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After the Superman film franchise languished in Development Hell for years (following the failure of Superman IV), Superman Returns brought The Man of Steel back to the big screen in 2006. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men films, crafted Returns as both a sequel and an homage to Superman and Superman II -- while also ignoring Superman III, Superman IV, and Supergirl.
Superman (Brandon Routh) returns to Earth five years after leaving to search for remnants of Krypton in deep space; in the time between Superman's departure and return, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) won a Pulitzer Prize for the article "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman", and the world has moved on in his absence. Superman has to deal with the world's reaction to his return, work on mending his relationship with Lois, and foil the latest evil plot from power-hungry Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey).
The fanbase was (and remains) divided over this movie. While numerous fans saw Returns as a sincere ode to the earlier films, others were dismayed that the film didn't use any material from the comics and completely changed the dynamic of Lois and Superman's relationship. While the film was financially successful and recieved some good reviews, the overall polarizing reception caused plans for a sequel to fizzle out.
The Superman film franchise will be rebooted in 2013 with Man of Steel; the film, produced under the supervision of Christopher Nolan (who knows a thing or two about reboots) and directed by Zack Snyder, will star Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams as Lois Lane.
This film contains examples of:
- Apocalypse Wow: The film starts with the destruction of Krypton.
- Badass Normal: Richard White.
- Bald of Evil: Luthor's obsession with wigs is a carryover from Superman although this time it is more about disguises.
- Big Word Shout and You're Insane!: Said in a particularly memetic scene with Lex Luthor talking to Lois.
- Bring It: Verbalized by Luthor when Lois Lane tells him other countries won't stand for him sinking the US for his own man-made country.
- Broad Strokes: The relationship of this film to Richard Donner's Superman films.
- Canon Dis Continuity: Returns clearly ignores Superman III, IV and Supergirl.
- Continuity Nod: Many, especially to the Donner films, but also to other works, most notably The Adventures of Superman, with the casting of Noel Neill and Jack Larson in significant roles.
- Conveniently Cellmates: A sequel comic has Lex Luthor pull strings to get a less-than-bright cellmate, specifically so he can have an audience for his genius plans.
- Crazy Prepared: The Daily Planet has prepared headlines for Superman's death or his recovery.
- Crucified Hero Shot: The exhausted Supes falling to Earth after hurling an entire island made of Kryptonite out of the atmosphere. Just in case you hadn't realized yet that he's Jesus.
- Curse Cut Short: Rather pointlessly and awkwardly done with the word "shit" by a random cop in Superman Returns, and in a throwaway scene to boot.
- Dark Mistress: Kitty.
- Data Crystal: The computer in Superman's Fortress. Luthor had some ideas for them.
- Dull Surprise: Kate Bosworth was accused of this.
- Eat the Dog: Twice: one of the Pomeranians left in the old widow's mansion ate the other one after Lex left it unattended for an extended perioid of time, and he says he's going to use the remaining one as emergency rations after he threatens Kitty that he'd trade 300000 coconuts and all of her blood for a gallon of kerosene for his helicopter and she asks what would they eat then when they end up stranded on an island at the end of the movie.
- Enforced Method Acting: In-universe example -- Kitty's out-of-control car catches Superman's attention for a damn good reason:
- Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Superman foils a bank robber attempting to make a rooftop getaway in a Huey, who's used the door-mounted minigun - which is inexplicably not only present but loaded - to hold off the cops. This doesn't work quite so well on Superman.
- Eye Scream / Go for the Eye: It doesn't faze him.
- Fake Shemp: Unused/recycled footage plus  keeps Marlon Brando in the Jor-El role despite his death in 2004.
- Foot Focus: Close up shot of Lois taking her shoes off before flying with Superman, and another close up shot of her bare feet when they land on the roof of the Daily Planet.
- Foreshadowing: When asking Clark about why Superman left without even saying goodbye, he reasons that it was too difficult for him to do so, to which Lois responds in her sarcastic manner; "What's so difficult about saying goodbye?!" At the end of the film, before Superman lifts the Kryptonite continent into space, an act that all involved were almost certain would kill him, he says goodbye to Lois, and it seems she finally realizes what Clark meant earlier.
- Franchise Killer: Unintentional, if only because the sequel for Returns languished in Development Hell.
- Go-Karting with Bowser: A nasty-looking henchman with a Badger tattoo on his Bald of Evil head passes some time playing "Heart and Soul" on the piano with Lois Lane's son, Jason. Until he tries to kill Lois a short while later.
- High Heel Face Turn: Kitty Kowalski.
- Ho Yay: Jimmy Olsen seems to be just a wee bit too fond of Clark Kent.
