In 1987, Christopher Reeve appeared in what would be his final Superman movie, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. The film – directed by Sidney J. Furie – reunited many of the main players from the previous Superman films, including Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Marc McClure and Jackie Cooper, but was in no way a return to the heyday of the series.
Produced on a limited budget (around a third of the budget of Superman: The Movie), the film suffered from appalling visual effects and poor creative decisions. When it arrived in cinemas, critics and audiences disliked it, and Superman IV was quickly regarded as one of the worst comic book movies of all time.
But is it really all that bad?
In this post I am going to discuss Superman IV: The Quest, offering up my thoughts and feelings over the movie. In order to do this, I am going to rewatch the film, and make comments in real time as I go along.
Before I proceed, I must tell you that this discussion will contain spoilers. The discussion will also work better if you have seen or are at least familiar with Superman IV.
Superman IV (1987)
30secs – Thirty seconds into the film and it is already very apparent this movie has been produced on a much smaller budget than the three previous entries. The opening credits are whizzing past the screen similar to the way they appeared in Superman: The Movie (1978), but here they look cheap and awful.
3mins – As the credits conclude, the film opens in space, with a collection of Russian astronauts getting into trouble.
4mins 30secs – Superman arrives in space and performs a rescue. This scene is largely fine, but it does feel rather underwhelming.
5mins 30secs – Back on Earth, Clark Kent revisits the old Kent farm.
8mins – One thing that I must say, is that Christopher Reeve continues to excel in the role of Clark. He’s a little less bumbling than in the previous films, but Reeve still makes him work.
10mins 20secs – Lex Luthor is back – having sat out of Superman III (1983) and he has a new scheme, which includes…
11mins – …help from his nephew, Lenny, as played by Jon Cryer. Since appearing in Superman IV, Cryer has gone on to play a terrific version of Lex Luthor in the Supergirl TV series, but I am not a fan of his Lenny here.
15mins – And now for some scenes at The Daily Planet, where it is established that the paper has a new owner in the shape of David Warfield.
17mins – Warfield’s daughter, Lacy is also introduced. Lacy is the new love interest of this film.
21mins – Lacy is coming on to Clark, which seems a bit bizarre. With the exception of Lana Lang in Superman III, no one is supposed to pay Clark any attention whatsoever. He is supposed to fade into the background.
22mins – A letter has arrived at The Daily Planet, for the attention of Superman. A boy called Jeremy has written to Superman with a request: Rid the world of nuclear weapons.
23mins 45secs – Jimmy is barely in this movie, but am I the only one who thinks he looks too old to still be in the same job? Surely he should have progressed up the ladder by now?
26mins – Clark is unsure how to respond to the letter, and this leads to one of the better ideas in this film…
27mins 30secs – In order for Clark to get some much needed advice on the situation, he reveals his secret identity to Lois.
27mins 50secs – I’ll discuss why this ‘reveal’ is one of the better ideas in the film momentarily, but before I do I have to note how terrible the visual effects are. Superman and Lois are flying across the country, and the blue/green screen work here is just rubbish.
29mins – The reason I believe the ‘identity reveal’ is one of the good decisions in this film, is because it demonstrates that Superman still needs Lois. Clark/Superman has been wrestling with his feelings concerning the letter and he knows he needs someone else’s opinion. By opening up to Lois – even if it is only briefly – he can get the right advice.
The reveal also allows for a nice callback to the original movie, when Superman and Lois flew around Metropolis. This is a good way to recall the past, even momentarily in this fourth entry.
It’s just a shame then that the severe lack of budget hampers the flight. Plus, Clark has to wipe Lois’s mind with a Super-kiss, so that she forgets this ever happened.
31mins – Superman and Jeremy are heading to the United Nations building to talk about nukes. This should be an epic scene, but this clearly isn’t the United Nations. This scene was filmed in Milton Keynes in the UK.
33mins 30secs – Superman addressing all the nations of the world regarding nuclear disarmament, should also be a grand scene, but this feels very underwhelming. The only interesting aspect of this entire scene is the way in which everyone cheers when he says he will rid the world of nuclear weapons. If Superman has said this in a modern film, he would be painted as some kind of tyrant that wants to rule the planet. At least this film still has some optimism.
35mins 30secs – Superman is destroying all of the nuclear weapons… by throwing them into the sun. Is that really a good idea? Could this not destroy the sun and potentially kill all life on Earth? I guess this really is an optimistic film.
42mins – Luthor has put his latest scheme into effect, by creating Nuclear Man – a villain born from genetic material… that was launched into the sun. Jeez, is everyone trying to destroy the sun?
45mins – For anyone less than familiar with the deleted material from this movie, Superman IV originally featured two Nuclear Men in the story. The first was more of a Bizarro-like character, played by Brit actor, Clive Mantle.
