And it could have been even worse. Indeed, Richard Donner himself once complained about what might have been the worst, most whimsical gag in a Superman movie. It seems that multiple screenwriters and producers wanted “Superman” to be more broadly slapstick than it was, and someone actually thought to include a cameo from actor Telly Savalas, reprising his role from the hit 1978 detective show “Kojak.” Yes, Savalas was to include his signature catchphrase. Wisely, the gag was written out. In Reeve’s words:
“In the first draft of ‘Superman’ was a scene in which Superman sees a bald man walking down the street. Thinking it’s Lex Luthor he swoops down to collar him and take him away. But it’s Telly Savalas, who says, ‘Who loves ya, baby?’ to the startled Superman and offers him a lollipop. This was the kind of inane material that Dick Donner got rid of immediately.”
Adapting Superman into a feature film seems weirdly difficult. Donner managed to make two excellent Superman movies in 1978 and in 1980 (Donner’s intended version of “Superman II” was mostly salvaged for an eventual DVD release), but it has largely been downhill ever since. “Superman III” was silly, and the Cannon Group-produced “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” was unbearably cheap. Tim Burton was infamously unable to make his “Superman Lives,” while Bryan Singer’s 2006 homage-sequel “Superman Returns” was more a monument than a film. Later, Zack Snyder’s 2013 Superman film “Man of Steel” was clunky, overwrought, destructive, and nearly unbearable, often using florid prose to cover its overall aesthetic shallowness.
Another great Superman movie might be made someday, but the world is still waiting.