Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a 1987 British-American superhero film directed by Sidney J. Furie, based on the DC Comics character Superman. It is the fourth and final film in the original Superman film series, and the first film in that series not to be produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, but rather by Golan-Globus' Cannon Films, in association with Warner Bros.Gene Hackman returned as Lex Luthor, who creates an evil solar-powered version of Superman called Nuclear Man.
Superman IV was both a critical and commercial failure, with many reviewers criticizing the cheap special effects, inconsistencies, lack of originality, and plot holes. Critics have put Superman IV in the category of worst films ever made.
Superman saves a spaceship of cosmonauts whose ship was thrown off course by debris, then visits his home-town of Smallville as Clark. Now that his adoptive parents have died, Clark has inherited their now-unattended farm. In an empty barn, he uncovers the capsule that brought him to Earth, and removes a luminescent green Kryptonian energy module. A recording left by his mother Lara states that its power can be used only once. Unwilling to sell the farm to a mall developer, Superman returns to Metropolis, where he stops a runaway Subway Train after the conductor collapses at the Controls.
After returning to the Daily Planet, Clark learns that the newspaper went bankrupt and has been taken over by David Warfield, a tabloid tycoon who fires Perry White and hires his own daughter Lacy as the new editor. Lacy takes a liking to Clark and tries to seduce him. Clark agrees to go on a date with her. Following the news that the United States and the Soviet Union may engage in nuclear war, Clark is conflicted about how much Superman should intervene. After receiving a letter from a concerned schoolboy, Superman travels to the Fortress of Solitude to seek advice from the spirits of his Kryptonian ancestors. They recommend that he let Earth solve its own problems, or seek new worlds where war has been outlawed. After asking for advice from Lois Lane, Superman attends a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, announcing to the assembly that he will rid the planet of nuclear weapons. Various nations fire their nuclear warheads into space, which are collected by Superman into a giant net and then thrown into the sun.
Meanwhile, young Lenny Luthor breaks his uncle Lex Luthor out of prison. Returning to Metropolis, Lex and Lenny steal a strand of Superman's hair from a museum, and create a genetic matrix which Lex attaches to a U.S. nuclear missile. After the missile is test launched, Superman intercepts it and throws it into the sun. A glowing ball of energy is discharged, which develops into a superhuman. This "Nuclear Man" makes his way back to Earth to find his 'father' Lex, who establishes that while his creation is powerful, he will deactivate without solar light. A vicious battle ensues between Lex's creation and Superman. While saving the Statue of Liberty from falling onto New York, Superman is infected with radiation sickness by a scratch from Nuclear Man's radioactive claws. Nuclear Man kicks Superman into the distance with such strength that his cape is torn away.
To Lois' disgust, the Daily Planet (which has been reformatted as a tabloid newspaper) publishes the headline "Superman Dead?" Lois indicates a desire to quit and seizes Superman's recovered cape for herself. Lacy is also upset and reveals to Lois that she cares for Clark. Lois ventures to Clark's apartment where she proclaims her love for Superman. Felled by radiation sickness, Clark staggers to his terrace where he retrieves the Kryptonian energy module and attempts to heal himself. Having developed a crush on Lacy, Nuclear Man threatens mayhem if she is not brought to him. The newly restored Superman agrees to take him to her to prevent anyone else from being hurt. Superman lures Nuclear Man into an elevator car, trapping him inside and then depositing it on the far side of the moon. As the sun rises, Nuclear Man breaks free due to a crack in the elevator doors and Superman is again forced to defend himself. At the end of the battle, it appears as though Superman has been defeated, and he is driven into the moon's surface by his opponent.
Nuclear Man forces his way into the Daily Planet and abducts Lacy, carrying her into outer space. Superman frees himself from the moon's surface and pushes it out of its orbit, casting Earth into an eclipse, nullifying Nuclear Man's powers and leaving Lacy helpless in space. Superman rescues Lacy and returns her to earth, then recovers Nuclear Man and deposits him into the core of a nuclear power plant, destroying him. What had been Nuclear Man becomes electrical power for the entire electrical grid. Perry White secures a loan to buy a controlling interest in the newspaper, making David Warfield a minority shareholder and protecting the paper from any further takeovers. In a press conference, Superman declares only partial victory in his campaign, saying, "There will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them". Superman also recaptures the fleeing Luthors. He places Lenny in Boys Town, telling the priest that Lenny has been under a bad influence, and returns Lex to prison.
- Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent / Superman
- Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor / voice of Nuclear Man
- Jackie Cooper as Perry White
- Marc McClure as Jimmy Olsen
- Jon Cryer as Lenny Luthor
- Sam Wanamaker as David Warfield
- Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man
- Mariel Hemingway as Lacy Warfield
- Margot Kidder as Lois Lane
- Damian McLawhorn as Jeremy
- William Hootkins as Harry Howler
- Jim Broadbent as Jean Pierre Dubois
- Stanley Lebor as General Romoff
- Don Fellows as Levon Hornsby
- Robert Beatty as U.S. President
- Susannah York as the voice of Lara
In 1983, following the mixed reaction to Superman III, which nonetheless made $60 million at the box office, Reeve and the producers, a father and son team Alexander and Ilya Salkind, assumed that the Superman films had run their course. Reeve was slated to make a cameo in 1984's Supergirl but was unavailable; that film (technically the fourth in the series) was a box office failure in the U.S. but successful in other territories. Four years later, Ilya Salkind sold the Superman franchise to Golan & Globus of Cannon Films.
According to Reeve, Golan & Globus did not have a script in mind when they first approached him about doing the fourth installment; they simply wanted him to reprise his role. Reeve himself admitted in his autobiography Still Me that he really wasn't sure that he wanted to do another Superman film, especially if it were going to be treated as a farce, which had been the case with the third film, an approach that Reeve felt was disrespectful to fans and the source material. The new filmmakers then offered Reeve a deal he couldn't refuse – in exchange for starring in the fourth Superman film, they would produce any project of his choosing, and also promised him story input (there was also talk of having Reeve direct a fifth Superman film in case the fourth one proved successful). Reeve accepted, and in exchange, Golan & Globus produced the gritty crime drama Street Smart.
After reviewing various scripts, Reeve suggested the storyline of Superman becoming involved in the global political issue of nuclear warfare, in order to give the film a more serious feel to distance itself from the previous film. Unfortunately, Golan & Globus had so many other films in the pipeline at the time that their money was spread too thinly to properly accommodate what became Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, released in 1987, forcing the film's veteran director Sidney J. Furie to cut corners everywhere. The film was universally panned by critics and fans alike, who were disgusted by the film's cheap special effects, which paled in comparison to the earlier films, and performed poorly at the box office.
In Reeve's autobiography Still Me, he described filming Superman IV as "simply a catastrophe from start to finish". He wrote:
- “We were also hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. 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. Dick 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. Even if the story had been brilliant, I don't think that we could ever have lived up to the audience's expectations with this approach.”
Mark Rosenthal's DVD commentary pointed to this scene as an example of Cannon's budget slashing. According to Rosenthal, Reeve and director Furie begged to be able to film that sequence in New York in front of the real United Nations because everyone knew what New York was supposed to look like and that the England setting looked nothing like it. However Cannon refused. According to Rosenthal they were "pinching pennies at every step."
According to Jon Cryer, who played Lex Luthor's nephew Lenny, Reeve had taken him aside just before the release and told him it was going to be "terrible". Although Cryer enjoyed working with Reeve and his on-screen uncle, Gene Hackman, Cryer claimed that Cannon ran out of money five months ahead of time and ultimately released an unfinished movie. This is somewhat borne out in the novelization of the film's script. It shows a much more complex and complete story. The film looked as though whole pages or sections of the script were summarily torn out.
The movie was not well received by either the general public or movie critics. Some critics considered the film to be one of the worst of its year. The movie suffered from poor sound and visual effects, believed to be caused by Cannon using much of the film's intended budget on their other projects. Reportedly, Warner Bros. gave Cannon approximately $40 million to produce Superman IV but in the end, Cannon used only $17 million for Superman IV. Most feel that the first movie had superior effects when compared to the fourth film, despite being nine years old at that point.
Of the four Superman films starring Reeve, this one fared the worst at the box office, and the series, as it turned out, went dormant for 19 years. Reeve himself admitted that both this and the third installment were very poor and did not live up to the potential that had been established by the first two films, and his 1995 paralysis made the development of any further sequels involving him in the starring role impossible. Time Warner let the Superman feature film franchise go undeveloped until the late-1990s when a variety of proposals were considered (see: Canceled Superman films), including several that would reboot the franchise altogether with substantially different versions of the characters and setting, rather than attempt to follow up on this film.
