Despite its much-maligned reputation, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) began its harrowing journey on the Silver Screen with the lofty expectation of saving the Man of Steel’s movie franchise. But most critics and fans were still reeling from the failed venture of the previous installment in the series Superman III (1983) starring comedian Richard Pryor.
Actor Christopher Reeve, who played the Last Son of Krypton, came up with a story concept he believed in and thought was truly viable. He was hopeful the fourth installment could match the genius of Superman: The Movie (1978) and be just as successful. But much like a meteor show full of Kryptonite, an innumerable amount of obstacles were on the horizon to derail his auspicious intentions.
The Quest for Peace celebrates its 30th anniversary on July 24, so in honor of the occasion here are 15 Shocking Things You Never Knew About The Disastrous Superman IV.
15. Reeve’s Love/Hate For The Movie
Christopher Reeve was more than a little resentful of the unorthodox path Richard Lester took the franchise on with Superman III, but as time passed the actor started to warm up to the idea of donning the red and blue tights again.
Reeve met with executives at Warner Bros. and Cannon Films about a story outline he himself conceived, in which Superman was compelled to intervene in the nuclear arms race. The suits loved the idea. And the fact that the Man of Steel was going to return to movie theaters seemingly assured lucrative profits for all involved. Reeve had the added incentive of promised financial backing for his upcoming film Street Smart (1987) to the tune of $5 million.
During his behind-the-scenes interviews, and the press junket that followed, Reeve championed the movie. But after the film faltered at the box office both commercially and critically, Reeve was quick to pile on with his own criticisms. He thought the movie severely damaged his career and even told the United Kingdom’s The Morning that “The first two [Superman movies] were for the time capsule, III and IV it’s like ‘thank you very much – goodbye.’”
14. Chaotic Casting
As poorly as Superman IV performed in theaters, can you imagine Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder not appearing in the film? Hackman was noticeably absent from Superman III, and the actor had no intentions of reprising his role as Lex Luthor after the studios had treated director Richard Donner so badly while making Superman: The Movie and Superman II (1980).
Kidder had also voiced her displeasure with how Donner was fired and only given credit for the first Superman film. And whether or not it was retribution for her comments, Kidder’s Lois Lane only appeared on the screen for five minutes in the second sequel.
But Christopher Reeve’s creative presence in The Quest for Peace helped to lure his friend Hackman back into the fold. And despite their rather contentious relationship, Kidder also agreed to join Reeve in the picture. Superman film mainstays Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure also returned as Perry White and Jimmy Olsen respectively.
13. It Killed A Spider-Man Movie
The Cannon Group’s Spider Sense should have been tingling violently enough to shake the snowbanks right off of Mount Everest, but the executives just didn’t heed the warning signs or have the foresight to see the ominous clouds on the horizon. Even before The Quest for Peace was released, the powers that be at Cannon Films were in the midst of making a Spider-Man film to cash in on the success Superman IV was sure to become.
Joseph Zito, who directed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984), was first attached to run the show, but later Albert Pyun (Masters of the Universe) took the helm. Both creative teams had high hopes for the fledgling project, as a young Tom Cruise was pursued to portray Peter Parker. Cannon also courted Lauren Bacall to take on Aunt May and Bob Hoskins to play Doctor Octopus.
But Spider-Man would have had a better chance against the Green Goblin. Superman IV just made $15.6 million domestically, so it didn’t even recoup its $17 million budget in the United States. The loss was too much for Cannon to overcome and the studio eventually went bankrupt.
12. Budget Cuts from Hell
Cannon Films was already in dire financial trouble in the late 1980s, but the company hoped that making a Superman film would help stabilize the turbulent situation. In conjunction with Warner Bros., the studios greenlit production on Superman IV in the hope of generating an enormous cash flow to keep Cannon afloat.
Warner Bros. funded $36 million to make the picture, but Cannon only utilized $17 million toward producing The Quest for Peace. The film studio put the rest of the money into additional projects. Without the proper funding, massive cuts had to be made in Superman IV— and it was the special effects that felt the brunt of the burden. It was hard for audiences to take a film about a superhero seriously when they could clearly see the harness’ wires while he was flying.
In another interesting move, Cannon cut 45 minutes out of the finished film to achieve a total run-time of only 90 minutes. Executives thought that with such a short duration, theater exhibitors would have a chance to show the film more times during the course of a day. This was done in hopes of generating even more income for the studio. Cannon soon filed for bankruptcy.
11. Lacy’s Cut Love Story
Screenwriter Mark Rosenthal revealed that among the casualties in the 45 minutes of footage cut from Superman IV was a significant love story between Clark Kent and Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway). In the movie, as it finally played, Lacy was just flirtatious and primarily served as the new publisher’s daughter.
