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Bryan Singer Blames Women for the Failure of Superman Returns

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by Inkoo Kang
February 4, 2014 2:01 PM
33 Comments
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Superman Returns

Bryan Singer is nobody's favorite director. His last film, the fatally milquetoast Jack the Giant Slayer, was made for $195 million and earned just $65 million at the domestic box office. (Half of that $65 million went to movie theaters and the other half was probably eaten up by marketing costs.) Sure, the film made another $132 million internationally, but after subtracting theater and advertising fees, the fairy-tale reboot essentially laid a turd egg. And yet, Singer is the director of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, which makes him the Hollywood poster boy for failing upward. 

Lest you think Singer is satisfied with his undeserved luck and his Scrooge McDuck wealth, don't be so sure. As the old adage goes, you can't buy love. So now Singer's lashing out against some shadowy cabal of explosion-hating women for his Superman Returns being considered "one of the worst comic-book movies ever."

In an interview with Empire, Singer says of the Superman sequel: 

It was a movie made for a certain kind of audience. Perhaps more of a female audience. It wasn't what it needed to be, I guess. I think I could lop the first quarter off and start the movie a bit more aggressively and maybe find a way to start the movie with the jet disaster sequence or something. I could have grabbed the audience a little more quickly. I don't know what would have helped. Probably nothing. If I could go again, I would do an origin. I would reboot it.

I can't decide whether this interview excerpt is more hilarious or infuriating. Hilarious because Singer just proved he really is creatively bankrupt. I mean, really, another superhero reboot? Isn't every other superhero movie already about a boy who becomes a freak or learns that he is one? That's the revolutionary thing he would've done to "grab the audience" -- show them something they already saw five times that year? 

But we shouldn't spend all of our time laughing at Singer, because his self-serving delusions are also truly infuriating. He blames the failure of Superman Returns on its being geared "more [toward] a female audience," but how? It doesn't have a female lead. It doesn't pass the Bechdel test. It doesn't let women drive the plotIt doesn't even feature an interesting Lois Lane the way Man of Steel's Amy Adams character does. In fact, Kate Bosworth's casting is a triumph of superficiality over plausibility. Wholly devoid of gravitas, Bosworth was just 23 at the time of shooting (and looks it onscreen), which implies that Lois Lane was all of 18 when she won her Pulitzer Prize. The nubile casting just didn't work with the seasoned-pro character. Superman Returns offered nothing to women. 

As the Mary Sue points out, Singer made his blockbuster reputation as the director of X-Men, the arguable lead of which was a teenage Rogue (Anna Paquin). The plot unfolds largely through her eyes, and the character is surrounded by other fascinating women like Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos). If Singer wanted to make a movie that gave women something to cheer for (other than Hugh Jackson's abs), he could have done so -- by doing the opposite of what he did in Superman Returns

"For a female audience," then, is just Singer's code for "needed more explosions." But of course, that would mean admitting that he made bad decisions instead of blaming a group of people already ignored and underserved by the movie industry. 

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33 Comments

  • Jayson | July 18, 2014 2:05 AMReply

    Anyone that think superman returns is a bad super hero movie is to blame for all the crappy super hero movies out there. Xmen 1 & 2 and superman returns and nolan's batman begins are the best super hero movies that have come out in the past 15 years. The best thing about these movies are that they take their time. Unlike the explosion, CGI, and boobs crap that seem to keep the dumb head masses happy. Brian singer should be the only person allowed to make super hero movies. However I want him to still have time to write original scripts. "More explosions"? ugh! America, Please stop ruining cinema with your half wit need for bright shiney loud noises! Character development, beautiful camera work, and intelligent plots are what we should be thankful for. And I thank Brian Singer. :)

  • brian | April 17, 2014 12:40 AMReply

    Never reading one of your articles again.

    If you just want clicks than that title did it's job.

  • A Woman | February 7, 2014 3:10 PMReply

    I am a woman. I work in the film industry. And this article is a piece of junk.

    Way to take one sentence, nay one word and make a whole headline out of it. I think women's crusade for respect and equality would do a lot better if people like you didn't publish things blowing something completely out of proportion at every opportunity. If you have something against Bryan Singer, at least make a compelling argument about something he DID or an actual statement he made, rather than taking a sentence written in a different publication completely out of context.

