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Lex Luthor (Superman Films)

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Miss Teschmacher, people can read War and Peace, and come away thinking it is a simple adventure story. Some people can read the ingredients of a chewing gum wrapper, and unlock the secrets of the universe.
~ Lex Luthor's most famous line.

Lex Luthor is the main antagonist of Superman: The Movie, the quaternary antagonist of Superman II: The Adventure Continous and the main antagonist of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Lex Luthor is Superman's arch nemesis who plots to destroy Superman and become the richest man ever.

He was portrayed by veteran legendary actor Gene Hackman.

Superman: The Movie

He is purely motivated by money, as well as the desire to swindle as tremendous a fortune as possible to prove his genius. Although he is bald, he wears a variety of wigs throughout the film to conceal it. He resides in a secret lair fashioned out of the remains of an abandoned railway terminal, a high-tech hideout that hearkens back to his "Golden Age" comic counterpart. Luthor's schemes are offset by a tendency to surround himself with unsatisfactory help; he is burdened by his bumbling henchman Otis, as well as his conscience-stricken girlfriend Eve Teschmacher. Luthor plots to divert a nuclear missile into hitting the San Andreas fault, causing California to sink into the ocean, thereby turning its neighboring states into prime beach front property. Although Luthor nearly kills Superman using kryptonite, Superman escapes with the help of Teschmacher. After Superman repairs the damage to the San Andreas region, he delivers Luthor and Otis to prison.

Superman II: The Adventure Continous

After journeying to the Fortress of Solitude, Luthor learns of the existence of General Zod and the other Kryptonian criminals. Hoping to rule his own continent once the evil Kryptonians take over Earth, Luthor allies himself with Zod. He asks Zod for control over real estate in Australia. However, when Superman confronts Zod and his cronies at the Fortress of Solitude at the film's climax, Luthor tricks Superman into revealing that there is a chamber in the Fortress which can nullify a Kryptonian's powers using synthetic red solar radiation- in essence turning a Kryptonian, such as Superman, Zod, and his followers Non and Ursa, into a vulnerable human. Fortunately, expecting Luthor's betrayal, Superman had already reversed the mechanism of the chamber, and when forced inside by Zod, the "red sun" beams are dispersed throughout the Fortress while Superman is safely shielded; Zod and his followers are defeated easily because of the loss of their powers. Luthor, meanwhile, is sent back to prison for his accomplishment with Zod and his minions.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Once again, Lex allies himself with other villains, in this instance a cadre of war profiteers and arms dealers who are worried about what Superman's efforts toward nuclear disarmament will do to their business. Lex uses his own DNA, combined with strand of Superman's hair that is stolen from a museum, to create a hybrid clone which he dubs "Nuclear Man." The radioactive villain possesses abilities similar to Superman, but receives his power from direct sunlight, whereas Superman can still operate in darkness. Superman exploits this weakness eventually, destroying Nuclear Man and returning Lex to prison for last time.

Trivia

  • Hackman declined to return to shoot the remaining scenes in Superman II after the Salkinds fired director Richard Donner after the release of the first film. Most of his scenes had already been shot under Donner's direction, the remaining scenes with Luthor were filmed using a body double.
  • American actor Dustin Hoffman, who was previously considered for the role of Superman, turned down the role of Lex Luthor.
  • The role of Ross Webster was written to replace Lex Luthor after Gene Hackman declined to return for the third film. The popular belief was that Luthor refused to do the film because of his disagreements with the Salkinds after they fired director Richard Donner. Ilya Salkind later denied this claim, stating that Hackman's schedule kept him from being able to reprise the Luthor role for the third film. Hackman was convinced to return for the fourth film as the Salkinds were not involved with The Quest For Peace.
    • It's likely that if the cancelled fifth installment, Superman V: Reborn, would be released, Hackman wouldn't be reprise his role as Luthor, because the Salkinds wrote the story treatment.
    • In Superman Returns, the fifth film in the series (though ignoring the events of the third and fourth films, and therefore an alternate sequel to Superman II), Lex Luthor is portrayed by Kevin Spacey. Kevin Spacey and Gene Hackman also portrayed Hopper and General Mandible, respectively, in the computer animated ant films A Bug's Life and Antz.
  • Many fans confuse Luthor as the secondary antagonist of Superman II, behind General Zod. However, it's not true. Although Luthor was introduced as the film's secondary antagonist, he was outranked to quaternary antagonist by the the true secondary antagonists.

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