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 Brothers to allow and sponsor Donner's cut of this movie. The footage was re-edited into Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980).
Gene Hackman did not return for the second film. All of his scenes were originally filmed by Richard Donner. Existing scenes that required Hackman used a look-a-like and a voice impersonator to add any lines needed.
Director Richard Lester was not sympathetic to the epic look that Richard Donner had given 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 Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980), and the scene in Paris was deleted.
Tom Mankiewicz was hired to oversee the script, originally written by Mario Puzo, for Superman (1978), which was to be made simultaneously with this movie. 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."
An early version of the script had four Kryptonian exile villains. Jak-El (a name probably inspired by the German and Danish name "Jakel", the trickster handpuppet in the Punch and Judy tradition) 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 thirty 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 included 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.
Eve Teschmacher disappeared from the storyline after she and Lex Luthor leave the 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.
Originally, Richard Donner had filmed Superman talking to his father for this movie, but Marlon Brando sued for (and won) a share of the first film's gross. The lawsuit also awarded him a share of this film's gross, even though he doesn't appear in it. Brando's scenes were replaced by scenes with Superman's mother. Brando's scenes appeared in Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980), 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. Richard Lester improvised most of the jokes.
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!"
U.S.-born Richard Lester, an American expatriate living in England, claimed he'd never heard of Superman before he was hired to replace Richard Donner. He said that comic books weren't allowed in his house when he was child.
Anti-smoking campaigners opposed the film, as the largest sponsor was the cigarette brand Marlboro, who paid forty-three thousand dollars (approximately twenty thousand pounds), for the brand to be shown twenty-two 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.
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".
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 actresses who held a neutral point of view in the Donner-Lester controversy.
There are two controversial scenes in this movie that fanboys, film geeks and critics have complained about for years. The first is Superman's amnesia-inducing kiss. Fans complained this was a deus ex machina type ending and a cheat, because this Superman skill was never mentioned in the comics. In fact, it actually appeared once or twice, but it was very obscure. The second controversial scene is the one where Superman removes a strange plastic-y film from his "S" insignia which magically grows as he throws it at Non, covering him and then subduing him for a second, before vanishing altogether. Fans and critics criticized this scene for being random, not taken from the comics, and also pointless, since it didn't do anything meaningful to Non. The scene was parodied in an episode of Family Guy (1998).
In an early draft of the screenplay, the crystal chamber which removes Superman's powers (and which ultimately enables him to defeat Zod and company) was lined with Yellow (or Gold) Kryptonite, exposure to which, as in the comic books, will strip him of his super-abilities. Had it been kept, this would have been the movie's sole reference to Kryptonite.
This film marks Otis' second predisposition with ladders. In Superman (1978), he operated a book case step-ladder for Luthor's personal library. In Superman II (1980), he spots a rope-and-plank ladder for Teschmacher's hot air balloon.
WCI/Warner Home Video often put out Dolby Stereo movies as Stereo releases in the early 80s linear era well before hi-fi stereo sound would become the norm. Surprisingly, this and Superman (1978) were not amongst them and would not have stereo releases until the hi-fi era.