While there were moments that remained in the picture – like the double date between Superman, Lois, Lacy, and Clark – the original cut of the film had Lacy aggressively pursuing Mr. Kent. Lois Lane’s role was also significantly altered, as she seemed relegated to simply being a friend or sister figure for not only Clark but Superman, too.
There was a very funny scene that was shot, but never made the final cut, in which Clark and Lacy were on an assignment to cover the nightlife in Metropolis. It was a ploy by Miss Warfield to get Clark alone with her on a work date. Mr. Kent even used his super breath to push a couple across the dance floor for comedy relief. Sadly, most of Lacy and Clark’s love story hit the cutting room floor.
10. Superman’s Super-Butt
Christopher Reeve consistently showed up on set in exemplary physical shape in order to pull off the daunting task of wearing an adult-sized onesie. During the filming of Superman IV, Reeve’s flying harness was hidden beneath a much larger pair of red shorts than his usual costume allowed. The special effect’s trapping enlarged both the Man of Steel’s waist and the area around his derriere.
It was an unflattering look that unfortunately wasn’t cut from the final film. There was a particularly cringe-worthy moment when Superman looked over his shoulder, while flying, to see Nuclear Man absconding with the Statue of Liberty. That shot brought a whole new meaning to buns of steel.
In the previous Superman films, a combination of camera angles, cuts and even the cape itself were used to shroud the harness. Sadly, no significant attempt was made in The Quest for Peace and it was quite noticeable in many of the other close-ups revolving around the flying sequences.
9. The Bizarro Nuclear Man
Originally, Superman IV was going to feature a much more recognizable villain for audiences to watch face off against the Man of Steel. Christopher Reeve planned to portray both Superman and a Bizarro version of himself, but a similar approach had already been touched on in Superman III.
Budget constraints eventually made it impossible, because the complex effect for producing the split-screen confrontation just wasn’t in the budget. So, the filmmakers hired actor Clive Mantle, who eventually portrayed Greatjon Umber on Game of Thrones, to play an early version of the new villain – Nuclear Man.
Yes, he did bear a resemblance to Bizarro through the make-up and hairstyle, but the cheap special effects made the sequence where he fought Superman virtually unbearable to watch. In the end, Mark Pillow’s sun-drenched locks and muscular physique led to his casting and the film’s final version of Nuclear Man.
8. Special Effects Nightmare
Losing nearly $20 million of the budget was sure to hamper even the best of intentions. And Superman IV was already behind the eight ball before the cameras even began to roll. The pivotal flying sequences took a near fatal blow that was sadly reflected on the screen for all to behold.
Originally, producers planned to spend six months shooting all the complicated flying scenes, involving Christopher Reeve and the other cast members, but that time allotment was shockingly cut to only thirty days. In a rush to just get the product made, several shots of Superman flying in the exact same pose were sprinkled through the movie over and over again.
For stuntman John Lees (Flash Gordon, For Your Eyes Only, Aliens), the special effects’ shoot for the moon battle between Superman and Nuclear Man was truly a nightmare. Lees’ harness broke and he fell over 20 feet, which led to career-ending injuries. The incident also led to a lawsuit against the studio, which Lees won. He was awarded 250 thousand pounds.
7. Superman V
Christopher Reeve’s Superman often scoffed at Lex Luthor for having delusions of grandeur. Perhaps, Cannon Films suffered from the same problem. At the very least, the executives were looking to the future rather haphazardly when they planned to use the 45 minutes of cut footage from The Quest for Peace to jump start a Superman V film.
In addition to planning a Spider-Man flick, Cannon wanted to continue the Man of Steel’s adventures because they truly believed Part IV would be a financial success. The studio eyed Albert Pyun to helm the project, but the picture never materialized.
Cannon went bankrupt and all of the Superman film rights returned to Alexander and Ilya Salkind. Even with Cannon out of the picture, Ilya penned a script for a Part V, which would have seen Kal-El die. He would have then been resurrected in the city of Kandor. The Salkinds never moved forward and fans had to wait nearly two decades before Superman Returns (2006) helped the franchise back to the Silver Screen.
6. Kidder vs. Reeve
From their very first meeting on the set of Superman: The Movie, Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve’s on-again, off-again relationship was set in volatile motion. Kidder, an established star, thought Reeve was just a skinny kid and looked nothing like the Man of Steel. Reeve was a hardcore, theatrically-trained thespian with growing ambitions. The fires that flamed their rocky bond were set before their first glance.
Their friction-filled connection was further tested when the character of Lacy Warfield was introduced as Clark Kent’s love interest in Superman IV. Reeve felt that there needed to be some element of sexual tension in the film for Clark, but he went along with hiring a younger actress instead of having Kidder fill that role.
