Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
Released July 24, 1987
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Written by Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal
Music by Alexander Courage, John Williams (new themes)
Duration 90 min
Studio Cannon Films
Rated PG
Budget $17 million
Revenue $15,681,020

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is a 1987 superhero film, the last of the Superman theatrical movies starring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. In this film, Superman battled Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and his creation, a solar-powered evil clone of Superman called Nuclear Man.

Unlike the previous three movies, which were produced by Alexander and Ilya Salkind, the fourth movie was produced by Golan-Globus' Cannon Films, in association with Warner Bros.


Superman iv

The film begins as the previous three have ended, with the sun rising over Earth's mesosphere. A space station with a group of Russian cosmonauts is in danger when one of them is hurtled off into deep space due to colliding with debris, but he is saved by Superman, who brings him inside and warns to be more careful. Down on Earth, Clark Kent has learned his adoptive mother, Martha Kent, has died and is visiting the farm where he grew up, but is unwilling to sell the land to a real estate developer. He also finds the spaceship that took him away from the destruction of Krypton, along with a power crystal. He hears the voice of his true mother, Lara, warning him this is all his parents can help him.

Superman/Clark Kent learns that the United States and the Soviet Union may soon engage in nuclear war, threatening the survival of the planet. In an elementary school, this becomes a current events discussion, and one little boy named Jeremy says he will write to Superman for help. Superman goes to the Fortress of Solitude to reflect on the situation. There he sees the spirits of deceased Kryptonians, who recommend against intervention is Earth's wars, or to move elsewhere as there are more advanced planets where war is obsolete. Superman states he will stay out of the Cold War conflict.

The Daily Planet has gone bust. It is bought out by Milton Warfield, a media mogul who made his fortune through supermarket tabloids. Warfield has Perry White's editorship terminated and replaced by Lacy Warfield, his own daughter. Warfield, like in his tabloids, says media irresponsibility is irrelevant and the bottom line is sales. He takes advantage of Superman's refusal to heed Jeremy's letter by ignoring the deeper issues and simply making it out to be selfishness on Superman's part, as evidenced by a headline "SUPERMAN TO SCHOOLBOY: DROP DEAD".

At a meeting of the United Nations, he tells the assembly that he is going to rid the Earth of all nuclear weapons. Over the next several days, Superman takes all the nuclear weapons, and gathers them into a gigantic net in orbit above the planet. When he has almost all the weapons, he closes the net and tosses it into the sun.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor's nephew, Lenny, helps break Luthor out of prison. The pair steal a strand of hair that Superman had donated to a museum. Luthor creates a genetic matrix from the strand of hair, and attaches it to the final American nuclear missile. After the missile is fired off into the air, Superman grabs the missile and throws it into the sun. A few moments after the missile explodes on the sun's surface, a ball of energy is discharged from the sun, which rapidly develops into a "Nuclear Man". Nuclear Man finds his way to his "father", Luthor, who establishes that while he is indeed powerful, he will completely deactivate if isolated from the sun's rays or suitably bright artificial light.

A worldwide battle soon follows between Lex's creation and the Man of Steel. While successfully saving the Statue of Liberty, Superman is injured by the radioactive nails of Nuclear Man. The Daily Planet, to Lois' disgust, blares the headline that Superman is dead. Felled by radiation sickness, Clark staggers weakly to the terrace of his apartment, where he retrieves the last remaining crystal from Krypton, which he took from the barn in Smallville at the beginning of the film.

Nuclear Man develops a crush on Lacy Warfield, daughter of the tycoon who has purchased The Daily Planet, and threatens mayhem if he is not introduced to her. Superman agrees to take Nuclear Man to Lacy. In an attempt to disable the villain, Superman lures Nuclear Man into an elevator in the building, traps Nuclear Man in it, and pulls the elevator out of the building and flies to the moon, heaving the elevator onto the ground there. Superman doesn't realize the doors have opened a crack. As the sun rises, Nuclear Man breaks out of his makeshift prison and the two resume battle on the moon's surface. At the end of the battle, Superman is driven into the ground by his nuclear-charged opponent.

Nuclear Man returns to Earth, abducting Lacy and flying her into outer space (where she, strangely enough, is unaffected by the lack of breathable atmosphere and air pressure). Meanwhile, the Man of Steel pushes the moon out of its normal orbit, casting Earth into a solar eclipse which shuts off Nuclear Man's powers. He then rescues Lacy from the arms of Nuclear Man, of whom he disposes by returning him to Earth and sealing him into the core of a nuclear power plant.