    I like that you call him creatively bankrupt, and yet you do the same lazy reporting job so many other bloggers do by taking something that isn't news, yelling about it for half a page, and then posting it with an incredulous headline hoping you will get more page views and social media shares.

    Calm down, actually investigate a real injustice, and be more creative in your writing. Maybe if you do that, you'll actually get someone to read that screenplay you've been working on.

    Because, let's face it, we know its there.

  • Star | February 5, 2014 11:30 PMReply

    "And yet, Singer is the director of the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past, which makes him the Hollywood poster boy for failing upward."

    Wait, did Kimberly Peirce "fail upward" when she got the Carrie gig after Stop-Loss bombed so royally? How about Kathryn Bigelow, who had three bombs in a row before making The Hurt Locker? Hell, Sofia Coppola hasn't had a hit in 10 years, so I guess that makes her the Hollywood poster girl for failing upward.

    "I can't decide whether this interview excerpt is more hilarious or infuriating. Hilarious because Singer just proved he really is creatively bankrupt. I mean, really, another superhero reboot? Isn't every other superhero movie already about a boy who becomes a freak or learns that he is one? That's the revolutionary thing he would've done to "grab the audience" -- show them something they already saw five times that year?"

    This quote might've made sense had Superman Returns been released within the past year or so. Alas, it was actually released nearly 8 years ago, well before the current superhero-movie craze really hit. Was Christopher Nolan "creatively bankrupt" when he rebooted the Batman franchise the year before Superman Returns came out?

  • Ou812 | March 10, 2014 8:15 PM

    I would hardly say the movie came out well before the superhero movie craze really hit. There was already a gaggle of superhero and comic book movies released by the time Returns came out. 3 x-men movies, 2 Fantastic Four movies, 3 Spidrrman movies, Hulk, V for Vendetta, A History of Violence, Sin City, Batman Begins, Road to Perdition... just off the top of my head, and they all were released within the 5 years before Returns. I would say the comic book movie craze was already in full swing.

  • Brainiac | February 6, 2014 10:09 AM

    Lol, by giving a litany of others who have "failed upward" doesn't exactly dull the point, does it? It's the Hollywood way.

  • Nino | February 5, 2014 4:38 PMReply

    I wonder what kind of women Singer made that movie for... The kind of women who don't know who the father of their child is? The kind of women who like it when their ex stalks them and watches them at home through their windows?

    Also lol @ the posters actually defending this shit of a movie.
    Man of Steel >>>Superman Returns

  • Brainiac | February 6, 2014 10:10 AM

    The women who sit patiently through a super hero movie for the sake of their boyfriends. Yes, Hollywood is that shallow.

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 6:10 PM

    Who's defending the movie?

  • Christian | February 5, 2014 4:09 PMReply

    Holy hell, what an obscenely reactionary article. He doesn't blame anyone for anything and it takes a metric ton of extrapolation to even arrive at that point. Seems to me that what he's saying is that he conceived the project as more "romantic" and therefore more broadly appealing than most films of its ilk, but miscalculated exactly what would bring the audience into the story. But of course, one line of his statement is twisted all to hell and now Bryan Singer is a misogynist who blames women for his failures. Real misogyny exists, you don't have to go looking for it under your beds and in your closets like some ersatz bogeyman.

  • Star | February 5, 2014 11:04 PM

    "But of course, one line of his statement is twisted all to hell and now Bryan Singer is a misogynist who blames women for his failures."

    Hey, welcome to the wonderful world of Women and Hollywood. ;)

  • Jade | February 5, 2014 3:40 PMReply

    *low whistle* Talk about a misleading headline. Some interesting comments, though.

