Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (also known as Superman IV, or just Superman 4) is a 1987 American superhero film directed by Sidney J. Furie. It is the fourth and final film in the original Superman film series. This is the first film in this series not to be produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, but by Golan-Globus Productions and Cannon Pictures, in association with Warner Bros. Studios. Gene Hackman returns as Lex Luthor, who creates an evil Solar-powered Superman clone called Nuclear Man. Superman IV was a box-office bomb and critics have panned it as one of the worst films ever made if not one of the worst superhero movies ever.
The failure of this movie resulted with the Superman film series being dormant for 19 years until the release of Superman Returns, which performed somewhat better and got generally positive reviews. Even though Superman Returns did decently and ignored the events of this film, the series was rebooted again with the 2013 movie Man of Steel, which is also the first movie in the DC Extended Universe.
After saving a group of Soviet cosmonauts whose spaceship is jeopardized by a rogue satellite, Superman visits his hometown of Smallville disguised as Clark Kent, and checks in on the now-uninhabited farm where he grew up. 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 (voiced by Susannah York) states that its power can be used only once. Unwilling to sell the farm to a mall developer, Superman returns to Metropolis.
Returning to the Daily Planet as Clark Kent, he learns that the newspaper has been taken over by David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker), a tabloid tycoon who fires Perry White and hires his own daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway) 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 should leave Earth and find a new home. After asking for advice from Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), Superman attends a meeting of the United Nations, announcing to the assembly that he will rid the planet of nuclear weapons. Superman collects most of Earth's nuclear stockpile in a giant net he has placed in orbit around the planet, then hurls the net into the sun.
Meanwhile, young Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer) breaks his uncle Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) out of prison. Returning to Metropolis, the pair 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 (played by Mark Pillow and voiced by Gene Hackman). This "Nuclear Man" makes his way back to Earth to find his "father" Luthor, who establishes that while his creation is powerful, he will deactivate without Solar light. A vicious battle ensues between Luthor'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 to cause widespread chaos if they are not introduced. 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. Superman frees himself from the moon's surface and pushes it out of its orbit, casting Earth into an eclipse which nullifies Nuclear Man's powers. Superman rescues Lacy, 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 Boy's Town, telling the priest that Lenny has been under a bad influence, and returns Lex to prison.
Why It Sucks
- Horrendous special effects that showcase just how low this movie’s budget is, especially since the executives at Warner Brothers and Cannon Pictures constantly butted heads with each other on the special effects' budget cuts.
- Stupid attempts at comedy.
- Poor acting.
- Loosely written plot.
- The exact same shot of Superman flying is used for every single shot where he is flying.
- Badly-done overdubbing.
- Lame fight choreography.
- Countless plotholes. From Lenny Luthor cutting Superman's indestructible hair with a pair of ordinary bolt cutters, to Superman rebuilding the Great Wall of China with his rebuild-o-vision, to Lacy breathing in outer space.
- Superman seems to be on a massive ego trip throughout the movie, from dictating terms to the nations of the world to the bizarre scene where he jumps off a ledge while holding Lois as Clark Kent then reveals himself to be Superman after letting her fall for several seconds. This is supposed to be charming, by the way.
- Terrible social commentary, with hamfisted anti-nuclear weapon and anti-war messages.
- Nuclear Man is a lame villain who isn't that intimidating or even threatening. He's just downright goofy and poorly developed.
- Nuclear Man's weakness is being isolated from the sun. He is a solar-powered nuclear man. However, there are SEVERAL scenes where he is not in sunlight and he's doing just fine.
- The scene from the first film where Superman flies around the world with Lois is terribly redone in this film.
- Poor visual effects that almost make it look laughable.
- John Williams' opening theme from the previous films returns and the music used for the action scenes is pretty good.
- Well-intentioned message.
- The film is a hour-and-a-half long, nearly half the length of the original story, and there are a fair number of fight and "playing the hero" sequences, as to funny moments. The point is that as bad as this may be, they don't drag the film for long and make it pretty enjoyable (primarily for its badness).
- If it weren't for the failure of this film, there wouldn't be a Superman Returns.
Superman IV currently holds a 12% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 2.8 out of 10 and a critic consensus that reads "The Superman series bottoms out here: the action is boring, the special effects look cheaper, and none of the actors appear interested in where the plot's going." Film critic Ben Yagoda of The Philadelphia Daily News stated in his review "It's hard to escape the conclusion that all the originality and excitement have been drained from the series."
Superman IV opened up at #4 on its opening weekend with a domestic gross of $5,683,122. It would later make a domestic gross of $15,681,020 against its $17 million budget. The film was a box office bomb.
After multiple failed attempts at rebooting the Superman series, Warner Brothers made a soft reboot of the series with Superman Returns in June 2006. It is an alternate sequel to Superman II. Returns starred Brandon Routh as Superman (since Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a 1995 horse riding accident and died in 2004 before the film was written). The film got better reception from critics and fans alike, especially since it ignored the events of both Superman III and The Quest For Peace. Film critic Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper commented that Returns was a film that "...while I can't call it a home run, I'll say it's a solid base hit." Fans and critics praised Brandon Routh as the new Superman and Kevin Spacey got praise from critics and fans as the new Lex Luthor since Gene Hackman had retired a few years earlier and was too old to play the Superman villain fans love to hate. There was even a digitalized appearance by Marlon Brando's character from the first two films making statements that weren't used in the original 1978 film. The film was dedicated to the memory of Christopher Reeve and his wife, Dana, who had passed away a few months before the film's release.
- Before Christopher Reeve died in 2004, he stated in his book Still Me that Superman IV was a mistake.
- On the 2006 DVD re-release of Superman IV, a commentary with co-screenwriter Mark Rosenthal is included in the features section and Mark mentions in the commentary a ton of information about how much production trouble Warner Brothers had with Cannon Pictures and that it was a hassle to cut the special effects budget. Mark also explained that the executives who worked for Warner Brothers constantly fought with the Cannon Pictures executives.
- In 1994, Cannon Pictures filed for bankruptcy.
- Christopher Reeve actually predicted to co-star Jon Cryer that the film would fail.
- In 1996 or 1997, Tim Burton planned to reboot the series with Superman Lives which would star Nicolas Cage as Clark Kent/Superman and was scheduled for a 1998 release, celebrating Superman's 60th anniversary. Unfortunately, the film was cancelled due to financial issues following a string of commercial flops (including Batman & Robin) and the series was rebooted in 2006 with Superman Returns, which starred Brandon Routh as Clark Kent/Superman and Kevin Spacey (who was going to star in Superman Lives) as Lex Luthor.