In the summer of 1984, the world was supposedly waiting to see the next entry in the super adventures with Supergirl. However, after the poor performance of Superman III the previous year, Warner Brothers dropped the movie. Tri-Star Pictures picked it up and released it in November but the movie flopped and remains critically lambasted by fans. The franchise was on shaky ground and the Salkinds would sell the franchise film rights to Canon Films.
Canon approached Christopher Reeve about coming back for a fourth film. With no script ready, Reeve was reluctant as the general feeling was that Superman needed a break from the big screen. Reeve disliked the third film and wanted a fourth movie to be treated seriously. Canon offered him input into the script and a promise to direct a fifth feature film. In addition, they would produce any film he chose. A deal he couldn’t refuse, Reeve accepted and all efforts went into Superman IV: The Quest for Peace towards a summer 1987 release. At least, that was the plan. With so many films in production, Superman IV felt budgetary cuts at every turn. The script was rewritten, scenes cut and production costs slashed. The end result was a 90-minute flick that everyone agrees should never have been made. Even Reeve knew during filming that the movie was going to be a disaster.
The movie begins with Superman saving some cosmonauts, then returning home to Smallville. There, he discovers a Kryptonian device that triggers a message from his mother Lara (voiced by Susannah York). It yields a power that can only be used once, which ultimately saves his life later on in the movie. Superman, in his alter-ego of Clark Kent, returns to Metropolis to find that the Daily Planet has been taken over by David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker, Private Benjamin) and that Perry White (Jackie Cooper) has been fired and replaced by Warfield’s daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemmingway, Personal Best). Lacy attempts to romance Clark, which brings out some jealousy in Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), in a slightly bigger role than Superman III.
Superman is conflicted over how much he should interfere in the growing nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia. He ultimately decides to gather up the nuclear weapons and hurls them into the sun. Meanwhile, Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men) breaks his uncle Lex (Gene Hackman) out of prison. Lex quickly comes up with a plot to create his own “superman”, which he names Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). Numerous battles between Superman and Nuclear Man follow before Superman eventually wins. His parting words are that there will be peace in the world only when the people in the world demand it. Superman flies off into the sunrise, disappearing from the big screen for some 19 years.
Let’s just cut to the chase…this movie is a mess. The plot is meandering and using Lex Luthor again seems beyond lazy at this point. Horrendous editing leaves the movie feeling incomplete. Approximately 45 minutes of footage was cut, including an original Nuclear Man. Yes, we were supposed to see two different Nuclear Men. The DC Comics adaptation features alternate dialogue and includes the first Nuclear Man, which I thought odd when I read the comic before seeing the movie, only to wonder what happened. About thirty minutes of the deleted footage has since been released on DVD as deleted scenes. Suffice to say, the movie was a super flop. It ranked #4 its’ opening weekend. It effectively killed the franchise and Christopher Reeve believed it to be a huge blow to his career. Superman wouldn’t grace the big screen again until 2006’s Superman Returns.
Meanwhile, Superman returned to TV. First up was Superboy (1988-1992), developed by the Salkinds and starring John Haymes Newton (season 1) and Gerard Christopher (seasons 2-4) in the lead role. Then, there was Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which ran for four seasons between 1993 and 1997, focusing more on the relationship between Clark (Dean Cain) and Lois (Teri Hatcher). Finally, Smallville ran for 10 seasons (2001-2011) and 218 episodes, chronicling a young Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and his evolution into Superman. All were moderately successful but none truly managed to bring Superman into the mainstream again. They each have their fans; in fact, many are anxiously awaiting the final two seasons of Superboy to be released, which finally seems a reality after a long legal battle between Warner Brothers and the Salkinds.
Perhaps most prominent and well-liked was Superman: The Animated Series, which ran for four seasons and 54 episodes between 1996 and 2000. Superman then transitioned to two different Justice League animated series and is currently featured in both the Young Justice series as well as a continuing series of home video animated features.
On May 27, 1995, Christopher Reeve was thrown from a horse and became paralyzed. He became an advocate for spinal injuries and research. He died of cardiac arrest in October 2004 at the age of 52. Sadly, his wife died of cancer less than two years later.
In 2006, Superman returned to the big screen with Superman Returns, but would the long wait be worth it?