- Idiot Ball: The only reason for Superman to go off on his own to find out the fate of Krypton. He apparently forgot what he said in Superman II by promising that he'd never leave the people of Earth again, because just one week without him had a trio of supervillains running amuck. So, he leaves Earth for five years. To confirm something his father already told him. Face Palm.
- Just Plane Wrong:
- Stranded on a tropical island with his female lackey and an out-of-fuel helicopter, Luthor laments, "I would trade three hundred thousand coconuts and every ounce of your blood for a quart of gasoline!" However, his helicopter is an AW109, which runs on jet fuel (kerosene), not gasoline.
- Large Ham: Lex Luthor.
- Made of Iron: Lois. During the plane scene she gets tossed around the crashing plane more than a rag-doll in a tumble dryer, I mean really knocked around the plane's cabin yet walks away from it with nary a bruise or concussion. Sure she passes out but gets up the next day without a scratch.
- Magic Brakes: Used as a distraction while Luthor steals some Kyptonite.
- Mama Bear: Played straight when Lois begs Luthor to at least allow Jason to leave the yacht. Just after that, an inversion: when Lois' captor notices her transmission of an SOS fax (with the yacht's location) to the Daily Planet office, he predictably gets rough with her. That's when Jason (scared and shocked by such abuse) reflexively shoves the piano he'd been playing onto the unsuspecting guard.
- Meganekko: The Hot Scoop played by Peta Wilson.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The first trailer consists entirely of footage of a teenage Clark experimenting with his powers, Martha Kent checking out a mysterious meteor in her back yard, and Lois Lane meeting Superman on a rooftop and looking shocked--all set to Jor-El's narration about why he's sending Kal-El to Earth. This gave a lot of people the impression that the movie was a R Emake of Superman instead of its latest sequel. The fact that the title hadn't yet been revealed (the posters and trailer just showed the Superman logo on a blue background) didn't help.
- Not So Harmless: Lex Luthor of all people gets this treatment by stabbing Superman In the Back with a shiv made out of Kryptonite.
- Off on a Technicality: Lex Luthor's conviction for his crimes at the first Superman movie was overturned because Superman didn't show up to testify against him during the appeal.
- Oh Crap: The bank robber, after unsuccessfully emptying a minigun into Supes' chest, figures maybe it's just the suit that's bulletproof, pulls out a semi-auto, and shoots him point-blank right in the eye. He doesn't even blink. Said robber's expression makes it clear that he fully realizes just how utterly screwed he is.
- Luthor gets a brief one when he hears that one of his goons was just killed by a flying piano. It takes him all of a second to figure out how it happened and decide to get the hell out of Dodge.
- Only a Model: Luthor's model train set and city.
- Paid Harem: Luthor's moll Kitty Kowalski.
- Phlebotinum Battery: Superman is weakened with a Kryptonite shard in his side, so he Fights Off The Kryptonite by rising into the sunlight.
- Playing Gertrude: Lois Lane is played by a 23-year old, and yet already has a kid, a Pulitzer, has worked at the Planet for over five years, and such (by contrast, Margot Kidder was 30 in the first movie).
- Pretty in Mink: Kitty wears some. It's not Fur and Loathing, since it's established she is not actually evil.
- Rule of Symbolism: Lots of Christ symbolism.
- Saved From Development Hell / Sequel Gap: The fifth Superman movie took 19 years, with many, many projects for a fifth Superman emerging since 1987 (another Cannon film, a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Nicolas Cage, a film directed).
- Spiritual Successor: It's often unclear whether the movie is a sequel to Donner's movie, or an example of this trope.
- Stealth Pun: A crew of bank robbers is about to make a helicopter escape, and at first their rooftop-mounted minigun is doing a fine job of keeping the cops on the street pinned down. Two security guards bust onto the roof (from a stairwell) but his vest stops all of their panicked shots. Once he trains his weapon onto them, they know they are obviously screwed... until we see Superman zoom in from behind the gunman into the line of fire. "Faster than a speeding bullet", indeed.
- Stock Subtitle: Superman Returns.
- Story-Boarding the Apocalypse: Lex Luthor shows Lois Lane a series of maps detailing exactly how his plan will destroy the Western Hemisphere.
- Took a Shortcut: It is made clear by Jor-El's narration in the first movie that Superman's journey to Earth took thousands of years, but he only aged a few years due to the effects of relativity. Jor-El's comment shows up in this movie when Lex and his goons are in the Fortress of Solitude. Somehow, though, Superman has traveled all the way to the ruined Krypton and back, and only five years have passed by on Earth.