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Bryan Singer Owns His Mistakes On Superman Returns

The best interviews are always, always the candid ones. It’s rare that you see it in the celebrity world, but sit down and pay attention when it does … because you’re going to learn something.

Bryan Singer recently sat down with VoicesFromKrypton to give a master class in being candid, discussing the cold, hard truths relating to his work on Superman Returns, which is arguably — arguably, commenters — the least of the films in that franchise. It’s not a terribly lengthy interview, but the filmmaker packs quite a lot into it.

“I think that Superman Returns was a bit nostalgic and romantic, and I don’t think that was what people were expecting, especially in the summer,” he said. He also noted that he’d spotted plenty of women in line for The Devil Wears Prada, but very few for comic book movies. “I really do think I was making the film for that Devil Wears Prada audience of women who wouldn’t normally come to a superhero film.”

Ouch. That’s probably going to come back to haunt him at some point. If you’re the one doing the haunting, just remember that he’s the one who admitted it when most would have simply just not spoken up at all.

Singer also adds that his love for the original Superman movie may have been too great, which in turn cast Returns as too much of an homage. “I embraced the comic-ness and made this alternate, bucolic Metropolis. Then there was the music and the whole thing,” he said.

“But I am very much in love with the Donner picture, and for me the journey was exciting because I got the chance to reprise those images and explore it. When you’re fascinated by something and you love it, part of making the movie is trying to please everyone and make a successful movie, but part of it is an experimental kind of thing.”


  • Paul

    Yeah, but the real problem was that it was 1) boring and 2) weird (the Kryptonite, the stalking, the KID for gosh sakes).

    The rest would have been forgivable.

  • tom

    It’d be fine if he understood what the mistakes actually were. Which he doesn’t appear to. Clunky script, lack of imagination, wooden acting, dull set pieces, an unengaging plot (including to the audience he reckons he was trying to appeal to), almost a remake of the original despite purporting to be a sequel to it.

    The cinematography was pretty good. But that was about it…

  • Bere

    Erm, maybe it’s just me but I don’t think he owns up to very much in this interview. All he admits is that he delivered a very different film to what was expected. It’s quite interesting how different the reactions to Supes Returns are on the internet and in the real world, in the case of the former, there is a shocking amount of vitriolic hyperbole. To listen to some people on the internet, you would think he made Batman and Robin. On the other hand outside the net, the consensus seems to be good but not great. I fall in the latter camp and I see exactly what Singer was going for but sadly fell short of. Interesting how fandom seems to be rallying around Brandon Routh, having initially rejected his performance.

  • nailsin

    Exactly right.

  • nailsin

    The failure of Superman Returns was not Brandon Routh’s fault.
    It was a crappy story that wasn’t going to work. So I think
    people wanted to give him another chance but–oh well.

  • Michael Sacal

    “I’ve always felt that the origin of Superman is the story of Moses – the child sent on a ship to fulfill a destiny.”

    Someone who actually gets it. Hallelujah.

    Now if only the annoying, little eager beaver Silver Age fanboys who have been pissing all over Superman over the last decade (Loeb, Waid, Busiek, Johns, etc) showed the same kind of back bone as Singer and admitted their mistakes, that would be great.

  • Matt Spatola

    It is nice to see creators taking an honest and critical eye to their work.

  • AJ Ryan

    I’m not getting the impression that he is owning any mistakes at all.

    This just sounds like excuses for why his movie got such a lukewarm response.

    In fact, he appears to be saying he made it for women and sophisticates, whereas the summer audience was all addle-brained men.

    Where I am from, when you are owning mistakes, you take examples offered by your critics and say “yes, that was a mistake I made.” You don’t however, ignore frequent criticisms and offer up your own reasons that generally excuse you and place the blame on everyone else.

