Length: 134 minutes
Release Date: July 24, 1987
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Genre: Action, Adventure, Family
Stars: 2 out of 5
Released in 1987, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” was the sixth Superman-related movie to hit the big screen but only the fourth in long-running Superman series distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The first Superman film, which was released in 1951, was intended to stir up enough interest to justify a weekly television series about the Man of Steel. The Warner Bros. series began in 1978 with “Superman,” which was soon followed by “Superman II” in 1980, “Superman III” in 1983, and “Supergirl” in 1984.
“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” begins with Superman (Christopher Reeve) returning to the farm he grew up on in Smallville under the guise of Clark Kent. In the barn, he uncovers the space capsule that originally brought him to earth along with a Kryptonian energy module called kryptonite. A voice recording left by his now-deceased mother informs him that the module only has enough power for him to use it one time.
He returns to his job at the Daily Planet in Metropolis only to discover that nuclear war may break out between the Soviet Union and the United States. When he calls upon the spirits of his ancestors for advice on whether or not he should get involved, they simply advise him to leave Earth for good. Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) gives him different advice. As Superman, he manages to stockpile the world’s nuclear weapons, corral them into a net, and hurl them into the sun.
While all of this is going on, his nemesis Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) breaks out of prison and returns to Metropolis. He uses a strand of Superman’s hair to create Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow), a being who is extremely powerful as long as he is bathed in sunlight. A battle ensues between Nuclear Man and Superman and ends up with Superman suffering from radiation poisoning. In the end, Superman uses kryptonite to heal himself, destroys Nuclear Man, and catches up with Lex Luthor and returns him to prison.
“Superman IV” was notable on several different fronts. The earlier “Superman” movies were produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, but this was the first one by Cannon Films with a little help from Warner Bros. Just before filming began, the budget was slashed by $20 million, which heavily impacted the movie, particularly the scheduled special effects. Because of its sluggish performance at the box office, it would be almost twenty years before the next “Superman” movie went into production.
This was also the last of the “Superman” franchise to star the iconic Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. Just eight years after “Superman IV” made its debut, Reeve was seriously injured in a horseback-riding accident, and he remained a quadriplegic until his death in 2004. Reeve not only starred in the movie but was also responsible for creating and developing the movie’s storyline. When “Superman Returns” was released in 2006, Brandon Routh was cast to take Reeve’s place as Superman.
Gene Hackman’s acting career had already spanned more than twenty-five years when he reprised the role of Lex Luthor in “Superman IV.” Because of his acting clout, he was able to lend an air of legitimacy to what might otherwise have been viewed as nothing more than a frivolous action movie. Hackman had become well known for his many television appearances, as well as roles in popular movies such as “The French Connection,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and “Hoosiers.” By the time he retired from acting in 2004, he had garnered two Oscars, as well as thirty-three other award wins and twenty-four additional award nominations.
Margot Kidder was also an accomplished actress when cast to play the role of Superman’s girlfriend, Lois Lane. She appeared in many television shows during the early years of her career, and she started to become a fixture on the silver screen in the mid-1970s. In addition to the “Superman” movies, she was also well known for her roles in movies such as “The Amityville Horror” and “Miss Right.”
Marc McClure played the role of another “Superman” staple, junior reporter Jimmy Olsen. McClure’s acting career began in the mid-1970s with appearances on popular television series including “Happy Days” and “Eight Is Enough.” His role in the “Superman” movies boosted his career, and he was soon landing roles in popular films such as “Back to the Future” and “Apollo 13.”
When the “Superman” franchise began again in 2006, it ignored much of the storyline had been built in the movies before it. Viewers who have watched the more contemporary “Superman” movies might feel a slight disconnect while watching “Superman IV.” The movie is still well worth the time to see, as it gives a glimpse into the earlier days of the Man of Steel.