Supergirl (1984 film)
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Directed by: Jeannot Szwarc
Produced by: Timothy Burrill
Screenplay by: David Odell
Based on: Supergirl by Otto Binder, Al Plastino
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Helen Slater, Hart Bochner. Peter Cook, Mia Farrow, Marc McClure, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter O’Toole
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Edited by: Malcolm Cooke
Production company: Artistry Investors In Industry, Robert Fleming Leasing, St. Michael Finance
Distributed by: Columbia – EMI - Warner
Release date: July 19, 1984
Running time: 124 minutes
Country: United Kingdom, United States
Budget: $35 million
Box office: $14.3 million
Supergirl is a 1984 superhero film directed by Jeannot Szwarc and written by David Odell. Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, it is a spin off from Alexander and Ilya Salkind’s Superman film series. The film stars Helen Slater as Supergirl, along with Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, and Peter O’Toole, with Marc McClure reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen from the Superman films. He was the only actor to do so. The film is set after the events of Superman III while Superman is on a peacekeeping mission millions of light years from earth. Supergirl was the first English language superhero film to feature a woman in the lead role.
The film was released in the United Kingdom on July 19, 1984, but failed to impress critics and audiences alike. Dunaway and O’Toole earned Golden Raspberry Award nominations for Worst Actress and Worst Actor, respectively. However, Slater was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actress. The film’s failure ultimately led the Salkinds to sell the Superman rights to Cannon Films in 1986. Its first DVD release was by the independent home video company Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2000, under license from then rights holder StudioCanal. Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the film and reissued it on DVD late in 2006 to coincide with the release of Superman Returns. Although it is canon with the Christopher Reeve / Brandon Routh Superman films, it is not included in any of the Superman DVD or Blu-ray box sets by Warner Bros.. A book adaptation of the film was written by Norma Fox Mazer and released in paperback form in 1984.
Kara Zor-El lives in an isolated Kryptonian community named Argo City, in a pocket of trans dimensional space. A man named Zaltar allows Kara to see a unique and immensely powerful item known as the Omegahedron, which he has borrowed without the knowledge of the city government, and which powers the city. However, after a mishap, the Omegahedron is blown out into space. After overhearing the wariness of her parents, Kara follows it to Earth (undergoing a transformation into “Supergirl” in the process) in an effort to recover it and save the city.
On Earth, the Omegahedron is recovered by Selena, a power hungry would be witch assisted by the feckless Bianca, seeking to free herself from her relationship with warlock Nigel. Whilst not knowing exactly what it is, Selena quickly realizes that the Omegahedron is powerful and can enable her to perform real magical spells. Supergirl arrives on Earth and discovers her new powers. Following the path of the Omegahedron, she takes the name Linda Lee, identifies herself as the cousin of Clark Kent, and enrolls at an all girls school where she befriends Lucy Lane, the younger sister of Lois Lane who happens to be studying there. Supergirl also meets and becomes enamoured with Ethan, who works as a groundskeeper at the school.
Ethan also catches the eye of Selena, who drugs him with a love potion (which will make him fall in love with the first person he sees for a day); however, Ethan regains consciousness in Selena’s absence and wanders out into the streets. An angry Selena uses her new found powers to animate a construction vehicle which she sends to bring Ethan back, causing chaos in the streets as it does so. Supergirl, in the guise of Linda Lee, rescues Ethan, and he falls in love with her instead.
