Superman II is a 1980 superhero film directed by Richard Lester. It is a direct sequel to the 1978 film Superman and stars Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Ned Beatty, Sarah Douglas, Margot Kidder, and Jack O'Halloran. The film was released in Australia and mainland Europe on December 4, 1980, and in other countries throughout 1981. Selected premiere engagements of Superman II were presented in Megasound, a high-impact surround sound system similar to Sensurround.
Superman II is notably infamous for its complicated production. The original director Richard Donner had completed, by his estimation, roughly 75% of the movie in 1977 before being taken off the project. Many of the scenes were shot by second director Richard Lester, who had been an uncredited producer on the first film. However, in order to receive full director's credit, Lester had to shoot up to 51% of the film which included refilming several sequences originally filmed by Donner. According to statements made by Donner, roughly 25% of the theatrical cut of Superman II contains footage he shot, including all of Gene Hackman's scenes. In 2006, a re-cut of the film was released titled Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut. The new version restores as much of Donner's original conception as possible, with approximately 83% of his footage included. Some of Lester's theatrical footage was retained to fill-in gaps in the story line that Donner had not been able to film before his firing.
Prior to the destruction of Krypton, the criminals General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) are sentenced by Jor-El to banishment into the Phantom Zone for insurrection, among other crimes. After traveling through the galaxy for thirty years, the Phantom Zone is shattered near Earth by the shockwave from the harmless detonation of ahydrogen bomb, which had been launched into space by Superman (Christopher Reeve) after foiling a terrorist plot to blow up Paris. The three Kryptonian criminals are freed from the Zone, finding themselves with super-powers granted by the yellow light of Earth's sun. After attacking human astronauts on the Moon and the small town of East Houston, Idaho (which they mistake as being capital city of "Planet Houston" due to NASA's transmissions), the three travel to the White House and force the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) to surrender to Zod on behalf of the entire planet during an international television broadcast. When the President pleads for Superman to save the Earth, Zod recognizes Superman as "the son of our jailer" and vengefully demands that Superman come and "kneel before Zod!".
Meanwhile, the Daily Planet sends Clark Kent and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) to Niagara Falls. Lois becomes suspicious that Clark is Superman and tries to lure him into revealing his identity by throwing herself into the Falls, but Clark manages to save her with subtle use of his powers. That night, Clark accidentally falls into the room's fireplace when trying to recover Lois' fallen hairbrush; when Lois discovers his hand is unburned, Clark is forced to admit he is Superman. He takes her to his Fortress of Solitude near the North Pole and shows her the traces of his past stored in the energy crystals of the Fortress, one of which is the green crystal that created the Fortress and opened Superman's contact with his parents. Superman decides to transform himself into a human by exposing himself to Red Kryptonian sunlight in a crystal chamber, giving up his powers to become romantically closer to Lois despite the pleas of the artificial intelligence of his mother, Lara. After spending the night together, the two return to populated areas by automobile, and learn of Zod's conquest of the world. Realizing that humanity cannot fight Zod themselves, Clark decides to return to the Fortress to try to reverse the transformation.
Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), who has escaped from prison, finds and infiltrates the Fortress before Superman and Lois arrive, learning of Superman's connection to Jor-El and General Zod. He offers to lead Zod to Jor-El's son in exchange for control of Australia. The three Kryptonians form an alliance with Luthor and go to the offices of the Daily Planet where they abduct Lois. Superman arrives, after having found the green crystal and reversing the transformation process, and battles the three in Metropolis. Zod realizes Superman cares for the innocent humans, and takes advantage of this weakness by threatening bystanders. To protect the city, Superman flies off towards his Fortress, but Zod, Ursa, and Non pursue, carrying Lois and Luthor (who guides them to the Fortress) follow him. Upon arrival, Zod declares Luthor has outlived his usefulness and plans to kill both him and Superman. Superman tries to get Luthor to lure the three into the crystal chamber to depower them, but Luthor, eager to get back in Zod's favor, reveals the chamber's secret to the villains. Zod forces Superman to seemingly again undergo the process, only to realize too late that Superman, fully expecting Luthor's treachery, had already altered the process to expose everyone outside the chamber to the red light, removing the Kryptonian criminals' powers while leaving his own intact. After easily defeating the trio, Superman returns Luthor to the authorities and flies Lois to her home.
