That was a pretty super weekend for Superman. Man of Steel opened in theaters, and took in $125 million in its first few days of business. That’s leaps and bounds better than what happened exactly 30 years ago today on June 17, 1983 when the crime-fighting alien suffered his darkest hour. I’m speaking, of course, about the release of Superman III, which is not only the worst Superman movie, but could also be considered the worst threequel, and arguably the worst superhero movie of all-time (although the 1990 version of Captain America with Ned Beatty might have something to say about that).
How horrific is Superman III? Allow me to describe the movie’s first scene: Some perv walks into a pole while staring at a hot blonde. Which is immediately followed by a rollerskater stumbling into a hot dog cart and pushing said cart into three telephone booths which topple like dominoes. Then a blind guy mistakes a road marking machine for his seeing eye dog and starts painting yellow circles all over the street before knocking someone into a hole and then stepping on his head, Mr. Magoo style. Oh, and then he runs face first into a tree. A paint bucket then falls onto the head of a bald man who in turn spills a gumball machine, with the escaped gumballs causing a mime—yes, a mime—to wipeout multiple times. At this point the blind guy returns and walks through a painting. How does this whole incident end? Exactly how you would expect it to end: with Clark Kent (poor Christopher Reeve) shoving a pie into some dude’s face. It’s quite possibly the most horrendous opening to any movie ever. And, yet, the best part about Superman III.
While the first two Superman movies with Reeve were campy to be sure — General Zod looks like he’s dressed for a night out at Studio 54 — the laughs complimented the action. In Superman III, director Richard Lester went completely for chuckles over knuckles, so the movie was impossible to take seriously on pretty much any level whatsoever. How impossible? Exhibit A: At one point Superman eats dog food…and likes it!. Exhibit B: Richard Pryor skis down the side of a skyscraper while wearing a pink tablecloth. I swear I did not just make that up.
Ah, Richard Pryor. A comedic legend. On one hand, you almost can’t blame the producers for trying to take advantage of his talents as a baddie who creates a form of Kryptonite that turns Superman into a full-on jerk—causing our hero to do such jerky things as unleaning the Leaning Tower of Pisa (or at least a cheesy backdrop painting representation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa), blowing out the Olympic relay torch, and getting wasted in a dive bar. But after watching the film, you realize there is plenty of blame to go around. Poor Christopher Reeve. He tries his best to make the scene work in which a fully dressed Clark Kent magically steps out of evil Superman’s body so that they can do battle with each other in a junkyard, but in case you missed the middle part of this sentence, it features a fully dressed Clark Kent magically stepping out of Evil Superman’s body so that they can do battle with each other in a junkyard!
He (and we) are finally put out of our misery when Superman defeats a giant computer with what appears to be strawberry Jell-O, and then awkwardly gives his enemy Richard Pryor a bro-shake and a job recommendation. Which, of course, makes complete sense. Here’s my recommendation. Go watch Superman III immediately. If for no other reason than it will make you appreciate how completely un-terrible Man of Steel really is.
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