1987 in Film – Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Release Date: July 24th
Box Office: $11,227,824

How do we approach a film like Superman IV The Quest for Peace (1987)?

Do you make fun of it? Because that would be easy. The somewhat topical plot, centred around nuclear weapons, is daft. Superman essentially decides to get rid of them all by throwing them into the sun which, thanks to a strand of his hair purloined by a free again Lex Luthor, creates a powerful new villain named Nuclear Man. Clad in the spandiest of spandex and with a majestic 80s blonde mullet, he easily defeats Superman with his really long nuclear nails.

Meanwhile, the new owner of The Daily Planet cuts about the place in huge shoulder pads whilst a returning Margot Kidder as Lois Lane tries to do some proper journalism. All of this set in Metropolis but clearly filmed in the UK. The nadir of this is Superman’s grand walk to the United Nations being filmed outside a bus station in Milton Keynes.

Yes, Superman IV was was shot on a budget much reduced from its hey day. This ends up with daft moments like a scene in the American underground clearly being in London. The special effects, once ground breaking, now look comically cheap.

But whilst it’s easy to make fun of, it’s hard to because it’s so sad to see a great series reduced to this.

The first three films were shepherded to the big screen by the Salkinds who, despite the way they treated Richard Donner, at least knew what they had. They knew it was a premier franchise and at least attempted to treat it as such.

By the time of Superman IV the franchise had been sold to Canon studios, purveyor of low budget action fare invariable starring Chuck Norris and/or Ninjas. Superman ended up just another film in a huge production slate with not enough budget to go around. Too much toast and not enough butter.

The fact that Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder return to the film isn’t the indication of quality that it should be. By this stage of the 80s Hackman was taking any role put in front of him and Kidder wasn’t in the greatest of places. Their being in the film isn’t a statement of the film’s quality, more of where their careers were at the time.

Of course, the greatest of shames lands with the Big Blue himself, Christopher Reeves.

What makes it worse was that he brought the film together almost by sheer force of will. He went to Warner Brothers to get it green lit to try and make up for Superman III (1985). He was the one who got Hackman back which brought back more of the original cast. He was the one that wanted to bring in the social commentary with the nuclear weapons plot line.

And all effort was instantly wasted as soon as the budget was slashed in pre-production. The effects now looked shoddy at best. The lack of New York location shooting made everything look cheap. Even the opening credits were worse.

Reeves does his best, his portrayal of Kent and Superman is still iconic. But it’s like watching the Mona Lisa being hung on the wall of a Wetherspoons pub.

Superman IV is a warning about what can happen when you try to put the band back together but the people in charge don’t care. It’s what happens when studios don’t understand what they have and treat a crown jewel like a cheap pocket watch.

Superman, Reeves and the audience all deserved to be treated much better than this.

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