- Superman (Final appearance)
- Jason Lane-White (First appearance)
- Jimmy Olsen (Final appearance)
- Lois Lane (Final appearance)
- Martha Kent (Final appearance)
- Perry White (Final appearance)
- Richard White (First appearance)
- Lex Luthor (Final appearance)
- Lex Luthor's gang
Superman has been missing for several years, having traveled to where astronomers believed they had discovered the remains of Krypton. One night, Martha Kent sees her son return to Earth, having failed in his hopes to find surviving Kryptonians. Clark Kent returns to Metropolis to his old job at the Daily Planet, to find out that Lois Lane has become a mother and is now romantically involved with Richard White, the nephew of the newspaper editor Perry White.
During the years that Superman disappeared into space, Lex Luthor got out of jail with the help of an unsuspecting elderly beneficiary, whom he conned into marrying so he could get at her wealth after she died. With the money, Lex hired out a new set of goons and then traveled again to Superman's Fortress of Solitude, where this time he talked with the hologram of Superman's father Jor-El, wanting to know everything about Kryptonian crystals.
Growing Your Own Island
Returning to the widow's mansion, Lex Luthor has one of his men chip away a portion of a Kryptonian crystal from the Fortress of Solitude, planting it in the water of her immense train set layout. After a minute or so of waiting to see its effect, all the lights suddenly go out. They soon go back on, and as Lex and his gang continue to watch, a crystalline structure emerges from the water, ripping through the floor of the mansion.
The crystal growth experiment causes a power outage on the East Coast. The power loss interferes with the flight test of a space shuttle attached to a Boeing 777, occupied by Lois Lane who is covering the story. Clark flies into action as Superman and stops the plane from crashing onto a baseball stadium, which is full of spectators. They cheer as Superman brings it down safely to land. Lois faints as she sees him take off.
Superman Is Back
The Daily Planet staff room is abuzz with the news that Superman is back. Perry White wants full coverage of his return on all angles from his reporters. Lois Lane, however, feels that the news item that should be covered is the mysterious power outage. Perry tells her one of the things that sells papers is Superman, which is one of the things she's best at writing.
Meanwhile, as Lex Luthor looks out over the harbor from the balcony of the widow's mansion, he sees the Daily Planet newspaper headlining THE MAN OF STEEL IS BACK. This means he's got the challenge of the century on his hands again to deal with. He greets part of his gang out in front as they unload a metal containment box from a van, indicating that it was stolen property. Luthor tells them to modify it and attach it to the ship.
Lois' Little Boy
While Clark overhears the conversation between Perry and Lois, a young boy greets him while carrying a asthma medicine inhaler. The boy turns out to be Lois' son Jason, who, though Lois says is rather fragile due to his need for various medications, is certain he will grow up big and strong "just like his dad". Clark assumes at this point that Richard White, Lois' fiancee, must be the father as he greets him.
As Clark and Lois wait outside the Daily Planet building for a taxi to come, Lois asks Clark if he ever had that feeling about someone he had strong connections to that just suddenly took off without even saying goodbye. Clark had a feeling Lois was talking about him as Superman leaving her years ago, and answered that maybe that person had trouble saying goodbye. Lois just asks what's so hard about saying goodbye, but she doesn't answer Clark's question of who it is she's talking about. Suddenly a taxi pulls up just for Lois to get into, and Lois says goodnight to Clark as she goes off to her home.
Was Lois In Love?
Clark changes into Superman and flies over to Richard White's house, watching through his X-ray vision Richard and Lois talking with each other about the first article she wrote about Superman. Richard asks the question to Lois of whether she was ever in love with Superman. Lois says the whole world was in love with Superman, but as for her personally...she simply shakes her head and says no. Superman flies off into space to clear his mind of thinking about that response, just listening to all the sounds that are coming from Earth, until he hears the sound of an alarm. He zooms back down to Earth, following the sound to its source.
Faster Than A Speeding Bullet
At the Newhart Federal Bank, some bank robbers have set up a machine gun to take out a squad of police cars gathered around the parking area in the hopes of covering their escape. The gunner mows the police cars down, then turns the gun on some officers that have sneaked their way up the stairs. No sooner does he pull the trigger, though, than Superman with lightning speed blocks the bullets with his body. The gunner tries to shoot a handgun bullet into Superman's eye, but it's instantly crushed upon impact and falls to the ground.