    I don't think the problem is that the movie was "geared towards women" so much as the story he told - specifically regarding Lois and Superman - was kinda...bad. It was just kinda bad. And if I'd point to the first mistake he made, it was building a movie as a sequel to a previous movie on a foundation of one of the worst plot devices imaginable. By that, I mean the Super Roofie Kiss. There is just no way you can write that in a way that makes either Superman OR Lois look good, and he lived down to that potential. Add in some other issues - like Lois taking her son along on an investigation that leads to danger (making her a very bad mom. I mean, come on, at this point, she really should EXPECT danger in her investigations and keep her son far away from it. I'm not a huge fan of the New 52 Superman stories, but even they had Lois say something about how it's one thing to put HER life on the line for a story; it's another thing for her to expect others to do the same. And this is her son we're talking about.). I didn't necessarily mind that she wasn't older than Clark but that I'm pretty sure I have things in the back of my refrigerator that are and look older than she was in that movie. Seriously, she looks so young, I have to wonder if she looked 8 when she gave birth to Jason...putting an extra creepy spin on the Superman/Lois relationship.

    I'm an action fan, but I personally don't like the action movies that are all flash and no substance. You certainly could have a movie more geared towards relationships and plot and less on explosions...but if you're going to do that, you really have to tell a good story about said relationships with a solid plot. If you don't, it's just a bad movie, whether or not it has action. I wish to heck Man of Steel had spent any real attention on the relationships and plot and a good 15 minutes less on the "things go boom!" It didn't, and the complete lack of attention to the former makes it one of the worst movies I've ever seen, no matter how much action there was. (And, in response to TA in comments, I thought Green Lantern was also a pretty spectacularly bad movie, although I normally don't care one way or another about GL. Although if I had to point to an issue there, I'd probably point first to the fact I was just bored throughout.)

    Point is, the problem to me isn't that he focused more on the relationship between Lois and Superman and didn't make the "traditional" action movie. It's that he told a bad story about that relationship, with characters who just came off looking pretty darn horrible at even the most cursory glance.

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 6:22 PM

    Well, to be fair, he DIDN'T have the Super Roofie Kiss as canon. "Superman Returns" was supposed to be a sequel to the Donner Cut, and the one thing the Donner Cut hadn't worked out yet is how it was going to end the movie. And that actually leads to one of the key failures of the "Superman Returns" script, which is that it DOESN'T directly address the issue of whether Lois remembered having sex with Superman or not. (Although by not knowing he's Clark, that would imply she doesn't.)

    Anyway, if you read the whole interviews and not this (grossly misrepresented) pull quote, what he actually says over and over again in two interviews is that his take was too nostalgic for the Donner movies, because he has too much affection for the Donner movies. So when he says if he had it to do over again, he would do a reboot, it's not because he's "creatively bankrupt." He's saying it would have been better to do a from-scratch reboot than try to do a sequel to a movie that technically didn't exist. Which, of course, it would have been.

  • Spyder | February 5, 2014 3:33 PMReply

    I actually liked superman returns better. The only mistake I saw was casting Kumar as a villain.

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 2:12 PMReply

    Two things: 1.) Ummm... that's not what he said. Calm down.

    2.) "It doesn't even feature an interesting Lois Lane the way Man of Steel's Amy Adams character does."

    ...

    lol wut?

  • Sarah | February 5, 2014 4:23 AMReply

    How was it geared towards a more female audience? Was it really simply the lack of explosions? Did he really think that women who like that kind of films would like it more with less bangs? We like the bangs, we just like to see 'action women' making the bangs a little more often.

    I didn't go to see it because although I like action films, and superhero films I have never really had much time for Superman.

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 2:41 PM

    My guess would be less that it didn't have explosions, and more because it focused on the relationship between Superman and Lois and less on the battle between Superman and Luthor. Which it's true, it did. Plus, I can't believe how everybody commenting has forgotten Parker Posey snarking it up and being one of the (only) memorable things about the movie. Kate Bosworth may have been miscast, but as scripted her character was perfectly fine if a bit bland.

    And again I repeat, if you click the link, he was NOT asked, "Why was 'Superman Returns' commercially unsuccessful?" Because it WAS commercially successful. The question he was asked was, "Why is it that over the years, SR has come to be seen retroactively as one of the worst comic book movies ever?" He's implying that the audience who goes about ranking best and worst comic book movies may not be an audience that would respond to SR as well. Because yes, THAT audience - the movie RANKING audience - is predominantly male. My sister loves comic book movies as much as I do, and she can certainly list the ones she likes a lot (first two "X-Men" movies being very high on that list, by the way) or which ones she absolutely hates (used to be "X3," but now it's "Man of Steel" with a bullet) but I guarantee she has never wasted a moment's thought as to whether she would put "Spider-Man 2" as #3 behind "The Avengers," or #4 behind "Iron Man 3." I have. (OK, I haven't done THAT, because CLEARLY it's #4 on the list.) My male friends have. We've sat around and argued it for hours in conversations that could come directly out of the vintage record store in "High Fidelity."