    Here are a few examples of things he could address…

    1. Deceptive trailer that evoked classic imagery of the origin of the character.
    2. An actor chosen primarily for his appearance and resemblance to a previous actor.
    3. Bizarre chronology as a quasi-sequel to Superman 2, ignoring how that film ended.
    4. Explicitly divorcing the character from the US (not just the “all that stuff” line).
    5. Superman abandoning humanity.
    6. Superman having a one night stand with Lois Lane.
    7. Lois immediately starting a relationship with another man based on deception.
    8. An innocent man being deceived into believing he is the father of Superman’s illegitimate son.
    9. Lois planning to marry the man she is lying to about her son.
    10. Lois using her career to defame Superman, showing her as shallow and self-centered.
    11. Superman stalking the people he abandoned.
    12. Languid pacing throughout.
    13. Lois Lane comically flailing around inside a plummeting jet like she was in Airplane!
    14. Lex Luthor being played as an impression of the Gene Hackman character.
    15. Lex Luthor being openly played for laughs.
    16. Lex Luthor having a master plan that is essentially the same as a previous movie.
    17. Making the original movie’s iconic crystal imagery into a forced plot device.
    18. Superman’s son killing a guy.
    19. The dramatic shot of all the wigs.
    20. Superman getting his ass kicked by Kumar.
    21. Superman healing from being stabbed with Kryptonite by flying higher.
    22. Superman lifting an entire continent made of Kryptonite while he has Kryptonite inside him.
    23. Lois Lane using her career to praise Superman because she likes him again.
    24. The laughter inducing scene of doctors trying to give Superman a shot.
    25. An awkward “death of superman” montage forced in to the denouement of the film.
    26. Never resolving the relationship between Lois and Richard.
    27. Superman essentially assuming fatherhood of the son he abandoned and continues to allow another man to raise.

    and the absolute least of all
    28. Byran Singer childishly lashing out at fans for not liking that he changed Superman’s timeless and beloved costume. Its not a big deal, but his bizarre denial just shows how unreceptive the man is to criticism.

  • Michael Sacal

    Lois didn’t lie to Richard. She thought he was the father. Read the prelude comic.

  • Dean Hacker

    I think that SUPERMAN RETURNS is pretty grossly under-rated. It did a nice job expanding on the story of the first two films and progressing those characters. A huge number of the complaints come from the characters doing unexpected things, which is weird to me.

  • Megagearx

    Superman got stronger by flying higher because the suns rays revitalized him. Remember the muscle he made? Superman is powered by solar energy.

  • AJ Ryan


    The idea that I would have to read a cross promotional comic book to get an explanation for something that is central to the plot of the film is ridiculous.

    This is about the movie Bryan Singer made.

    The prelude comic is not part of the movie and it is not my responsibility as an audience member to seek out attempts by other writers to correct problems with the film.

    In the movie Lois is lying to Richard.

  • nailsin

    So Bryan Singer needs a prelude comic to explain one of the biggest plot holes in that film?
    If it’s not on the screen it doesn’t count.

  • Billwalko

    It’s nice that he takes some heat for his “vision”, but he hardly admits to the movie’s biggest failings. I could forgive the nostalgia trip and even some weird plot points. But, bottom line: Singer’s Superman did NOT act heroically. A better man would step aside and let Lois marry Richard White (an upstanding guy, with no powers, arguably more honorable than Superman in this movie! He risks his own life and relationship with Lois to save a weakened Superman via helicopter) But Superman himself? Instead, we get Super-Stalker mopey Superman who fails to do much of anything.

    And then there’s the kid… oh, the kid. There’s no good way out of that one. Lois leave Richard, Superman is a home-wrecker. They kill Richard, cop out. They kill the kid, what was the point? With an eye toward sequels, the set-up with Richard and the kid was VERY poorly thought through.

    Own THAT, Singer, and we’ll talk. :)

  • X-3could’vebeen

    Singer quitting X-3 to make Supes Returns resulted in two very underwhelming and disappointing movies. His setup at the end of X-2 for X-3 would’ve been awesome! According to AintItCoolNews at the time, his leaving the 3rd X-Men movie was solely due the dickhead head of Fox Studios, who kept interfering and cutting the budget.

