These days 2006’s Superman Returns exists under something of a cloud. It didn’t spawn any sequels, disappeared from the public consciousness, and the double disgrace of director Bryan Singer and star Kevin Spacey doesn’t make it an easy watch. But Superman Returns was received positively by critics and became the ninth highest-grossing movie of that year, though didn’t meet Warner Bros’ sky-high expectations and a sequel was soon canceled.
So, why didn’t Superman Returns catch on?
The question is being busily debated on r/DC_Cinematic, with a lengthy post by ‘DoctorBeatMaker’ theorizing that the movie made Superman “boring”, that it doesn’t do much with the premise of a world that’s moved on in Superman’s absence, and that it fails to answer the question of why the world needs the Man of Steel.
Replies tend to agree, with the top-voted response concluding that:
“It had a lot of lofty goals and aspirations but it ultimately ended up not really being about anything. It has no identity of its own.”
It also identifies Superman as a “passive protagonist” and that we never see him having to struggle to earn the world’s trust back as they immediately welcome him with open arms.
Others theorize that audiences just didn’t care about a sequel to 1980’s Superman II:
Does being linked to the Richard Donner movies leave it with little personality of its own?
Others simply label it as dull:
Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was arguably a response to criticism of Superman Returns, specifically that we hadn’t seen a truly epic Kryptonian battle on screen. Snyder delivered on that front (and then some), though a common criticism is that the skyscraper-toppling bout with Zod went a teeny bit too far.
Star Brandon Routh has since reprised the role in The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover and seems happy about his time in the cape, though on reading the reactions it sounds like Superman Returns might have simply been a poorly conceived project from the get-go.
Superman Returns is available to stream on HBO Max.