever considered?

“I’m sure that I would have convinced Warners to go with Dudley Moore then,” says Salkind, who later cast the British comic in Santa Claus: The Movie.

“I think he would have been cast, so perhaps I didn’t speak to him.”

Was Richard Pryor cast because he said he liked Superman on The Tonight Show?

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Comedian/actor Richard Pryor, host Johnny Carson on February 9, 1983 -- (Photo by: Frank Carroll/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Richard Pryor on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1983. (Getty Images)

“[He] said, 'boy I love Superman', or something like that,” admits Salkind. “That gave us the idea to go to him and get him in the film. That might be one of the reasons where the film… perhaps there was a little too much Richard Pryor, perhaps that was possible.”

“I guess casting Richard Pryor influenced the writers to try and find something where he would fit,” adds Spengler.

Read more: Richard Donner was not a fan 'bleak and angry' superhero movies

“The fact of having Richard Pryor as comic relief and [Superman] being evil was very interesting filmically, but probably for the core audience, [they didn’t like it].

“The sequel was not as successful as the first or the second, probably because of us trying to be too smart and not delivering to the audience basically the same movie as the first two. It’s something which we’ve analysed since.

"If you look at a series like Rocky, you’ve got five times the same movie, basically and the audience is happy with that.”

SUPERMAN III, US poster, Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, 1983. © Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
Richard Pryor and Christopher Reeve on the poster for Superman III. (Everett Collection/Alamy)

Despite its ups and down, Superman III — which premiered at the Reagan White House — was still a big hit and was followed by 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace which did finish off the Reeve era.

Salkind managed to bring Supergirl to the screen anyway in the eponymous 1984 film starring Helen Slater.

How close did Superman V come to happening?

The Christopher Reeve Superman movies were the very definition of diminishing returns. After 1987's cut price Superman IV turned out to be a non-starter at the box office, plans for a fifth film never came to fruition.

Take our quiz: How much do you know about Superman?

"Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish. That failure was a huge blow to my career," Reeve later said.

However, despite never taking flight, a script was indeed written, with a classic villain back in the frame to appear.

“There’s been a script actually written,” reveals Spengler. “There was Brainiac in there. It was quite an interesting script that never came to pass.”

Superman III is available to rent or buy on digital.