  • Rick Mease

    I quite liked Superman Returns. I see it’s flaws but other than casting the incredible Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor than having most of his lines be cribbed from the original film these aren’t fatal flaws. Okay, so Luthor’s diabolical plot was almost exactly the same as in the original as well but I liked the approach and loved Routh as both Supes and Clark. I think in hindsight Singer would’ve used a super powered villain and given Lex a break until the sequel but as kid who grew up on the first two films, this was an enjoyable bit of nostalgia that i happily paid full price to see in theaters. I would rather see Singer’s intended follow up than anything Zack Snyder has intended. I will be pleasantly surprised if it’s a film that holds up well to repeat viewings. Really the Dawn of the Dead remake was pretty good and 300 was decent on it’s initial viewing but Watchmen was just awful and Sucker Punch looks like it’s been imagined by a nine-year-old-crack-addict-with-a.d.h.d……and from interviews from the press for that film, I’d say that comes pretty close to a fitting description to this director as well.

  • Laurence DuCheny

    Bryan Singer owns up to nothing. Nothing at all. This is exactly why Comicvine is a better site. This is a deceptive heading for this story.

  • Kmansacool1

    Why not just say ”Okay… I made a stinker of a movie.” niff said

  • JMC

    I agree. All he’s saying is that instead of creating a film that focused on story, characterisation and nostalgia, maybe he should have pandered to the braindead fanboys who keep crapping on about Superman punching someone, and created some kind of shallow Michael Bay-ish film like Transformers or Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3 that was heavy on action and light on practically everything else. But he’s not Michael Bay – thank god.

    But now we have Zach Snyder doing Superman – hopefully Nolan’s influence will stop it from becoming the fanboys wet dream that is Suckerpunch.

  • Shaun

    I’m one of the few people who enjoyed “Superman Returns’. At the least, I think that I “got” what Singer was trying to do and I appreciated the more solemn and serious air around the film. And, quite frankly, to all it the “least” of the Superman franchise (even with the “arguably” thrown in) is ludicrous, particularly when we have Supermans 3 and 4 to choose from. And, let’s face it, the first Superman film was way too campy.

  • Eightiesologist

    “I really do think I was making the film for that Devil Wears Prada audience of women who wouldn’t normally come to a superhero film.”

    Smacks head repeatedly.

    Bryan Singer should lose his geek-cred membership card for nonsense like that.

  • Michael Sacal

    @AJ Ryan, @nailsin

    It really depends on how you look at it.

    Jeff Gomez, of Starlight Runner and formerly of VALIANT, refers to a story that is told on multiple platforms as “transmedia”.

    As I understand it, the basic concept is that every bit that is related to a story is connected to that story to show you the biggest picture possible.

    A recent example would be Tron Legacy, which goes beyond the movie to include video games, the upcoming cartoon, and all the viral material we’ve seen online, ALL of which is part of the same story (i.e all the pieces fit together to form the puzzle, no single piece stands out as uneven).

    That is what the screenwriters of the Superman Returns movie were doing with the comic book preludes, all of which are considered canon with the movie (or so they claimed at the time) to shed a light on what happened to Lois, Lex, Ma, and Clark in the six years that Superman was away from Earth.

    The same people who wrote the movie wrote those comics, so they are considered part of the same story, not promotional items.

  • Michael Sacal

    That wasn’t clear enough in the movie because he didn’t yell out “BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRDMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!”


  • M. G.

    I’m still confused…so Lois doesn’t remember her time with Superman…but now has a kid with superpowers. Hmmm…if I was her I’d be thinking Super-rape…especially with that creep stalking my family.

    Bryan Singer and George Lucas are two guys with no concept of what relationships are truly like.

  • M. G.

    The first Superman film was also good.

    Returns may have lost the camp but it never had a chance at the “good”.

  • Madcattv2

    The movie didn’t completely get everything wrong, I vividly remember holding my breath and getting teary eyed during the airplane rescue. But the ultimate point it lost me was “the super-kid,” besides it not being in character for all involved but story wise it was a dead-end.

  • Cover55555

    I liked the movie. It wasn’t the greatest, but as tribute avoiding the whole dark and gloomy “mature thing.”

