Photo: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace / Warner Bros.

'Superman IV: The Quest For Peace' Was Such A Mess That It Tanked The Franchise For Decades

When Superman: The Movie came out in 1978, the film revolutionized the comic book film industry. Thanks to great reviews and a blockbuster box office, Superman changed how comic book movies were perceived on the big (and small) screen.

Unfortunately, the same franchise that created perhaps one of the most iconic superhero movies of all time also created arguably one of the worst superhero movies of all time, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace - so much so that it made the legendary Christopher Reeve hang up his cape for good.

Sadly, the movie had a lot of potential. It saw Superman having to intervene in a global arms race to help rid the world of nuclear weapons. But Lex Luthor has other plans, and with the help of war mongers looking for financial reward, Luthor creates a being out of nuclear energy that is strong enough to take on Superman.

From struggles stemming from substantial cost-cutting to problems with the script, the film had many issues that ultimately led to the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, halting the Man of Steel franchise for decades.

Photo: Superman IV: The Quest For Peace / Warner Bros.

  • Christopher Reeve Was Initially Reluctant To Return As The Man Of Steel

    Having felt his interpretation of the Man of Steel had reached its end, especially after the mixed response to 1983's Superman III, which underperformed considerably compared to its predecessors, Christopher Reeve initially declined returning as Superman for a fourth time.

    It was only when the studio agreed to finance his passion project, 1987's Street Smart, as well as grant him creative input toward the Superman IV script, that Reeve eventually yielded.

  • Audiences Thought Christopher Reeve Was Overweight Due To Shoddy Special Effects

    Production company Cannon Films was already facing financial difficulties when it took on the production, and ended up only using $17 million of its $36 million budget for the actual movie. This resulted in corners being cut in many departments. Cannon condensed the script, reused footage, and disappointed audiences with badly made SFX that were inferior to the previous installments, even though some had been made almost a decade prior.

    In Superhero: A Biography of Christopher Reeve, Superman IV star Jon Cryer stated:

    Cannon ran out of money... and released an unfinished movie... They used the same flying shot like four times. That was the problem with it, and that’s why Chris leveled with me and said "It’s a mess." And I said "Oh, great."

    Not only was this most noticeable during a particular telekinetic Great Wall of China scene, but it also even caused people to criticize Reeve’s fitness for the movie. It was later revealed that due to the substandard effects used to conceal his harness, Reeve, who was actually in the best shape ever, looked a bit more "rotund" than usual during some of his flight scenes.

  • Ideas Of A Bizarro Superman And Two Nuclear Men Were Scrapped

    Before Nuclear Man, Christopher Reeve was initially approached to play a darker version of Superman, similar to his classic comic book nemesis Bizarro. Unfortunately, due to budget problems (not to mention the fact that it was already done in Superman III), this never came in to fruition.

    The next conception of the movie then saw Lex Luthor create two Nuclear Men, with the first incarnation being a more slapstick moronic Nuclear Man (even more so than the one than made it to screen). This even made it past the script stage with the casting AND filming of Clive Mantle as the first Nuclear Man.

    Unfortunately, it eventually hit the editing room floor (as did a lot of scenes in this movie).

    Co-writer Mark Rosenthal's commentary on the 2006 DVD later revealed that roughly 45 minutes of the film has not been seen by the general public.

  • Filmmakers Tried To Pass Off Industrial Parts Of England As New York To Save Money

    In another attempt to cut costs, a lot of the major scenes in the movie were actually filmed in England. This is most noticeable when they tried to pass off an industrial park in Milton Keynes as the UN plaza in New York City, along with a Metropolis subway scene that seems to look uncannily like the London Tube.

    In his autobiography Still MeChristopher Reeve stated:

    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...

  • The Production Was Unsafe And Ended A Stuntman's Career

    Stuntman John Lees, who worked on Flash Gordon and For Your Eyes Only, served as Nuclear Man's double for this feature. During production, Lees unfortunately suffered a career-ending injury, breaking both of his heels and his left ankle after suffering a 25-foot fall when his harness wire snapped.

    In an interview with the Associated Press, Lees stated, "My career as a stuntman is over."

    Cannon Films admitted liability and Lees was awarded $422,000 in damages. 

  • Nuclear Man's Shoddy Dubbing Made Him Look Uncomfortable When He Spoke

    In the film, Nuclear Man (Mark Pillows) was created from the DNA in Superman’s hair by the criminal mastermind Lex Luthor. Although none of Lex’s genetics went into the mix at all, this didn’t stop Nuclear Man from having his creator’s voice.

    In addition to the dub, audiences also noticed something uncomfortable about Nuclear Man's face whenever he spoke. This may be due to the bizarre way in which the lines were dubbed.

    The usual norm is for the actors to deliver their lines on camera, then for the voice actors to record dialogue in editing to be dubbed over. This was the case with Christopher Reeve for Jeff East (young Clark) in 1978's Superman: The Movie.

    However, in the case of Superman IV, this process was done in reverse. Gene Hackman recorded all of the dialogue first and Mark had to mime in time to the lines being played back to him while filming.  

    Mark Pillow said in an interview:

    That was an odd, late choice to have Gene do Nuclear Man’s lines and have me lip sync to them. Gene didn’t expect that and neither did I. It led to a very wooden performance, which made it a challenge. All I was doing was following Gene’s voice, which gave me very little scope to do anything. To this day I’m not completely sure why they made that decision...