At first glance, Superman III seems like an innocuous romp perfect for families – just another cheery Christopher Reeve vehicle about the Man of Steel saving the day, with many fans have forgotten about a particularly scary Superman scene in the film. For most of its runtime, the 1983 film delivers exactly what you’d expect. Supes battles a bumbling villain played for laughs by Richard Pryor, quipping one-liners and exuding his trademark charm along the way.
Back in the ’80s, superhero films didn’t have to go all out with their special effects or “realistic” superpowers. After all, Batman 1989 was still a ways off, so the age of the dark and gritty superhero flicks wouldn’t come for at least another decade. That’s what makes one of Superman III‘s most infamous scenes all the more shocking.
Anyone who ever saw Superman III as a kid knows exactly what I’m talking about: near the end of the film, one of Ross Webster’s female cronies gets captured by a rogue cybercomputer. What follows is a scene that looks like it came straight out of Tetsuo: The Iron Man. Vera, Ross’s equally nefarious sister, played by Annie Ross, gets turned into a cyborg.
Words simply don’t do justice to how disturbingly this scene plays out. While the transformation itself is reasonably safe for younger audiences, the sudden tonal shift and the creepy eye prosthetics help make this scene stand out from the rest of the film. I mean, have you seen Superman III‘s poster? It’s clear this isn’t exactly the Man of Steel’s darkest adventure, and yet that scene in particular has been the source of children’s nightmares for generations.
“Jesus, looks like we all suffered the same scarring from this scene as kids lol!” Writes one user on YouTube, perfectly encapsulating my thoughts on the weirdly scarring scene. Another user on the same video also points out that, during the transformation, a piece of metal shuts Vera’s mouth shut as if to silence her screams. Why this scene – which could have easily been in a David Cronenberg movie – made it to the final cut in a PG film is a testament to how wild the ’80s were for pop culture.
Disturbing scenes like this in otherwise innocent superhero films are not a rare occurrence. I remember being scarred by that one scene in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man where the Green Goblin tosses a grenade and vaporizes most of Oscar’s board members. It’s almost like a rite of passage: the sudden jumpscare in a superhero flick.
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That said, the practical effects and the overall presentation of the Superman III scene are far more terrifying than Spider-Man‘s early-00s CGI skeletons. I’d be willing to bet that – if it wasn’t for this one particular scene – Superman III as a whole would have been largely forgotten by the internet. At the very least, it would have been mentioned as often fans discuss Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Still, as traumatizing for kids as it was, the “Cyborg Vera” scene also reveals the dedication of the filmmakers of the era. By all means, this scene could have been as cheap as the rest of the B movie films of the era – I mean, even the “laser beams” cyborg Vera fires look a bit lame – but they went the extra mile to create a memorable character that only shows up for a fraction of the film’s runtime. If that isn’t love for the source material, I don’t know what is.
Were you also terrified of this scary Superman scene in Superman III? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below!