  • Educatexan

    You’ve hit on one of the major points of Superman’s life that was totally missed. Superman is Clark Kent who was raised by a salt-of-the-earth couple. Clark is a gentleman. He would NOT have left Earth without telling Lois where he was going. He would not disrespect her with that one-night-stand. He would not be a super-voyeur and I doubt that he would even drink beer in a bar.

  • Nunya

    Still the best Superman movie yet. Lex Luthor doesn’t need a dopey sidekick.

  • Michael Sacal

    In all the discussions of who is real, Clark or Superman, people tend to forget the third person in the equation, Kal-El.

    The Kents didn’t raise Superman since Superman is not a real person, it is an identity Clark Kent creates to be able to use his powers (unless you subscribe to the Silver Age idea of the Kents raising Superbaby, then Superboy, in which case Clark never existed and he’s always been Superman, which is lame).

    The Kents raised Kal-El as Clark Kent the same way that the apes raised John Greystoke as Tarzan.

    As for the rest of your post, you (like everyone else) keeps glossing over the facts established in the Donner movies, of which Singer’s movie is a sequel to.

    In those movies it was very clearly established that it takes three years to travel from Krypton to Earth, meaning that it takes six years to go there and back, which is what Superman did.

    Was it foolish of him to leave that long? I guess it was, specially if one is to believe that, as the movies imply, he is the only superhero in existence (then again, Supergirl was established as taking place in the same continuity//universe as the Donner movies. One would think that if Superman wanted to reconnect with other Kryptonians he would ask Jimmy about Supergirl and make his way to Argo instead of leave Earth for six years… BUT I disgress, heh).

    I’d have to consult the prelude comics to see if Superman told Lois where he was going or not. I’m pretty sure he did.

    As for the “one night stand”, another fact that gets glossed over is the memory-erasing superkiss, which in took place at the end of Donner’s movie and is part of Singer’s canon. Lois has no memory of that one night stand.

  • Jim Ritchey

    I guess one man’s ‘experimentation’ is another man’s ”homage-y, derivative piece o’ crap’.

  • Kurumais

    the only superman movie i thought was good was 2 1 was ok but to me not the masterpiece a lot of folks seem to think it was. ask a bunch of folks what their favorite part of superman was and 9 out 10 will say the otisburg scene. its not a GREAT superman movie when ned beatty steals the show. no offense to ned or gene.

  • chava_aa

    The problem with Singer movie is that it does nothing for the franchise, even an homage should add something valuable to the franchise. The idea of Superman son is poorly developed in the movie since most of the plot is taken by the lois-superman relationship and thats is done better in Donner movies.
    Singer just made a low quality carbon copy of Donner movies, the fact that Lois is married doesnt really changes anything since shes still in love with Superman. Superman way of seing the world doesnt change either even now that he has a son. Lex is same as he was in Donner movies, the clasic mad scientist. The only real interesting character is Richard trying not to loose Lois to Superman.
    The movie has lazyness all over it. I hope the new movie doesnt go down the gloomy road. I do really do think they should use Donner movies as base and evolve from there, same as Nolan used Tim Burton dark vision of Batman and evolved it.

  • Daken616

    The movie was boring. Period.

  • I_Captain Blanco

    Nonetheless, the fact remains that THE MOVIE ITSELF establishes plot and character situations that are not resolved in or explained by the movie. Bad writing.

  • Michael Sacal

    I’d argue that that also depends on how you look at the situation and what parameters you use to judge it with.

    Is it bad writing in the old mold of writing, in which the platform the story originally appears in demands that the plot be resolved within the confines of that platform? Sure.

    Is it bad writing in the “transmedia” mold of writing, in which each platform is a different piece of the puzzle, like the comic preludes and deleted intro showing Kal-El surveying Krypton? Not really, because in transmedia, “everything counts”.

    In the old mold of writing, the purpose of sequels was to answer questions left unanswered by the original, which hasn’t been the case for a while. Now sequels are to cash in, not progress the story.

  • Michael Sacal

    Check the comic prelude. She met Richard not that long after Superman left Earth, so she had good reason to think that the kid was his.

    It is odd that she didn’t wonder how he could have had superpowers if she doesn’t recall sleeping with Superman.

  • Jacob

    :| pffffft XD I lol’d.

