In a 2004 interview, Margot Kidder claimed that Richard Donner shot enough scenes to make his own cut of the film, and that the unused footage was "somewhere in a vault". A website started a petition for Warner Bros. to allow and sponsor Donner's cut of Superman II (1980). The footage was re-edited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006) aka "The Donner Cut".
Gene Hackman did not return for the second film. All of his scenes were originally filmed by director Richard Donner. Existing scenes that required Hackman used a look-alike and a voice impersonator to add any lines needed.
Tom Mankiewicz was hired to oversee the script, originally written by Mario Puzo, for the original Superman (1978), which was to be made simultaneously with its sequel. Mankiewicz eliminated most of the camp elements Puzo added to the original draft and went ahead with the filmmakers' decision to keep the story's religious allusions. Specifically: Jor-El (God) casts Zod (Satan) from Krypton (Heaven), Jor-El's speech as he and Lara say goodbye to Kal-El ("The son becomes the father and the father the son), A ship in the form of a star brings Kal-El to Earth (the star of Bethlehem), Kal-El comes to a couple unable to have children ("How we prayed and prayed the good Lord would see fit to give us a child"), Clark Kent travels into the wilderness to find out who he really is and what he has to do (not much is known about Jesus during his middle years), and "...You must live as one of them but always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people Kal-El, they wish to be, they only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son."
Director Richard Lester was not sympathetic to the epic look that Richard Donner had given the original Superman (1978), saying that he didn't want to do "the David Lean thing'. Lester decided to scrap most of Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth''s footage, and hired director Michael Winner's cinematographer, Robert Paynter, to create a style that would evoke Superman's roots in comic books. Lester, Paynter and camera operator Freddie Cooper replaced Unsworth's gliding camera with horizontal panning and static framing to evoke comic books and comic strips, with static frames crammed with people and objects. Similarly, the composition of shots the trio developed for Superman II (1980) had objects and people crammed into the frame. To further emphasize comic book composition, the action was photographed from one angle, to give the film a desired flatness. Harkening back to the techniques of the early sound era, Lester's films had always been shot with three cameras filming the action simultaneously; two cameras for close-ups, one for the long shot. Lester's technique added to the friction on the set caused by Donner's firing. Margot Kidder particularly disliked him.
In the original script, the nuclear missile from Superman (1978) releases Zod and companions from the Phantom Zone. This scene was added to "The Richard Donner Cut" DVD edition, and the scene in Paris was deleted.
An early version of the script had four Kryptonian exile villains. Jak-El was supposed to be an evil prankster and source of comic relief. He is described as "a psychopathic jokester, whose pranks and practical jokes are only funny to him when they cause death and suffering to others." The character was never cast.
The 1984 ABC Television broadcast of the film used over 30 minutes of footage deleted from the theatrical release, almost all directed by Donner. The ABC scenes include: Superman flying past the Concorde (intended for the first film), extra dialogue between Luthor and Otis in jail, extra dialogue between Luthor and Eve flying to and within the Fortress of Solitude, the death of the young boy trying to escape East Houston, Idaho, the soufflé, and scenes between Superman and Lois. Nearly fifteen minutes of extra footage with Gene Hackman includes a pivotal scene in the Fortress where Luthor begs forgiveness from Superman. While these scenes were included in the Australian theatrical release, subsequent television screenings there had them deleted.
Originally, Richard Donner had filmed Superman talking to his father for Superman II (1980), but Marlon Brando sued for (and won) a share of the first film's profits. The lawsuit also awarded him a share of this film's profits, even though he doesn't appear in it. Brando's scenes were replaced by scenes with Superman's mother. Brando's scenes appear in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006) and briefly during a scene in Superman Returns (2006).
The scene where General Zod, Ursa, and Non use their super-breath to create a storm in Metropolis was shot over three freezing November nights at Pinewood Studios in England. Director Richard Lester improvised most of the jokes.
Anti-smoking campaigners opposed the film as the largest sponsor was the cigarette brand Marlboro, who paid $43,000 (approx £20,000), for the brand to be shown 22 times in the film. Lois Lane was shown as a chain smoker in the film, although she never smoked in the comic book version. A prop included a truck sign written with the Marlboro logo, although actual vehicles for tobacco distribution are unmarked, for security reasons. This led to a congressional investigation.
There is a framed photo of Bill Cosby on a wall in Perry White's office. In one of his early stand-up performances Cosby did a skit about Superman. It can be heard on his 1963 comedy album "Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow Right!"
Eve Teschmacher disappears from the storyline after she and Lex Luthor leave Superman's Fortress Of Solitude, and her absence from the rest of the movie is never explained. This is due to Valerie Perrine's scenes being filmed by Richard Donner, who was fired from the sequel before completion.
US-born director Richard Lester, an American expatriate living in England, claimed he'd never heard of Superman before he was hired to replace original director Richard Donner. He said that comic books weren't allowed in his house when he was child.
Towards the end of the movie, when Clark Kent enters the Daily Planet floor to talk to Lois for the last time, a sign in the background on the white board says "Daha iyisi olamaz". It's in Turkish, and means "There can't be anything better".
In the novelization for Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) one of the characters is described as a superman to Holmes; this may be an in-joke to Richard Donner who directed The Goonies (1985) and both were produced for Steven Spielberg and Donner directed the first two Superman movies; there is a scene in The Goonies (1985) when Sloth reveals a shirt with Superman's S on it.
Sarah Douglas was the only cast member to do extensive around-the-world press tours in support of the film and was one of the few actors who held a neutral point of view in the Donner-Lester controversy.