    Bryan Singer was explaining why, when the mostly MEN who do that make those lists, "Superman Returns" tends to be closer to the bottom than the top.

  • Samuel Blondahl | February 4, 2014 11:48 PMReply

    I can't say what exactly he meant with that comment, but I don't think he was blaming women for the films failure so much as blaming his own direction. As an author I am known for having female characters prominent in my books, but even so I don't write for any specific demographic. I think it is self destructive to limit your audience that way, and that may be what bit Singer on Returns if that was his intent when writing it. It may have been his undoing to assume that a female audience had any different hopes from an action film than a male audience (or vice-versa). Gender stereotypes are barely relevant in this generation, and that includes their expectations from entertainment. Audiences are neither male nor female, young nor old, they have no single race, no single religion, no single country. Audiences are all of it. To limit your direction to any single group is just counter productive. Especially in a generation of breaking norms and blurring lines.

    All that said, personally I loved Superman Returns, it had a rare noble spirit in a world of depressing gritty reboots, and a classic comic book plot with modern storytelling. Granted Lois was cast too young though.

  • Matthew Rowe | February 4, 2014 11:09 PMReply

    What a gross misinterpretation! I'm not surprised to find you linking this to The Mary Sue, I've commented agains those narrow minded extreme feminists many times. He didn't say it failed because it was aimed at women, it failed because it was aimed at women and the audience who went to see it were someone else - the superman fanboys who wanted big explosions. He was wrong to make the assumption that because it was a quieter movie it was "for women" but you've taken it too far. Why can people never see these things objectively?

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 6:55 PM

    If you read the Mary Sue article, they don't say he blamed women. They're concerned that in saying he made it for a female audience, it could be twisted to maintain the status quo. Which is a legitimate concern. But no, they don't claim he "blamed women." That's all this blog author.

  • Stefanjammers | February 4, 2014 11:56 PM

    Objective? Like you?

  • Andrena | February 4, 2014 8:57 PMReply

    He is talking about a movie that bombed. He knows he's talking about a movie that bombed. Part of his defense is "it was more for a female audience". So basically, in Singer's world, when you make a movie for a female audience, it bombs. So let's all make sure we never make that mistake again. The author of this post chose the right headline, you all need to quit sucking Singer's d***.

  • Tony | February 5, 2014 2:11 PM

    It didn't bomb. It took in $390M against a $270M budget. That's not GREAT, but especially back in 2006, that's hardly a flop.

  • theo | February 4, 2014 5:44 PMReply

    I really want to like this blog, but you're making it difficult. Singer clearly meant nothing bad by what he said. If anything he's saying that his natural inclination was to craft a story that a typical female audience might appreciate more than a typical male audience, which is no bad thing. This is not him blaming anyone for the film's failure. It's not even clear if he's saying that in hindsight it should've been marketed more heavily towards women or if he should have fought the urge to tell the kind of story he wanted to tell. What is clear though is that he was shouldering all of the responsibility for the creative decisions and the film's success (or lackthereof) HIMSELF.

  • Sarah | February 5, 2014 4:28 AM

    You're not wrong - he is blaming himself. He is also revealing a poor understanding of the female psyche that's rather…I don't know…patronising?

    You seem to accept as read that of course the way to attract women is to reduce the number of explosions. If I go to see an action film I don't want to see a reduced-fat action film.

    Was the last Die Hard a failure because it was geared more towards women? No, it failed because it was rubbish! (Boy what a victim of disappointment I was in that!)

  • Audrey | February 4, 2014 4:30 PMReply

    Superman Returns is a classic example of a male-centered approach to Hollywood looking at a franchise and not understanding in the SLIGHTEST why the property has survived, in the case of Superman, for 75 years. Let's break this down.

