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 (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 (1980), 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (2006) and briefly during a scene in Superman Returns (2006).
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".
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.
In the movie, when a power-less Clark Kent finds the Green Kryptonian Crystal at the Fortress of Solitude, he later returns with his powers restored as Superman and no explanation is given as to how he got them back. In the shooting script for the film, the Green Kryptonian Crystal is actually what gives Superman his powers back. When Clark grabs the Crystal, it glows and pulsates with a powerful energy that is stored within and Clark trembles as its Kryptonian power passes into his body, giving him back his powers. The scene with the Crystal's energy actually shown restoring Clark's powers, though, was never filmed and it is only implied at the Crystal restores his powers in the final cut.