Later, in a press conference, Superman declares only partial victory in his peace campaign, stating: "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."


In 1983, following the mixed reaction to Superman III, which nonetheless made $60 million at the box office, Reeve and the producers, a father and son team Alexander and Ilya Salkind, assumed that the Superman films had run their course[1]. Reeve was slated to make a cameo in 1984's Supergirl but was unavailable; that film (technically the fourth in the series) was a box office failure in the U.S. but successful in other territories. Four years later, Ilya Salkind sold the Superman franchise to Golan & Globus of Cannon Films[2].

According to Reeve, Golan & Globus did not have a script in mind when they first approached him about doing the fourth installment; they simply wanted him to reprise his role. Reeve himself admitted in his autobiography Still Me that he really wasn't sure that he wanted to do another Superman film, especially if it were going to be treated as a farce, which had been the case with the third film, an approach that Reeve felt was disrespectful to fans and the source material. The new filmmakers then offered Reeve a deal he couldn't refuse – in exchange for starring in the fourth Superman film, they would produce any project of his choosing, and also promised him story input (there was also talk of having Reeve direct a fifth Superman film in case the fourth one proved successful). Reeve accepted, and in exchange, Golan & Globus produced the gritty crime drama Street Smart.[3]

After reviewing various scripts, Reeve suggested the storyline of Superman becoming involved in the global political issue of nuclear warfare[4], in order to give the film a more serious feel to distance itself from the previous film. Unfortunately, Golan & Globus had so many other films in the pipeline at the time that their money was spread too thinly to properly accommodate what became Superman IV: The Quest for Peace[5], released in 1987, forcing the film's veteran director Sidney J. Furie to cut corners everywhere. The film was universally panned by critics and fans alike, who were disgusted by the film's cheap special effects, which paled in comparison to the earlier films, and performed poorly at the box office.[6]

In Reeve's autobiography Still Me, he described filming Superman IV as "simply a catastrophe from start to finish". He wrote:

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 Rosenthal 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. Dick Donner 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.

Mark Rosenthal's DVD commentary pointed to this scene as an example of Cannon's budget slashing. According to Rosenthal, Reeve and director Furie begged to be able to film that sequence in New York in front of the real United Nations because everyone knew what New York was supposed to look like and that the England setting looked nothing like it. However Cannon refused. According to Rosenthal they were "pinching pennies at every step."

According to Jon Cryer, who played Lex Luthor's nephew Lenny, Reeve had taken him aside just before the release and told him it was going to be "terrible". Although Cryer enjoyed working with Reeve and his on-screen uncle, Gene Hackman, Cryer claimed that Cannon ran out of money five months ahead of time and ultimately released an unfinished movie. This is somewhat borne out in the novelization of the film's script. It shows a much more complex and complete story. The film looked as though whole pages or sections of the script were summarily torn out.

Critical response

The movie was not well received by either the general public or movie critics. Some critics considered the film to be one of the worst of its year. The movie suffered from poor sound and visual effects, believed to be caused by Cannon using much of the film's intended budget on their other projects. Reportedly, Warner Bros. gave Cannon approximately $40 million to produce Superman IV but in the end, Cannon used only $17 million for Superman IV. Most feel that the first movie had superior effects when compared to the fourth film, despite being nine years old at that point.

Of the four Superman films starring Reeve, this one fared the worst at the box office, and the series, as it turned out, went dormant for 19 years. Reeve himself admitted that both this and the third installment were very poor and did not live up to the potential that had been established by the first two films, and his 1995 paralysis made the development of any further sequels involving him in the starring role impossible. Time Warner let the Superman feature film franchise go undeveloped until the late-1990s when a variety of proposals were considered (see: Canceled Superman films), including several that would reboot the franchise altogether with substantially different versions of the characters and setting, rather than attempt to follow up on this film.

The final words in this film, "See you in twenty," proved to be prophetic. The next Superman film, Superman Returns, arrived at cinemas in June 2006, nineteen years after Superman IV premiered at the box office. This film discarded the events of Superman III and IV, continuing where the first two installments left off, although most of Richard Lester's concepts in Superman II are jettisoned as well.