  • kalorama

    Superman’ Returns “arguably the least of the films in the franchise”? Not unless someone spun the Earth backwards on its axis to reverse time and eliminated Quest For Peace from the timeline.

  • JMC

    And I bet you just absolutely loved Transformers 1 & 2 didn’t you

  • Mjdiddy

    Funny thing though is eventhough I hated the movie my wife loved and bought it on DVD. It actually got into comic book movies. She loves them now. So he got my wife interested.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget the logic fails of having Luthor learn everything he needed by *just walking* into the Fortress (Superman never thought this could happen?) and the fact the Jor-El crystal didn’t realize it wasn’t speaking to Kal-el.

  • Michael Sacal

    Well, that was true of Donner’s Superman II. In the DC, Jor-El didn’t know that Lex wasn’t Kal-El and in the theatrical cut Lara didn’t know that Lex wasn’t Kal-El.

    Can’t really place the fault for that hole on Singer, it’s something that Donner and his replacement did over 20 years ago.

    Also, Lex had already been to the Fortress in Superman II, so he knew his way around.

  • Oz

    What does it matter if it is “good” transmedia if people don’t even know it’s transmedia? And if people, in general, have never even heard of transmedia? I was not even aware a prequel comic existed until now. If the movie is supposed to be sold as transmedia, then I suppose the DVDs that were sold included the prequel comic? I don’t know, I didn’t buy one.

    Even if we accept your argument, it doesn’t negate the criticism of the movie. Just as a standalone episode of a TV series can be criticized on its own regardless of the overall quality of the series. Or a single scene from a movie can be criticized on its own merits (how does this scene add to the rest of the film, does it work, etc.). Or a single badly drawn panel in a comic book… you get the idea.

  • Jcupach

    I was under the impression that Lois got pregnant during Superman 2 when he doesn’t have his powers. But at the end of the movie Lois loses her memory due to Clark kissing her. So in Returns why doesn’t Lois question the fact that, from her perspective they never had sex.

  • Daken616

    No. I’ve actually never seen them. They don’t interest me.

  • Kal El

    The moses motiff was done in the original which EVERYONE interested in superman has seen.
    You acknowlege that aspect of the character then you move on. You dont hit us over the head with in in two major scenes back to back. Plus the poster. Its like we get it, now what?

    The movie had a boring premise with ZERO PLOT. oh and zero excitment for a SUmmer tentpole film to an iconic movie.

  • Kal El

    I actualy liked superman III better than Returns

  • Lejpaolini

    Well, Bryan, it didn’t work well, but thanx for being honest.

  • Aggamendon

    I never read any of the prequel comics and I knew that Lois though her son was Richard’s. I’m slightly amazed anyone could think otherwise.

  • Aggamendon

    That’s about what I think. It was a little _too_ much of an homage to the first one, but past that I really liked it.

  • Michael Sacal

    I don’t think one needs to necessarily know about transmedia as much as know that the ancillary platforms exists to follow the stories there.

    “For more on the movie, read these comics, which tell you what happened to so and so before the movie began”.

    It’s not that much different from novelizations of screenplays, which tend to have scenes that didn’t appear in the movie because they were caught for time.

    Is there a novelization of SR? If there was, I have no doubt that it would include all the deleted scenes and additional information that didn’t make it into the movie.

  • Michael Sacal

    It is strange that she never wonders how it be possible for her son to have superpowers.

  • Dswynne1

    I thought that the film was fine, except for three aspects:

    1) The main plot was a rehash of the first film.
    2) The pacing was awful (could have shaved off a good twenty minutes from the film).
    3) The actress who played Lois Lane was under-whelming.

    Personally, I didn’t mind the kid, or how he came about. To me, Superman probably didn’t think it was possible for him and Lois to have a kid due to genetic differences, so accidents can happen. It makes him HUMAN. But I did like the idea that once he knew what was going on, he took responsibility. As for Richard White: I never got the impression that Lois tricked him into raising Superman’s kid, but that Richard, in love with Lois, decided to be a father-figure to Lois’ kid. It happens all the time. Plus, Richard was likable, which was a refreshing thing. But I can understand Superman purists for not liking the film, since it is a radical departure from their “safe expectations” of the Superman mythos.