Out Of Control
As Lex Luthor and his gang enter into the Metropolis Museum near closing hours to steal a valuable rock, a woman screams as her car tears through the city streets, apparently out of control. Soon the car ends up flying, as Superman now flies the car to where he causes it stop before he puts it down safely. The woman gets out of her car, saying she needs to get to the hospital because of heart palpitations. Superman flies her to the hospital entrance, where she says they have stopped. Superman is glad that the woman is feeling better and tries to get her to let go of him as he departs. Afterward, the woman (revealed to be Luthor's henchlady Kitty) looks at her watch, seeing whether Luthor has pulled off the heist.
Still Making News
Clark Kent sees that Superman is still making news everywhere as he enters the Daily Planet offices and sees reports of his heroic acts throughout the whole world reported on television networks. He is called into Perry White's office, where Lois is debating Perry's decision for her to cover Superman instead of what she thinks are the bigger stories: the mysterious blackout and the museum robbery. Clark also discovers that Luthor was released from prison following a court appeal in which Superman failed to show up as a witness. Lois is less than pleased when Perry assigns the blackout story to Clark while she gets stuck with Superman coverage. She vents her frustrations out on Richard, who suggests that she could find a way to interview Superman without him coming back into her life.
Lois heads for the roof of the Daily Planet, where she meets with Superman as she tries to light up a cigarette. During the interview, Superman asks why she wrote the article Why The World Doesn't Need Superman, and Lois answers that the world has moved on without him during his absence, saying "the world doesn't need a savior, and neither do I." He takes Lois on a flight high above Metropolis and asks her what she hears. Lois answers she hears nothing. Superman says he hears millions of people crying for a savior.
Superman returns to his Fortress of Solitude and discovers that the memory crystals have been stolen. He suspects that Luthor must be behind this and flies off to find him. He returns to the Daily Planet as Clark Kent and helps Richard White track down Lois Lane, who turns up missing. He gives Richard help in accessing Lois' files on her computer by giving him the possible password, "Superman".
With the stolen rock being Kryptonite, the only substance that can weaken and kill Superman, now in Luthor's possession again, he has the sample shaped into a cylindrical casing for one of the memory crystals taken from the Fortress of Solitude and placed inside a torpedo with its explosive components removed. After kidnapping Lois Lane along with her son Jason, whom he had found snooping around the mansion, he took them on his ship to the coordinates where he would launch the missile, revealing to Lane and his associate Kitty that the grown land mass would end up displacing parts of other continental land masses, effectively killing billions of people in the process. He leaves Lois and Jason in the care of his thug Brutus while he oversees the launching of the torpedo containing the Kryptonite-encased crystal. After the launch, however, he discovers that Brutus was mysteriously killed by a grand piano hurled at him with great strength, and has Lois and Jason locked up in the pantry while he, Kitty, and his men take off on helicopter toward their newly-emerging land mass.
As Luthor creates his Kryptonite-laden land mass with one of the stolen crystals wrapped in a Kryptonite casing, another power blackout occurs in Metropolis. Superman at first follows a faxed message sent by Lois Lane revealing her whereabouts, but is soon diverted back to the city when he sees a rip forming in the ground that's heading toward Metropolis, causing a massive earthquake and a possible underground gas explosion. Superman rushes to the rescue of the imperiled city and its citizens, stopping the ignited gas explosion and catching the Daily Planet globe before it crash-lands on top of hundreds of people.
The Ship Is Sinking
Richard White follows the faxed coordinates to the boat that Lois Lane and Jason are trapped on and frees them from the pantry, only to be trapped himself when one of the emerging crystals from Luthor's grown land mass rips through the ship, shearing it in half. As Lois, Richard, and Jason climb to safety to avoid drowning, the door to the pantry closes in on them, and with it their hope of ever escaping. Fortunately, Superman comes and lifts that half of the ship up from the water, pulling the three of them out of the pantry and bringing them back to Richard's seaplane. He examines Lois with his X-ray vision and tells Richard she'll be fine.
Welcome To Lexland
While Richard takes off to bring Lois and Jason to safety, Superman arrives in the heart of Luthor's new land mass and confronts Luthor, unaware that the land mass is laden with Kryptonite, and demands for Luthor to give him back what was taken from his Fortress. Luthor, seeing sweat dripping from Superman's temples, responds by hitting the Man of Steel, causing him to fall to the ground and seeing the Kryptonite through its cracks. Luthor takes pleasure in repaying Superman for five years of his life lost in prison by using the weakened superhero as his punching bag, and then letting his thugs have a go at hurting the Man of Steel, humiliating him until Luthor finally shoves a jagged piece of Kryptonite into his back and watches him plummet into the depths of the sea.