In an interview with Film 87, Kidder had no qualms about calling the choice “a big, stupid mistake.” Lois Lane was written to be the best friend/sister counterpoint in Superman IV, but as the film now plays without most of Lacy’s footage the “who’s Clark Kent/Superman’s” lover argument became a moot point.
5. Mark Pillow: One-Hit Wonder
Mark Pillow had the dubious honor of portraying the new baddie Nuclear Man in Superman IV. The aspiring actor took the role in hopes of jump-starting a career similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno. His athletic and muscular build helped him land the role after Clive Mantle was cut out of the film.
In the picture, Nuclear Man’s lines were dubbed by Gene Hackman, so Pillow never spoke on film. And the fact that the villain was made via the sun’s radiation also created a rather large gaffe for both the character and storytelling. Since Superman is powered by the sun, how could Nuclear Man possibly hurt him? It’s probably a question that should have been addressed in pre-production.
For Pillow, it was his first and last feature film role. He appeared in the television shows Wiseguy (1988) and Alaska Kid (1993), following The Quest for Peace, but for better or worse he will always be the Nuclear Man.
4. Superman’s Phone Booth
Surprisingly, one of the most iconic bits of imagery from the Superman comic books was finally realized in The Quest for Peace. In the films prior to Part IV, the Man of Steel could be seen flying, lifting elevator cars and even wrestling against the deadly radiation of Kryptonite.
But Clark Kent had never changed into his alter ego courtesy of a phone booth. This was a huge staple of the Golden-Age comic books, but the notion was only briefly flirted with in Superman: The Movie. After realizing Lois Lane’s helicopter was in danger of plummeting to the streets beneath, Clark sized up a small phone booth in order to change into his red and blue tights. It was only a partial booth, though, so audiences never got to see that significant moment play out in theaters.
In Superman IV, the Man of Steel finally checks that off his bucket list. When Lois Lane’s train malfunctioned in the subway, Clark dashed into a phone booth to change and then save the day. Unfortunately, the shot of him soaring through the subway was that same static shot of him flying that was used over and over again.
3. Superman’s Random “Repair Vision”
All of the Superman movies were guilty of exploiting the Man of Steel’s superpowers. However, many filmmakers took this a step further by giving Clark Kent powers clearly not explored in the comic books. In Superman IV, budget limitations led to another faux pas moment in cinematic history.
In Superman II, filmmakers needed Lois Lane to lose her memory so the MacGuffin of Superman’s kiss wiped her knowledge of his secret identity out. Also, during a scene in the Fortress of Solitude, the Last Son of Krypton rips a layer of his legendary emblem off his chest and uses it as a weapon against Non (Jack O’Halloran).
In The Quest for Peace, Superman was originally supposed to rebuild the Great Wall of China with his super speed after it was trashed by Nuclear Man. Budget constraints wouldn’t allow for the effect, so rather Clark used some sort of “repair” vision to reassemble the wall. Those magic eyes put the wall back together in just a few simple glances. Thank God for Kal-El’s Swiss Army Knife vision.
2. The Prophecy: “See You In Twenty”
Superman apparently had the power to predict the future or, at least, he had a Kryptonian crystal ball stashed away in the Fortress of Solitude. At the conclusion of The Quest for Peace, the Man of Steel returned Lex Luthor to prison after defeating the Nuclear Man. As Superman prepared to fly away he said something quite trivial to Lex that actually spoke volumes without anyone knowing it at the time.
Luthor listened closely as Superman said “See you in twenty [years]” before flying off. Little did anyone know in 1987, it would be nearly twenty years before Superman and Lex Luthor reunited on the Silver Screen in Superman Returns (2006) courtesy of Bryan Singer.
The franchise received its first chance at redemption with Singer’s homage to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, Superman Returns. But it was Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013) that finally brought Superman back to the forefront and ignited the emerging DCEU.
1. Director: Wes Craven
One, two, Nuclear Man is coming for you! Superman vs. Freddy Krueger might not be the worst idea ever, considering the malaise exuded by The Quest for Peace. Can you imagine a Superman IV under the direction of Wes Craven? Well, it very nearly happened. At first, Cannon Films wanted Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon) to return so he could properly manage the fourth installment of the series.
Donner had been unceremoniously dismissed from his position when Superman: The Movie hit theaters in December of 1978. Originally, Part I and II of the saga were shot simultaneously, so Donner had done much of the hard work filming Superman II, as well. But the producers clashed with Donner over the budget and shooting schedule, so he was fired. Richard Lester received the directing credit in the sequel rather than Donner.
Donner naturally refused to participate in The Quest for Peace. Before director Sidney Furie took the job it was Craven’s film to lose. Unfortunately, Christopher Reeve and Craven didn’t see eye to eye on the creative direction of the movie.
Do you have any Superman IV trivia to add? What do you think of the final product? Let us know in the comments!
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