Richard Donner will always be remembered as the director who made us believe that a man could fly with 1978's Superman and who, unintentionally, ushered in the modern era of superhero films. The affable 81-year-old Hollywood legend has directed big Hollywood movies like The Omen, The Goonies and all four of the Lethal Weapon movies, but somehow the conversation always circles back to the Man of Steel, which is fine with Donner.
Warner Bros. just released Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology on Blu-ray which contains both the theatrical and Expanded Edition of Donner's original, the theatrical and long-awaited Donner Cut of Superman II, plus Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and the more recent Superman Returns. The super eight-disc set contains over 20 hours of bonus features, including documentaries, TV specials, filmmaker commentaries and much more.
We sat down for a short chat with Donner as he spoke candidly about all things Superman and the impact Krypton's finest has had on his life.
Movies.com: Superman: The Motion Picture Anthology contains an extended cut of the original Superman. Would you consider that to be your director's cut?
Donner: The cut that is called the "Expanded Edition" is somebody else's. The theatrical cut is my cut. The producers sold the movie to a network and a deal was made to extend the cut with the network because the longer the film, the more money they got. That is how it was explained to me over the years.
Movies.com: Why does the 2006 Richard Donner Cut of Superman II have almost the same ending as the original Superman?
Donner: When I did the first film and part of the second film with Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman, we had to stop the second—we were going to come back—and I had to devote my time to completing the first one to be ready for theaters. We had a lot of Superman II in the can and we decided that we weren't happy with the original end of Superman, so we said, "Let's steal from II and make that work." We thought we'd make a new ending work for Superman II. But the producers decided that I was not needed to make II and they had a Superman without an ending, and I, in turn, could not go back when I got the good fortune to make my cut—Marlon was gone, Chris was gone. There was no way to add footage, so we left it as it was originally meant to be.
Movies.com: What are your opinions on Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace?
Donner: Here we go. [pause] I don't understand what they were doing. It was a great opportunity to continue the saga, and they chose not to. I can't tell you why.
Movies.com: Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, in terms of spirit and style, really seems like an extension of the first two movies that you did. How much did he consult with you?
Donner: He called me and said, "I've been given the opportunity to make another Superman. Can I have your blessing?" I said, "Go for it." He never consulted me after that and when I saw it in theater and that young boy stopped the piano from sliding, I said, "My God, he's made Margot and Chris have a child!" I was thunderstruck and I thought he did an exceptional job.
Movies.com: If business matters would have worked out differently, do you think you would have directed more Superman movies with Christopher Reeve or were you done after two?
Donner: Oh no, not at all. As a matter of fact, [screenwriter] Tom Mankiewicz and I had outlines for four films. In my mind he would direct them and I would produce them, and we would have kept the saga going. We had a good handle on what to do at the time. I was very anxious to keep Supe-y alive.
Movies.com: You finally got your Donner Cut of Superman II in 2006 years after Richard Lester had completed the version originally shown in theaters. Have you ever been tempted to further tinker with the special effects of any of your films like George Lucas has done with Star Wars?
Donner: No. You know, George is a genius and has his own operation, but Superman is done by my standards. I don't know why one would want to tinker with those effects. It would be extraordinarily difficult because those were all done the old-fashioned way, so it never enters my mind. I would like to go back and remake every movie I ever made, but it's not to be, so you look at what you have and cringe and love. It's a tough road.
Movies.com: Director Zack Snyder is now casting his Man of Steel movie and continuing Superman's film legacy. Have you met Zack and talked to him about Superman at all?
Donner: No. My number is in the phone book, but I never had the opportunity. You know what? It's probably rightly so. He's a director, he has his own handle on this thing and where he wants to go with it, so that's probably what should happen. I sure would like to see it when it comes out because Superman was a big part of my life.
Movies.com: If you had the opportunity to direct a sequel to any of your movies, which one would you pick and why?
Donner: What a question! I don't know. We sequelized the Lethal Weapons, but I don't know why I would want to even get involved. Maybe there is a possibility for The Goonies. We didn't try very hard to do one—we couldn't do the screenplay, and hopefully that means it lays where it lays. I'm kicking butt to try to make a Goonies musical happen, though. I think it will be gigantic and so entertaining.
Movies.com: Superman is considered the first superhero film of the modern era and now we have new superhero movies every year. Do you ever look at the long list of superhero movies made since then and think, what have I started? Are you a fan of any other superhero series?
Donner: I think some of it is magnificent and some is gratuitous. My wife [Lauren Shuler Donner] is the producer of X-Men, and I love what she's done with it. She's worked so hard to keep character drive in that, and I think that's been the success of the series.
I wish them all luck…that thing I made was a long time ago. If I started something, super duper!