Mantle shot scenes for the movie, but everything to do with this first Nuclear Man was removed from the finished picture. There are no references to the character at all, so unless you are aware that he is missing from the film, you would have no idea he was ever supposed to be there.
If you have a copy of the film on Blu-ray, you can watch a couple of scenes with Mantle’s Nuclear Man. The character is rough around the edges and not particularly endearing, so it was probably for the best he was not included.
56mins – I should note that the core actors in this film are fine, but they all seem a little muted and uninspired. I get the feeling they know what type of movie they are making and it makes them feel less than enthused about the situation.
1hr – Superman and Nuclear Man engage in combat, leading to the partial destruction of the Great Wall of China. But don’t worry, folks, as Superman has just rebuilt it… simply by looking at it! This is cost cutting at its finest. Instead of having Superman rebuild the wall, it rebuilds itself by use of a Super-stare!
1hr 2mins 30secs – This fight scene has reached embarrassing levels of awfulness, with Nuclear Man clawing at Superman with his radioactive nails.
1hr 3mins 30secs – If the claw scene wasn’t bad enough, then what I’m witnessing now surely is! Nuclear Man has just picked up the Statue of Liberty, so he can throw it at the some nearby citizens. This is the single worst visual effect in the entire movie.
If the money wasn’t available to make any of this material work, then these scenes shouldn’t be here. I would rather watch a small scrap between Superman and Nuclear Man, than something that looks this bad.
1hr 8mins – After the mess of the Statue scene, now it’s time for a nice, more intimate scene with Lois and Clark. A scene which suggests Lois hasn’t completely forgotten everything she knows about the Clark/Superman connection. This scene works very well. There should be more scenes like this in the movie.
1hr 13mins – OK, so here is a plot point which appears to have come out of nowhere – Nuclear Man is suddenly obsessed with Lacy Warfield. Superman is also not surprised by this development. It feels like scenes are missing here.
1hr 16mins – After another dreadful fight scene, which largely involved Superman standing in a doorway, shouting to the left of the screen, the Man of Steel has taken Nuclear Man into space!
1hr 17mins – Superman and Nuclear Man are fighting on the Moon. The only benefit of this scene is that it requires very few visual effects and looks more realistic than any of the scenes set on Earth.
1hr 20mins – Lacy Warfield is now in space, without any adequate protection. The lack of oxygen doesn’t seem to be causing her any harm.
1hr 22mins – And now for another scene shot in Milton Keynes. It sure looks cold, windy and grey – this is most certainly the UK.
1hr 24mins – Superman is giving a speech to the world (from Milton Keynes) and he has water in his eyes. You might be fooled into thinking he is getting quite emotional over his own words, but in reality the wind is causing Christopher Reeve’s eyes to water! This is how bad this film is. There wasn’t enough money in the budget to re-film this scene, on a less windy day.
1hr 26mins – As the film draws to a close, Nuclear Man is defeated, Luthor is back in prison, Perry White is back in charge of the Daily Planet, and Superman takes to the skies, in what looks like a piece of footage reused from one of the previous films?! It is very clear the sheen has fallen off this particular run of films. Such a shame.
I was born at the beginning of the 1980s, and I remember the Christopher Reeve Superman movies being a huge deal throughout the decade. But I also remember that Superman IV was not a big deal.
No one cared for this movie when it came out and it pretty much sank without a trace – and for good reason, Superman IV is bad. It was bad in 1987 and it’s still bad now.
The movie was produced by Golan-Globus/Cannon Films on next to no budget and it shows. Everything looks either rushed, or put together on a shoestring.
If you are going to make a Superman movie, and certainly one that follows Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980), you have to put the money in place to back up the project. If not, then it’s pretty clear the film is riding on the success of the past, with little to no investment in its future.
Due to the lack of funding, the effects in this movie look bad, the sets and wardrobe look run of the mill, and most of the location shooting is laughable. The actors spend most of this movie looking disinterested (not that anyone can blame them), and worst of all even Christopher Reeve looks tired, despite his dependable performance.
The only saving grace of Superman IV is the script, which isn’t bad. There are hints that the script could have worked, under the right circumstances, and I do feel that had the financial backing been in place, this could have been a radically different picture; but that’s the only positive I can offer this film – Superman IV is a monumental disappointment.
Superman IV cuts corners to save money, and the end result is a film which feels threadbare and unfinished. And by all accounts it was, with large chunks of the picture never seeing the light of day (around 45 minutes).
While Superman: The Movie is one of my all-time favourite films, Superman IV is most certainly at the other end of the scale. It had potential, I honestly believe that, but it just didn’t have the backing to turn it into something (anything) worthwhile.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. I hope my assessment of the film hasn’t put you off from enjoying the rest of the series.
You know, statistically speaking… the majority of the Christopher Reeve Superman films are much better.