Supergirl and Selena begin to battle. Supergirl appears to have the upper hand until Selena summons new powers to capture Ethan and subsequently lure and trap Supergirl, sending her to the Phantom Zone. There, without her powers, she wanders the landscape, falls into a lava pit, and passes out. Zaltar, who has exiled himself to the Phantom Zone as a punishment for losing the Omegahedron, finds Kara unconscious. After she wakes up, Zaltar convinces Kara to escape and sacrifices his life to allow her to do so. Back on Earth, Selena misuses the Omegahedron to make herself a “Princess of Earth” with Ethan as her lover and consort. Emerging from the Phantom Zone through a mirror, Supergirl regains her powers and confronts Selena, who uses the Omegahedron’s power to summon a gigantic shadow demon. The demon overwhelms Supergirl and is on the verge of defeating her when she hears Zaltar’s voice urging her to fight on. Supergirl breaks free and is told by Nigel that the only way to defeat Selena is to turn the shadow demon against her. Supergirl quickly complies and begins flying in circles around her, trapping her in a tornado. Selena is attacked and incapacitated by the monster as the whirlwind pulls Bianca in as well. The three of them are sucked back into the mirror portal, which promptly reforms, trapping them all within forever. Free from Selena’s spell, Ethan admits his love for Linda. He says he knows that she and Supergirl are one and the same, but also knows it is possible he may never see her again and understands she must save Argo City. The final scene shows Kara returning the Omegahedron to a darkened Argo City, which promptly lights up again.
Helen Slater as Kara Zor-El / Linda Lee / Supergirl
Faye Dunaway as Selena
Peter O’Toole as Zaltar
Hart Bochner as Ethan
Mia Farrow as Alura In-Ze
Brenda Vaccaro as Bianca
Peter Cook as Nigel
Simon Ward as Zor-El
Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen
Maureen Teefy as Lucy Lane
David Healy as Mr. Danvers
Sandra Dickinson as Pretty Young Lady
Matt Frewer as Truck Driver ‘Eddie’
Kelly Hunter as Argonian Citizen
Glory Annen as Midvale Protester
Christopher Reeve was slated to have a cameo as Superman but bowed out early on. His non appearance in the film is explained via a news broadcast (overheard by Selena) stating that Superman has left Earth on a “peace seeking mission” to a distant galaxy. Director Jeannot Szwarc said in the Superman documentary You Will Believe... that Reeve’s involvement in this film would have given the feature higher credibility, and he admitted he wished Reeve had made a contribution to the film’s production. A publicity photo of him as Superman, however, did appear as a poster in Lucy and Linda’s shared dorm room.
Marc McClure makes his fourth of five appearances in the Superman related films; he is the only actor to appear in all four films featuring Superman and this spin off film. Demi Moore auditioned for and was cast as character Lucy Lane but bowed out to make the film Blame It on Rio. Maureen Teefy was signed instead.
Upon gaining the film rights for Superman: The Movie in 1978, Alexander Salkind and his son, Ilya, also purchased the rights to the character of Supergirl, should any sequel or spin off occur. After the critical and commercial disappointment of Superman III, the Salkinds opted to make a Supergirl movie to freshen the franchise. Ilya later recounted, “It was something different, to an extent. I thought it was a very different area to explore.”
The producers attempted, and failed, to get the services of Richard Lester, who had directed Superman III and had completed the second film after their dismissal of original director Richard Donner. Robert Wise also turned down the director’s chair. But French filmmaker Jeannot Szwarc, whose best known work up to that time was mainly in television and directing Jaws 2, was ultimately chosen after a meeting with Christopher Reeve, who had complimented the Somewhere in Time director. Szwarc sought advice from Donner over some technical aspects of the production.
Hundreds of actresses tested for the role of Supergirl / Linda, among them Demi Moore and Brooke Shields. Shields and Moore were both ultimately rejected by both Ilya and Szwarc, who had both wanted an unknown actress, and they instead signed Helen Slater. Slater was paid $75,000. Dolly Parton turned down the role of Selena before it was offered to Dunaway. Much of the film was shot at Pinewood Studios in London. Production took place between the summer and fall of 1983.
Although the Salkinds financed the film completely on their own budget, Warner Bros. was still involved in the production since the studio owned the distribution rights to the film, and its parent company, Warner Communications, was also the parent company of DC Comics, owners of all “Superman and Superman family” copyrights. The entire film was shot, edited and overseen under the supervision of Warner Bros. Warners only had a July 1984 slot open for Supergirl, but the producers insisted on opening it during the holiday season. That conflict, along with the disappointing critical and financial performance of Superman III, prompted the studio to relinquish its distribution rights of Supergirl to the Salkinds. The film proceeded to be released overseas, however, and received a Royal Film Premiere in the United Kingdom in July 1984.