  • nailsin

    Well I think your argument defeats itself. I mean you’re defending the movie right? Well according to you the movie needs outside stories in order to work therefore the movie by itself fails.
    Anyway does the comic explain Lois Lane’s triangle with Richard and Superman? There’s a scene in the film where she’s angry with Superman for leaving. She says she waited for him–well for how long? Five minutes? She conceives the super baby then Superman disappears and so she sleeps with Richard White soon enough to believe he’s the father. Lois looks pretty bad here. So does Superman. The guy I feel sorry for was Richard and the kid.

  • Picard

    superman as absentee dad?
    nuff said.

  • Madmike

    His excuses are as lame as his movie.

  • Michael Sacal

    I didn’t say that the movie needed help, I pointed out that the movie came with four prequel comics that expanded on the story, mainly what occured prior to the start of the movie.

    I don’t recall the minutia of the issues. I do remember that there is a scene set atop the Daily Planet building that shows how Lois and Richard met after Superman left. I don’t recall how long it was after he lift but it was long enough for her to believe that the baby was Richard’s son.

  • Michael Sacal

    He didn’t know that Lois was pregnant. How could he have?

  • nailsin

    Yeah but her line ” I waited for you.” to Superman is a lie.

  • Michael Sacal

    First of all, for someone who dislikes the movie you know it better than I do, heh. I can’t quote specific lines.

    So I’ve gone ahead and opened the comic in question. It is credited to Marc Andreyko, writer. I was sure that these had been written by the same writers as the movie, but they weren’t, Maybe they were just consultants.

    It doesn’t really say how long it was between the time Superman left and Lois met Richard, but it surely was enough for her and Richard to both believe that Jason is their son.

    The delivery scene in which Lois gives birth to Jason makes that very clear as she clearly considers Richard to be the father in her dialogue.

    The dialogue in the scenes leading up to her meeting Richard do make it clear that she waited and waited and waited for Superman to return, and dialogue set five years later makes it equally clear that even then she was still waiting for him.

    Do keep in mind one thing, Richard and Lois NEVER got married, and technically speaking they never really had a son at all since Jason is Clark’s son, not Richard’s.

  • Bic

    He’s Superman, he does six impossible things before breakfast. Then again, I would hope he would have better things to do than check on Lois’ cell division.

  • nailsin

    Of course I saw the movie. How could I criticize something I didn’t see? And bad scenes are just as memorable as good ones.
    She didn’t wait for Superman she hopped in the sack with Richard soon enough after the conception of super baby. It’s the only way she could mistake Richard for the father. Pregnancies only last a certain amount of time and there’s only so long to go before she would know she was pregnant.

  • Michael Sacal

    Exactly. People get their panties in a twist because he “stalked” Lois, but then complain that he didn’t X-ray her womb to make sure she wasn’t pregnant before he left for six years.

    Should Superman go around x-raying women’s private parts after he sleeps with them?

  • Michael Sacal

    Agreed, but the comic does make it clear that she was still “waiting for him” even long after their son was born.

    Richard was clearly the rebound guy.

  • Mad Jesse

    After reading a bunch of these comment I’d have to say a lot of these arguments have a strong and valid point. However, as a die hard Superman fan I think the problem with the film was simply two things. 1. The general public (since everyone knows Superman) were lost in the film timeline (its being a prequel) 2. The world threat which Superman was here to save the day lacked resonance with today. In older films in the presence of cold war this was relevant. Superman needed to fight a villain more contemporary ( even if that was the machinations of lovable Lex Luthor).

  • Jim Ritchey

    A prequel to what? Are you writing about the Singer film? It was a poorly contrived sequel–a smoothed over retcon, with a 20 year gap. Frankly, the plot could have worked. It didn’t because it was dumbly written, not because it’s outdated. Spacey was perfect for Luthor, and did the best he could–but if he’d been given material that wasn’t ‘by committee’ nostalgic fanwank for idolaters of the original movies (that didn’t come off as if written by teenagers), he could have been in a good film, as well.