Superman seemed to save the planet, by spending all his time in Metropolis and hanging out with journalists — but once, he visited the London Underground. Or at least, in Superman 4, he used the London Underground which was, rather badly, mocked up to look vaguely like an American subway.
The film location is that perennial favourite, Aldwych, and they used a 1973 tube train from the Piccadilly line which at the time of filming was still running the shuttle service to Holborn station. No sensible advertising agency wanting to be associated with this dire movie, the adverts in the platforms are all freebies supplied by the Ad Council, which promoted social niceties – such as not burning down forests.
In the film, the driver has a heart attack and loses control of the train — which obviously can’t happen in real life as the “dead mans handle” would be released automatically bringing the train to a slow stop.
But this is poor quality fantasy, so sit back and watch some of the worst acting and special effects ever to be seen on the London Underground.
There’s a slight in-joke in the scene, if you look at the book that Lois Lane is holding, it’s teaching her how to talk about trams and trains in French.
The phone booth scene also has an interesting history behind it. In the comics, Clark Kent changes into Superman in phone booths a lot. An awful lot, but apart from one short scene in the first of the movies, the phone booth was conspicuous by its absence. Until they used some that were even then still widely provided on the London Underground for that famous costume change.
The awful flying scene was a victim of budget cuts, and they simply reused some footage of him flying in another part of the film. Which also explains why none of the passengers waiting on the platform look at him — the actors had no idea where he would be in the scene, or maybe they’re just Londoners too disinterested in a flying superman to look up from their papers.
The film famously suffered from bad special effects, in part due to it being made on a shoestring budget in the UK by a different team from the previous Superman movies.
One notable quote explains a lot – in his autobiography, Still Me, Christopher Reeve described filming the movie:
For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street. Richard Donner would have choreographed hundreds of pedestrians and vehicles and cut to people gawking out of office windows at the sight of Superman walking down the street like the Pied Piper. Instead, we had to shoot at an industrial park in England in the rain with about a hundred extras, not a car in sight, and a dozen pigeons thrown in for atmosphere.
Keeping up with the transport theme though, Milton Keynes bus station became a cheap stand in for the United Nations. They thought that adding a few fake fire hydrants and a hot dog seller to make it look like New York. They failed.
That tube train, formation 891 is still in use on the Piccadilly line, although it’s been converted into a rail adhesion train. So if you see it out and about, watch out for a Superman close behind.