The final words in this film, "See you in twenty," proved to be prophetic. The next Superman film, Superman Returns, arrived at cinemas in June 2006, nineteen years after Superman IV premiered at the box office. This film discarded the events of Superman III and IV, continuing where the first two installments left off, although most of Richard Lester's concepts in Superman II are jettisoned as well.
According to writer Mark Rosenthal's commentary on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Deluxe Edition DVD released in November 2006, and the gallery of deleted scenes included on the disc, there are approximately 45 minutes of the film that have not been seen by the public after they were deleted following a failed Southern California test screening. In fact, the Nuclear Man that appears in the film is actually the second Nuclear Man Luthor created. Cut scenes featured the original Nuclear Man engaging Superman in battle outside the Metro Club and being destroyed by the Man of Steel. The first Nuclear Man was somewhat more inhuman-looking than his successor, and resembled vaguely in looks, and significantly in personality, the comic book character Bizarro. Luthor postulates that this Nuclear Man was not strong enough, and hatches the plan to create the second Nuclear Man inside the sun as a result. The comic book adaptation of the film, as well as the novelization, depicts these scenes and several photos of Superman's battle with the first Nuclear Man can be seen online. Three of the "lost" minutes, consisting of two scenes (the "tornado scene", in which Christopher Reeve's daughter Alexandra plays the girl swept away by the tornado; and the "Moscow" sequence, in which Superman stops a nuclear missile from being launched) were used in the international release by Cannon Films, and in the U.S. syndicated television version prepared by Viacom. At one point the producers of this film considered using all of this footage (and presumably shooting new footage) into a fifth film (see Superman Lives), but the poor box office performance of this film led that idea to be scrapped. Rosenthal commented on the DVD commentary that this showed just how out of touch Cannon was with reality.
The original 2-hour 14-minute preview version has never been seen outside its ill-fated Southern California test screening. There had been rumors that this version, including all the deleted scenes described above, of the film was shown only one known time, on the SFM Holiday Network in 1989. In actuality, another film that co-starred Christopher Reeve was shown on SFM, and this is where the misconception originated. A spokesman for SFM later confirmed that the full version never aired on television.
Warner Bros. confirmed in an early 2006 Internet chat room session that the lost footage was found, and approx. 30 minutes of the footage were included in a "deleted scenes" section of the 2006 DVD box set, The Ultimate Superman Collection. The footage is presumably taken from an original workprint, as visual effects are not complete, music is consisted from stock elements and the first film's soundtrack, and the film is in a very rough state.
Ownership and rights
As a result of prior contracts, different entities own different components of Superman IV. Warner Bros. co-produced the film and handled North American theatrical distribution, while Cannon Films handled distribution outside North America. Due to legal snags, the film was not issued on DVD for many years until WB bought back key rights to the film, thus allowing it to be released on DVD in the U.S. in 2001. The international DVD rights were not settled until 2005 and WB has since released IV outside the U.S. on home video. WB also handled worldwide distribution of IV when it was reissued in late 2006 as part of the 14-disc Ultimate Superman Collection box set.
CBS Paramount Domestic Television (owners of the television rights to Cannon's library, and successor company to Viacom Enterprises) formerly held television rights to the film. However, Warner Bros. Television Distribution--since it and ION Media Networks announced a deal on June 27, 2006 that provided the rights to broadcast movies and classic TV shows from the Warner Bros. library on the ION Television network--has now assumed TV rights for Superman IV and its predecessor Superman III from CBS Paramount Television.
Meanwhile all other theatrical and television rights in certain territories, including partial copyright, are owned by MGM/Sony/Comcast (successors-in-interest to Cannon Films). Ironically enough, CBS Paramount Television is also the successor-in-interest to the TV division of Paramount Pictures, the studio that released the 1940s Superman cartoons made by Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios.
This film gives the Man of Steel powers with which he had never before been portrayed. Among these, after the Nuclear Man destroys part of the Great Wall of China, Superman restores the wall by gazing at it, causing the wall to rebuild itself, apparently by use of telekinesis, a power never ascribed to Superman in the comics. A contemporary film critic jokingly referred to this new power as "masonry vision." He uses the same ability during the street battle with Nuclear Man when he lowers several men (who are floating in the air thanks to Nuclear Man) to the ground just by looking at them.