Deleted footage

According to writer Mark Rosenthal's commentary on Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Deluxe Edition DVD released in November 2006, and the gallery of deleted scenes included on the disc, there are approximately 45 minutes of the film that have not been seen by the public after they were deleted following a failed Southern California test screening. In fact, the Nuclear Man that appears in the film is actually the second Nuclear Man Luthor created. Cut scenes featured the original Nuclear Man engaging Superman in battle outside the Metro Club and being destroyed by the Man of Steel. The first Nuclear Man was somewhat more inhuman-looking than his successor, and resembled vaguely in looks, and significantly in personality, the comic book character Bizarro. Luthor postulates that this Nuclear Man was not strong enough, and hatches the plan to create the second Nuclear Man inside the sun as a result. The comic book adaptation of the film, as well as the novelization, depicts these scenes and several photos of Superman's battle with the first Nuclear Man can be seen online. Three of the "lost" minutes, consisting of two scenes (the "tornado scene", in which Christopher Reeve's daughter Alexandra plays the girl swept away by the tornado; and the "Moscow" sequence, in which Superman stops a nuclear missile from being launched) were used in the international release by Cannon Films, and in the U.S. syndicated television version prepared by Viacom. At one point the producers of this film considered using all of this footage (and presumably shooting new footage) into a fifth film (see Superman Lives), but the poor box office performance of this film led that idea to be scrapped. Rosenthal commented on the DVD commentary that this showed just how out of touch Cannon was with reality.

The original 2-hour 14-minute preview version has never been seen outside its ill-fated Southern California test screening. There had been rumors that this version, including all the deleted scenes described above, of the film was shown only one known time, on the SFM Holiday Network in 1989. In actuality, another film that co-starred Christopher Reeve was shown on SFM, and this is where the misconception originated. A spokesman for SFM later confirmed that the full version never aired on television.

Warner Bros. confirmed in an early 2006 Internet chat room session that the lost footage was found, and approx. 30 minutes of the footage were included in a "deleted scenes" section of the 2006 DVD box set, The Ultimate Superman Collection. The footage is presumably taken from an original workprint, as visual effects are not complete, music is consisted from stock elements and the first film's soundtrack, and the film is in a very rough state.

Ownership and rights

As a result of prior contracts, different entities own different components of Superman IV. Warner Bros. co-produced the film and handled North American theatrical distribution, while Cannon Films handled distribution outside North America. Due to legal snags, the film was not issued on DVD for many years until WB bought back key rights to the film, thus allowing it to be released on DVD in the U.S. in 2001. The international DVD rights were not settled until 2005 and WB has since released IV outside the U.S. on home video. WB also handled worldwide distribution of IV when it was reissued in late 2006 as part of the 14-disc Ultimate Superman Collection box set.

CBS Paramount Domestic Television (owners of the television rights to Cannon's library, and successor company to Viacom Enterprises) formerly held television rights to the film. However, Warner Bros. Television Distribution--since it and ION Media Networks announced a deal on June 27, 2006 that provided the rights to broadcast movies and classic TV shows from the Warner Bros. library on the ION Television network--has now assumed TV rights for Superman IV and its predecessor Superman III from CBS Paramount Television.

Meanwhile all other theatrical and television rights in certain territories, including partial copyright, are owned by MGM/Sony/Comcast (successors-in-interest to Cannon Films). Ironically enough, CBS Paramount Television is also the successor-in-interest to the TV division of Paramount Pictures, the studio that released the 1940s Superman cartoons made by Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios.

Special powers

This film gives the Man of Steel powers with which he had never before been portrayed. Among these, after the Nuclear Man destroys part of the Great Wall of China, Superman restores the wall by gazing at it, causing the wall to rebuild itself, apparently by use of telekinesis, a power never ascribed to Superman in the comics. A contemporary film critic jokingly referred to this new power as "masonry vision." He uses the same ability during the street battle with Nuclear Man when he lowers several men (who are floating in the air thanks to Nuclear Man) to the ground just by looking at them.

External links

Superman Films
Film Serials SupermanAtom Man vs. Superman
Theatrical Films Superman and the Mole MenSuperman: The MovieSuperman IISuperman IIISuperman IV: The Quest for PeaceSuperman ReturnsMan of SteelBatman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Spin-off films SupergirlSteel
Made-for-TV/DVD films Superman: 50th Anniversary SpecialLook, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of SupermanSuperman II: The Richard Donner CutThe Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?
Animated Films Superman: Brainiac AttacksSuperman: DoomsdaySuperman ⁄ Batman: Public EnemiesSuperman ⁄ Batman: ApocalypseSuperman ⁄ Shazam!: The Return of Black AdamAll-Star SupermanSuperman Versus the EliteBatman: The Dark Knight ReturnsSuperman: Unbound
Justice League Justice League: The New FrontierJustice League: Crisis on Two EarthsJustice League: DoomThe Lego MovieThe Flashpoint ParadoxJustice League: War
Shorts The Joker's PlayhouseSuperman 75th Anniversary