    Superman is one of the only male centered comic book franchises that has consistently revolved around the SAME WOMAN for 75 years. Lois Lane was the first woman of comics. She was written as a fierce career woman in 1938 when that was still something that was relatively taboo. Lois Lane is vital to the Superman franchise. She's the soul. She's the human beating heart that connects Superman to the ground no matter how high he flies.

    In the last 30 years, the relationship between Lois and Clark had maintained the sparky "His Girl Friday" flirtation while evolving into an equal partnership that included an engagement/marriage with total honesty for 20+ years.

    Women have SUSTAINED the Superman franchise for 20 years now. "Lois and Clark" aired to the tune of 20 million viewers in primetime before the era of DVR. They kept Smallville on the air for 10 years making it the second highest grossing TV pr0perty for WB ever. The audience for Man of Steel was 44% female---more than any other comic book franchise. It's not just a theory that women like Superman (and Lois Lane)---it's fact. There are numbers to back this up.

    So what does Singer do? He takes a relationship that had, in the last 30 years, evolved into an equal partereship and marriage. He takes a female character who exist as one of the FEW female characters in fiction NOT prized for her "youth" or even necessarily for her extreme beauty. And what does he do? He makes her 23 years old. He cuts her off at the knees. Then he takes this love story and puts both parties in an impossible situation where they both look terrible and can't possibly find a way to make it work without someone getting hurt. On what planet (Earth or Krypton) was that the right way to appeal to WOMEN (women who btw have PROVEN they want to support this narrative in media)?

    Bryan Singer's mistake with Superman Returns was not in trying to appeal to women nor in making a movie that centered on a relationship. His mistake was in the complete miscalulation of what made that relationship what it was. Lois and Clark is fun. It's FUN. When it's written right, it's sparky and sexy and it's office politics and it's office romance and it's sparring and fighting and kissing and FUN. It's one of the only romances available where the woman in question is loved mainly because she's GOOD AT HER JOB and not because she's some young piece.

    And I agree that Amy Adams was wonderful in Man of Steel. But it would have been a better movie if it had focused more on the fun of Lois and Clark and stopped blowing stuff up for 30 seconds. But then again, I guess women don't matter as a demo, do they? :rolls eyes::

  • StefanJammers | February 5, 2014 12:03 AM

    Funny how the negative (against the article)/positive skews decidedly male/female.

    Anyway, I totally agree with the article, and your comprehensive comment. I guess that makes us feminazis.

  • Theo | February 4, 2014 5:48 PM

    He didn't make Lois 23, he cast a 23 year old, at the behest of Kevin Spacey. She was playing older (she had a kid of an age that pretty much meant she had to be).

    Zack Snyder cast an older actress and her characterisation was far worse. Neither failure of the Lois character had anything to do with age.

  • Tom | February 4, 2014 4:29 PMReply

    What a pathetic, vitriolic waste of potentially good use of internet space.

  • TA | February 4, 2014 2:45 PMReply

    This is an pretty inflammatory, misleading and clickbait-y headline. Absolutely nowhere does he 'blame women' for the failure of the movie - at least not in the quote you included. In fact, in a way, he's indirectly blaming explosion-loving dudes for not liking/coming to a movie that was a little less murderous in its scope than Zack Snyder's opus. It really is overkill how people are STILL piling onto Bryan Singer for that movie. At least - unlike Zack Snyder - he's made at least one good movie. Seriously, get over it, guys. Where were you defenders of truth, justice and artistic integrity when GREEN LANTERN came out?

  • Audrey | February 4, 2014 4:34 PM

    People are piling on Bryan Singer because he took one of the most iconic love stories in comics history (if not THE most iconic) and completely miscalulated why it was popular to begin with.

    People are piling on him because he took one of the only female fictional heroines who is usually allowed to be OLDER and more experienced than her male lover and cast a 23 year old in her place. Yes, that's insulting. Mainly because, as women, we barely ever get heroines in these movies who are allowed to be good at their jobs and more mature than the men. So yeah, it was a big slap in the face that Singer thought it was ok to make Lois that young and specifically to make her younger than Clark. Singer took something that belonged to women, crapped all over it and then turned around and told us it was our fault. Not cool.

  • Rick | February 4, 2014 3:10 PM

    Agree about the headline.

  • TA | February 4, 2014 2:45 PM

    *a* pretty inflammatory headline, rather.

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