Howdy all you Supercultists out there on the interwebz! I’m Bad Movie Professor Cameron Coker (BS in “DC Comics” with a minor in “Nuclear Fingernails”) and I’ll be posting my hype-tacular speeches every week along with some long lost speeches from past Supercult Shows!
This week Supercult looks up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! There’s a cloud! Ooh, that was looks like a horsey! Wow, that one looks like a duck!…What were we doing again?
He’s turned back time in Superman I, defeated General Zod in Superman II, and man-handled Richard Pryor in Superman III, but in Superman IV the man of steel will have to face his greatest challenges yet! Superman plans to bring about world peace by destroying the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, but the recently released Lex Luthor has other plans and unleashes the power of his latest villanous creation, the ruthless Nuclear Man! Meanwhile the lovely Lois Lane has invited both Superman and Clark Kent to a double date! Can Superman defeat Nuclear Man AND manage to be in two places at once? Find out in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!
That’s right Supercultists, we’re back with another god-awful superhero film! Released in 1987, just 2 years prior to the end of the cold war, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is nothing if not heavy handed. After the lackluster Superman III, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind and leading man Christopher Reeve believed that the Superman films had run their course. The kryptonian was revived however, when Golan and Globus of Cannon Films bought the rights to the Superman franchise. Yes, THAT Golan and Globus and THAT Cannon Films, the directors, producers, and production company responsible for Supercult Classics like Masters of the Universe, Jean Claude Van Damme’s Bloodsport, and the original Supercult film, Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo. So…you know…buckle up I guess!
For what would prove to be the last live action Superman film for nearly 20 years, Margot Kidder returns as the genuinely hysterical, no I mean seriously, this chick needs to be on drugs, Lois Lane, Gene Hackman reprises his role from Superman I as a Lex Luthor who simply refuses to shave his head for the role or pronounce the word ‘nuclear’ correctly and Christopher Reeves returns as Clark Kent, aka Superman. At the time of production, Cannon was in severe financial trouble. The company bought the rights to the Superman franchise hoping a sequel would save them. The original budget for Superman IV was $36 million, but the budget was originally slashed to under half that at $17 million.
In his autobiography Christopher Reve’s writes, “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 Rosenthall 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 [the director of Superman I] 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.” A few points: First, Richard Donner was actually offered the directing role for Superman IV, but declined. Second, the vast majority of the external scenes were filmed in and around Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England, including the walk to the UN building, simply because the producers couldn’t afford to shoot in New York!
In the DVD commentary, writer Mark Rosenthall cites this scene as an example of Cannon’s penny pinching, but it can easily be seen in the use of poor blue-screen effects, embarrassingly bad fight choreography, and reused special effects shots of Superman flying. For flying scenes, Reeve wore a flying harness concealed under a larger version of the classic Superman red shorts, which made his waist look bigger. In previous Superman movies, the bigger waist was hidden by the cape, quick cuts, or creative camera angles. In Superman IV, however, the bigger waist is clearly visible, leading some reviewers to speculate that the thicker waist was Reeve’s actual waistline. Reportedly much of the special effects crew that worked on the first three films were hired during pre-production, but eventually left following salary disputes.
Rosenthall also speaks of over 45 minutes of deleted footage that have not been seen by the general public due to a failed screen test in Southern California. Most surprising is the fact that the Nuclear Man seen in the film is actually the second Nuclear Man. The first vaguely resembled the comic book character Bizarro, and was destroyed by Superman in the film, prompting Lex Luthor to create a second, more powerful Nuclear Man later on. Nuclear Man 2, the one that appears in the film, is played by Mark Pillow, and has only 11 lines, all of which are voiced by Gene Hackman. Superman IV was Mark Pillow’s first and last acting role. Presumably he hated the experience so much that he left Hollywood for good, but it’s far more entertaining to believe that he is living comfortably off of the royalties from Superman IV DVD sales in China and North Korea.
When the film came out Reeve took Jon Cryer, who played Lex Luthor’s nephew and sidekick Lenny, aside and told him it was going to be “terrible.” Cannon ran out of money during the production and was ultimately forced to release an unfinished film. With a 93 minute run-time, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the second shortest Superman film of all time next to the 58-minute Superman and the Mole-Men in 1951. The Washington Post described the film as “More sluggish than a funeral barge, cheaper than a sale at Kmart, it’s a nerd, it’s a shame, it’s Superman IV.” The film was voted #40 in Empire Magazines ‘The 50 Worst Movies Ever’ and was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awareds including Worst Supporting Actress and Worst Visual Effects (it lost that one to Jaws: The Revenge). Most crushing of all, even with a reduced budget of $17 million the film was only able to make $15.6 million. Reve’s himself regretted his decision to be involved in the film saying, “Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish. That failure was a huge blow to my career.” That’s saying something, because he said that AFTER his infamous injury. So Reeve is saying that Superman IV was a bigger blow than an actual physical blow that shattered 2 vertebrae, paralyzed him from the neck down, and nearly killed him.
Superman IV has a 3.7 on IMDB and a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. It is frequently cited as one of the worst films of all time. Superman IV was released in the same year as fantastic visually inventive films like RoboCop, Predator, Hellraiser, and Spaceballs, all of which look incredibly dated to our modern eyes. Somehow though, The Quest for Peace reminds us just how spoiled we are. All those cheesy 80’s films we love to make fun of? Those are the GOOD ones! You might actually injure yourself watching THIS movie.
This is Superman’s greatest battle fellow Supercultists, and thankfully in just over 90 minutes we can cross this one off our lists for good. Be strong my friends! Be strong like Superman!!
The Supercult show is proud to present, Superman IV: A Quest for Peace!