Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

The history of Cannon Pictures confuses and frustrates me.  This studio should have been, and for a while it was, as successful as any of Roger Corman's ventures.  For the most part they specialized in the same type of films, only Cannon seemed to have found there niche with crime dramas and sequels rather than sticking with horror and exploitation.  

The problem was Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus wanted Cannon to be more than what it was.  When that failed it came to a number of high-profile hail Maries that were meant to save the studio from bankruptcy.  In 1987 they made one last attempt, purchasing the rights to Superman from Ilya and Alexander Salkind, working with Warner Bros. for distribution and, at a budget of $36 million, putting into production the fourth film in the lucrative series. 

Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) starts contemplating what to do as his days protecting Earth continue.  He decides to sell his parents' farm, leaving an artifact on the property in case anything should happen.  Meanwhile, Lex Luthor's (Gene Hackman) nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer) breaks the criminal mastermind out of jail.  Luthor once again goes about finding a way of destroying Superman, stealing a strand of his hair that was donated to a museum in Metropolis.  Meanwhile, a kid named Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn) writes Superman a letter, asking him to get rid of all the nuclear weapons on Earth.

Torn on what to do he decides to go forward when the Daily Planet, now owned by tabloid publisher David Warfied (Sam Wanamaker), prints a false headline that Superman told the kid to drop dead.  While Superman goes about the task Clark is pursued by Warfield's daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway) and by Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) for an interview with Superman.  Lex Luthor, having created protoplasm with Kal-El's DNA, sneaks the sample onto one of the missiles to be destroyed.  When it is thrown into the sun the result is Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), an almost-indestructible villain powered by the sun itself. 

Superman IV suffered the fate of many such ambitious projects.  Originally planned for two and a half hours, it was slashed to 90 minutes once the budget shrank to $17 million.  Christopher Reeve had a hand in creating the story and most of the cast from the first movie was back, most likely because by the time they found out they weren't making the movie they were told their contracts held them to it.  That said, Margot Kidder gets a lot more to do this time around while Hackman turns in his usual solid performance.  Mariel Hemingway provides some romantic drama, while Jon Cryer puts in what is the worst performance of his career.  Mark Pillow had no formal training and this remains his only acting role.  Still, he made Nuclear Man, despite horrible special effects and a whole lot of other silliness, memorable.

I know that this is supposed to be one of the worst movies ever made.  It has plot inconsistencies everywhere, subplots that are here and gone and effects that look like they were put together by a group of college kids for a project.  Instead of rewriting the script to make up for the shorter length it was just ripped to shreds, and what is on screen is more like a highlight reel offering a hint at the movie could have been.  Despite all that I found myself - Cryer aside - enjoying the film.  The fights between Superman and Nuclear Man are still pretty good despite the effects and everyone on-screen still has chemistry despite the fact that Reeve was not getting along director Sidney J. Furie throughout and was on a bit of an ego trip.

Reeve always regretted making this movie as it hurt his career more than anyone else in the film.  His subsequent movies failed and he went on a four-year hiatus before returning to acting, with his career sadly cut short after a horse riding accident.  Hackman was already thinking retirement, Kidder wasn't much in demand and Hemingway had a lucrative television career.  What Superman IV did in the end was the opposite of what Cannon had hoped.  It was a flop, losing money on release and disappointing critics and audiences alike.  The other victim could be said to be Superman himself, as the series was not revisited until 2006 in Superman Returns, which set out to reset everything by ignoring the third and fourth films.  

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Gene Hackman, Mark Pillow
Director: Sidney J. Furie



  1. I read a lot of posts on Facebook from groups about movies. One of the little articles, Hackman said he pretty much did this because of his friendship with Reeve, though I'm sure money helped too.

    I watched a documentary about 8 years ago called "Electric Boogaloo" about Cannon Films and wrote, "Anyway, the Golan-Globus formula was pretty easy: violence and boobs! And basically they shot movies as quickly and cheaply as they could, averaging almost one movie a week. (They didn't write/direct all those movies, just executive produced and financed them.) They wouldn't make as much money as a big studio movie but they managed to drum up enough money to be successful...for a while. Like many businesses, the problem came when they started to overreach: buying an expensive new office building, paying Sylvester Stallone $13 million for the arm-wrestling movie "Over the Top," and buying the rights to Superman and Masters of the Universe, both of which they then had to cut the budget severely and thus the movies tanked, though granted those movies were already saddled with terrible scripts."

    I watched a documentary on Corman too and I think after the failure of "Intruder in the Dust" starring Bill Shatner he learned to more or less stick to the formula of what worked and not overreach. So he wound up lasting a lot longer than Cannon.


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