Spider-Man 3 (2007) -vs- Superman III (1983)

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

Since more ink is being spilled on Spider-Man 3 than the Bible these days, we thought we’d reach back for our Smackdown, almost a quarter-of-a-century to 1983 for Superman III. Here we have two successful comic book sequels where the main character’s essential goodness is put into graphic relief by creating an anti-hero version from the dark side. Kind of like a “Superego -vs- Id” Smackdown. Oh, and in each installment, they also get to fool around with potential new girlfriends.

The Challenger

Let’s see… I’m betting that even if you haven’t seen Spider-Man 3, you feel like you’ve seen it. The trailers have been multiplying and getting hyped for the better part of a year, I’ve got Venom wallpaper on my iMac, Tobey Maguire’s just wrapped up a world tour with the triumphal interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Let’s try to do it in a single sentence. Spider-Man gets A) cocky, B) a new spider-suit from space, C) flirts with a new girlfriend possibility, and D) fights the new Goblin, plus the Sandman, played by that guy we haven’t seen since Sideways, and Venom (who gets to wear the suit) by the kid from That ’70s Show. This film is all about more, more, and more. There are some groaners in the film — notably Peter Parker’s “Saturday Night Fever” walk and his dance number in a jazz bar — but the action is superb (and it ought to be, given the film’s price tag).

The Defending Champion

This third time out for the original Superman franchise basically re-tooled the series into a middle-of-the-road comedy. The story involved the usual plot to control the Earth. Lex Luthor was replaced with a warmed-over Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn as a villain with a name you’d have to look up in the credits to remember, along with Richard Pryor, who came aboard as a computer nerd. Even Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) got reduced in favor of a new super-babe Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Satellites were being used to screw with the weather (pre-global warming), Lois was on vacation, Clark went back to Smallville for a high-school reunion, and a new kind of Kryptonite got let out of the box creating a new Superman with a bad attitude.

The Scorecard

In 1978, the first Superman movie really did shake things up in the film world as much as the first Spider-Man did when it was released in 2002. Both franchises were generally acknowledged to have improved in their sequels (2 and II), and to have dived just a bit in their three-quels (3 and III). How do they stack up against each other? On the subject of tone, Spider-Man 3 keeps the winning formular from its predecessors going, even if it is a little too cluttered for its own good. Superman III, however, veered off in an unsettling direction for most fans. On the subject of villains, Spider-Man 3 probably has too many, yes, but at least they are really, really cool, and they fight back in a challenging way. Adding new female interests didn’t bother me in either film, and from all accounts, it was necessary in Superman II because Margot Kidder was imploding in real life. And Peter Parker still ends up with Mary Jane (although, to me, I’d go with Bryce Dallas Howard and not just because we share a first name).

And the winner is…

The Decision

It’s no surprise here. Superman III was a colossal misfire. It stopped the franchise dead in its tracks, threw away its power and charm, and became a major disappointment. Spider-Man 3 still works. If anything, it is not guilty of doing too little, but of trying too hard. But here’s the bottom line: Don’t ever, ever bother to see Superman III, because there is only so much time in your life, and you need not to waste it. But do get out and see Spider-Man 3 in the theaters, because this film is all about the spectacle.


About Bryce Zabel

Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.
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5 Responses to Spider-Man 3 (2007) -vs- Superman III (1983)


  1. Spider-Man 3… More villains, plots and action than any super hero movie EVER made! It plunges into one plot, and with the blink of an eye… shifts to another. But here’s the thing… if Spidey-3 stuck to one main plot… and less action… it would be an out cry about not enough action! In my view… Spidey-3 delivers all that you could dream in 2 hours and 20 mins. You want action, than you got it!!! Spidey-3 without a doubt has the best special effects to date… some of the most intense fight scenes your going to ever see… the fight scenes alone are worth the price of admission. The scenes with the crane going out of control… I dare someone say that was not the best action scene EVER created!!! And the most realistic looking one…

  2. Rodney says:

    Superman III was, let’s be honest, a crapfest from start to finish. The only saving grace, and the reason fan’s still mention it, is the classic Superman-Good vs Superman-Evil Smackdown in the final act. Richard Pryor was miscast, and Superman should never have become a “comedy”… I use the term lightly. A failure in almost every conceivable way. Has anybody actually ever listened to the dialogue? It’s ludicrous, even for a “comic book film”. Awful. Great result here, I reckon.

  3. Ryan Coster says:

    I would like to become a super hero and fly and wear a superman suit and do superman movies. I want to split myself into two and fight myself and make the other part of myself vanish because I want the part of me that has the seizures to disappear. Then I could fly over to the big ship and fix it and blow all the oil back into the big ship.
    Ryan Lee Coster

  4. Mark says:

    I enjoyed Spider-Man 3 more then Superman III. You are right the main difference in the Spider-Man series is that they do stay true to it. Unlike the Superman series. In my opinion when you go back and look at comic book films, and there sequels. Spider-Man is the only one that is being done right consecutively.

  5. Beau says:

    Hmmm…the villians of Spider-Man 3 are fun to watch, but not fun to think about or relate to sadly. But, Raimi does seem somewhat remote loyal to his franchise while Superman III was just…awful.

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