Superman Is Rescued
As Richard continues to fly around the new land mass, Jason spots Superman struggling to reach the surface and tells his mother that. Richard also sees him and brings the seaplane down so he and Lois can bring him to safety. On board the seaplane, Richard tries to bring the seaplane to speed in order to take off as they head for a sudden dropoff, which it goes off until Richard manages to get it flying skyward. With a pair of tweezers, Lois succeeds in removing the jagged piece of Kryptonite out of Superman's body and flings it into the sea.
With Superman's powers now restored, he leaves the seaplane, saying goodbye to Lois, and then dives straight into the ground, using his heat vision to separate the grown land mass from the continental shelf and to fly it far into space. Luthor and his assistant Kitty manage to escape the island before Superman flies it away from Earth. As he does, the Kryptonite embedded in the land mass weakens Superman to the point of near death. Then, with the island lifted far away to reach escape velocity, Superman plummets back to the Earth, landing in the middle of Metropolis Park.
Nowhere To Go
Lex and Kitty land on a small desert island with no gas left in the helicopter and no source of food available to them, until Luthor eyes the surviving dog from the elderly widow's mansion.
Back To Life
Superman is soon rushed to the hospital, where physicians try to revive him to no avail, though they succeed in removing the rest of the Kryptonite stuck in his back. The Daily Planet headlines SUPERMAN IS DEAD, and Lois is sitting at her desk waiting for Richard to take her and Jason to the hospital where they would see him one last time. During their visit, Lois tries to tells the comatose Superman something, but words fail her at that moment, and instead she kisses him. Jason gives Superman a goodbye kiss before he and his mother leave. Sometime later, the hospital finds that Superman is gone.
Father To The Son
While Lois is at her desk at Richard White's house beginning to compose Why The World Needs Superman, he is in Jason's bedroom, amazed at the revelation that he may be the father of Lois' child. He tells the sleeping child the words his father Jor-El told him before he was launched from Krypton: "You will make my strength your own; you will see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father becomes the son." As Lois goes outside to light up a cigarette, again the lighter's flame is suddenly blown out. She looks and sees that Superman is alive again. She asks him if they'll ever see him around. He says that he'll always be around as he flies off into the night.
- Marlon Brando as Jor-El
- Frank Langella as Perry White
- Sam Huntington as Jimmy Olsen
- Eva Marie Saint as Martha Kent
- Parker Posey as Kitty Kowalski
- James Marsden as Richard White
- Tristan Lake Leabu as Jason White
- Director Bryan Singer has said that the continuity is "branching off from" elements of "the first two Superman films with Christopher Reeve," which serve as, as he puts it, a "vague history." Thus, the film disconsiders the plot of Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
- The fifth Superman film was in development hell for years, with four different projects emerging after the release of Superman IV. The first project was Superman V, produced by Cannon Pictures just like Superman IV, aborted after producer Ilya Salkind sold the film and TV rights of Superman back to Warner Bros. The second was Superman Reborn, to which Kevin Smith wrote a script. Reborn was retitled Superman Lives, and would be directed by Tim Burton with Nicolas Cage in the title role, but ultimately aborted. The third was Batman vs. Superman, cancelled after director Wolfgang Petersen left to make Troy. The fourth project was ultimately made, with the involvement of McG and Brett Ratner before Bryan Singer was called in (coincidentally, Ratner would replace Singer to direct the third X-Men film).
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- Noel Neill plays Gertrude Vanderworth, the wealthy dying widow that Lex Luthor marries. She played Lois Lane in the 1950's TV series and the 1940's movie serial, and Lois Lane's mother in Superman (1978).
- Jack Larson, who plays Bo the Bartender, played Jimmy Olsen in the "Adventures of Superman" (1952) TV series.
- Josh Hartnett, Paul Walker, Matthew Bomer, Brendan Fraser, Ashton Kutcher, David Boreanaz, Ian Somerhalder, Henry Cavill, Jerry O'Connell and Hayden Christensen were considered for the part of Superman.
- Hugh Laurie was going to play Perry White, but dropped before shooting begun.
- The scene where Superman tilts the runaway car forward to the ground before lowering it, which is captured in a photo by a cell phone, is a homage to the cover image of Action Comics #1.
- A humorous interchange that takes place in the Daily Planet staff room as Perry White, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen looks at one of Jimmy's photos -- "Look, up in the sky", "It's a bird", "It's a plane" -- pays homage to the Adventures Of Superman TV series' intro sequence.
- The final scene of Superman Returns is an allusion to the final scene of Superman: The Movie (1978).
- In one scene, Gotham City is mentioned on a news report covering locations where Superman has been sighted performing heroics.
- Characters from Superman Returns (Movie)
- Other things related to Superman Returns (Movie)
- Movie Gallery: Superman Returns (Movie)