|“||Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind.||„|
|~ Lex Luthor talking about Superman, and how about he hates him|
Lex Luthor is the main antagonist of Superman Returns. He is an evil criminal mastermind and genius scientist who schemes to defeat and kill Superman, his longtime archenemy, for taking away five years of his life.
Lex Luthor tries to take over the world by destroying some of the earth and creating a huge land mass which everyone will have to pay a big amount to live there. He sneaks behind Superman's back to the Fortress of Solitude and finds out how to access the main computer that will tell him anything he wants to know about Krypton. After that, he finds and steals some Kryptonite so that he use it against Superman, knowing that it makes him weak and deprives him of his powers. Lex uses the crystals to create a Kryptonian land mass, with Kryptonite embedded in its surface, to create a new continent. After Superman lands on the mass, dubbed "New Krypton", the Kryptonite renders him powerless as Lex assaults him, before finally stabbing him with a Kryptonite shiv. With the help of Richard White, Lois Lane, and Superman's son Jason, Superman is saved. Removing most of the Kryptonite and recharging through the sun, Superman stops Luthor's plan. Luthor and his moll Kitty escape via helicopter, but Kitty's conscience overpowers her and she tosses the crystals, preventing Lex from reattempting his plan. The helicopter soon runs out of fuel and they are forced to crash land on a remote island, where there is no food.
- Because of Spacey's Academy Award wining performance in Singer's film The Usual Suspects (1995), and friendship with the director, Spacey was the only actor considered for Lex Luthor. The writers specifically had Spacey in mind for the part when writing the script. Spacey's version of Luthor has the same comically exaggerated vanity and pompus arrogance of the earlier Gene Hackman version as well as the same strong interest in real estate, but Spacey's version is far less campy and more serious. Spacey later said that director Singer told him to play the character more as "darker and more bitter" compared to Hackman and not to use the earlier portrayal as an inspiration.
- Coincidentally, both Kevin Spacey and Gene Hackman (who played Luthor in Superman and Superman II, to which Superman Returns is an alternate sequel) have also previously voiced the villains of from two separate but very similar animated movies released in 1998. Spacey voiced Hopper from Pixar's A Bug's Life, while Hackman voiced General Mandible from DreamWorks Antz.