At the Daily Planet the following day, Clark finds Lois upset about knowing his secret. He then kisses her, using his abilities to wipe her mind of her knowledge of the past few days. Later, Clark has a rematch with the truck driver who beat him up earlier and, as Superman, restores the damage done by Zod, replacing the flag on top of the White House.
Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent / Superman: Born on Krypton and raised on Earth, Superman is a being of immense strength, speed and power. Morally upstanding and instilled with a strong sense of duty, Superman tirelessly uses his formidable powers, which he gets from the Earth's yellow sun, to protect the people of his adoptive homeworld. His alter ego is mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. Superman's abilities include: X-ray and heat vision, vast strength, speed and invulnerability, super-intelligence, flight and the hitherto unknown ability to throw the 'S' symbol from his costume as a plastic trapping device of some description.
- Margot Kidder as Lois Lane: The beautiful, sexy, feisty, and intelligent ace reporter for the Daily Planet and Superman's love interest. Lois, who is madly in love with Superman, is a driven career journalist who lets nothing stand in the way of breaking the next big story and scooping rival reporters while ignoring the potential consequences that sometimes put her in peril. She finds out that Clark is Superman, but her memory is erased when Clark kisses her.
- Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor: Evil criminal genius and Superman's arch-nemesis. Armed with vast resources and scientific brilliance, Luthor's contempt for mankind is only surpassed by his hatred for Superman. Luthor strikes a bargain with the three Kryptonian criminals in an effort to destroy Superman.
- Ned Beatty as Otis: Luthor's incompetent henchman.
- Jackie Cooper as Perry White: Mercurial editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet newspaper and Lois and Clark's boss.
- Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen: Teenaged photographer at the Daily Planet.
- Terence Stamp as General Zod: The ruthless, arrogant and megalomaniacal leader of three Kryptonian criminals banished to the Phantom Zone and unwittingly set free by Superman. Zod, upon landing on Earth and gaining the same super powers as Superman, immediately views humans as a weak and insignificant sub-species and imposes his evil will for world dominance. However, his arrogance causes him to quickly become bored with his powers and he is almost disappointed at how little of a challenge humans are. His insatiable lust for power is replaced however by revenge when he learns that the son of Jor-El stands in the way of his absolute rule of the planet.
- Sarah Douglas as Ursa: Zod's second-in-command and consort. Ursa's evil will and power-lust are equal to and sometimes surpass those of General Zod himself. Her contempt and utter disregard for humans as well as her twisted taste for wanton destruction make her a deadly adversary. She has an inclination to collect insignia and heraldry from people she defeats or dominates, such as the NASA patch on an astronaut's EVA suit, or police badges.
- Jack O'Halloran as Non: The third of the Kryptonian criminals, Non is "as without thought as he is without voice." At 7 ft (2.1 m) tall, Non is a formidable hulking mute, who easily matches Superman's strength but has the intelligence and sometimes curiosity of a child and communicates only with guttural grunts and growls. Though he lacks the mental ability to use his powers effectively, he does however possess the same taste for destruction as his Kryptonian companions.
- Valerie Perrine as Eve Teschmacher: Lex Luthor's beautiful assistant and girlfriend.
- Susannah York as Lara: Jor-El's wife and Superman's biological mother.
- E. G. Marshall as the President of the United States.
Gene Hackman, Valerie Perrine, Ned Beatty, E. G. Marshall, and Marlon Brando are the only actors who didn't participate in the film's reshoots. Their scenes in Lester's version (with the exception of Brando) were sourced from Richard Donner's original shoot. Where additional shots were needed for continuity, Lester used body doubles in place of the original actors. Marlon Brando's scenes were excised entirely, due to the high fee the actor had demanded for the use of his footage in the film.
In the 2006 documentary You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (included in the DVD set Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition), Sarah Douglas says she was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the movie, as she was one of the few actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner/Lester controversy.
Richard Donner briefly appears in a "walking cameo" in the film. In the sequence where the de-powered Clark and Lois are seen approaching the truck-stop diner by car, Donner appears walking "camera left" past the driver's side. He is wearing a light tan jacket and appears to be smoking a pipe. In his commentary for Superman II, Ilya Salkind states that the inclusion of his cameo in that scene is proof that the Salkinds held no animosity towards Donner, because if there were, then surely they would have cut it out. Conversely, Donner has used his inclusion in the scene to debunk praise heaped on Lester around the release of the film where Lester took credit for the intense nature of the "bully" scene in the diner, pointing out that he (Donner) filmed the scene and not Lester.