Awfully Good: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

Last Updated on March 27, 2024

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Director: Sidney J. Furie
Stars: Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Mariel Hemingway

Superman fights against nuclear weapons and bankruptcy.

To understand exactly how SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE killed the Man of Steel for nearly two decades, we must first delve in to some history. After the cinematic debacle and box office dud that was SUPERMAN III (read our Awfully Good review), nobody wanted to make another one. An embarrassed Christopher Reeve hung up the cape and refused an appearance in the SUPERGIRL spinoff (which also bombed). Longtime producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind sold off the movie rights to Cannon Films, makers of such quality cinema as Chuck Norris’ MISSING IN ACTION series, AMERICAN NINJA with Michael Dudikoff, and the Lou Ferrigno HERCULES movie. But Cannon badly needed Reeve back and promised him creative control over the story, funding for his longtime pet project (the pimp drama STREET SMART), and an option to direct SUPERMAN V if it ever made it that far. [SPOILER: It didn’t.]

While unconventional, the title for the MAN OF STEEL sequel was a product of the times.

Reeve wanted a more serious take on Supes and after III’s campy tone, who could blame him? Unfortunately, he went too far in the opposite direction, painting Superman as a super-serious crusader hellbent on addressing and fixing all the world’s problems. The film opens with Superman tackling Cold War politics and saving some Russian cosmonauts. Soon he’s back in Smallville ranting against corporate development and the decrease in American farming. Then he does a bizarre PSA in a Metropolis subway about how we should all appreciate public transportation. And finally, when a child writes Superman a letter asking him to end the nuclear arms race, he decides to do that too. He gives a speech at the United Nations about nuclear disarmament, then immediately begins collecting missiles from every country in a giant space net and hurls them in to the sun. Even the film’s cheesy tagline (“Nuclear Power. In the best hands, it is dangerous. In the hands of Lex Luthor, it is pure evil. This is Superman’s greatest battle. And it is for all of us.”) is preachy.

It’s okay, everyone. He was just watching Jake Lloyd in THE PHANTOM MENACE.

While this doesn’t sound like the ideal SUPERMAN story, it was enough to convince both Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder to return full time, as well as newcomers Mariel Hemingway and “Two and Half Men” star Jon Cryer (playing Lex Luthor’s nephew Lenny as if Jeff Spicoli was a brilliant geneticist). Shooting began and… Cannon Films promptly ran out of money. The filmmakers would show up each day to find out they had less and less of a budget. Entire sequences were cut (including a subplot involving another Nuclear Man). Non-essential crew members were let go. Props and sets were made out of the cheapest material possible. Scenes that called for hundreds of extras could only afford a handful. What began as an ambitious 134 minute superhero epic was eventually cut down in to 90 minutes of nonsensical hilarity. I can’t imagine the original script was that good, but whatever was leftover after the massacre is not just the worst Superman movie, but one of the worst movies EVER.

This is what the first Nuclear Man looked like in a deleted scene. He has a crockpot for genitals and sounds like Mathesar from GALAXY QUEST.

I could write 10 columns on everything wrong with this film, but I’ll focus on the main culprit… Nuclear Man. Lex Luthor’s big plan in this movie involves stealing a strand of Superman’s hair from a museum, where it’s on display for being unbreakable. He immediately cuts the hair with a pair of pliers and takes it so he and his surfer nephew can clone it. They put Superman’s genetic material in a nuclear missile and fire it in to the sun (which is only a few minutes away apparently). For some reason, receiving alien DNA causes the sun to spit out a clone, which goes from fetus to fully-costumed adult in seconds, and looks absolutely nothing like Christopher Reeve. (It should be noted that this is actor Mark Pillow’s first and last movie.) Sooooo, 40 minutes in, SUPERMAN IV completely abandons its perch on nuclear politics and finally introduces the villain—and then cuts to an extended sequence where Clark Kent/ Superman goes on a simultaneous double date with Lois Lane and Mariel Hemingway. By the time our hero becomes aware of the bad guy’s existence, the movie is almost two-thirds over.

I hope it’s not “The best way to sit at a desk.”

It’s worth the wait though, because Nuclear Man is an incredible foe for the Man of Steel—a villain who falls asleep anytime he’s not in direct sunlight. He also has giant retractable claws and a penchant for growling, making him more of a Thundercat than a Superman. In their first fight, Nuclear Man decides to destroy world monuments including the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty. (It’s okay though, because Superman discovers a new power—his Magic Wall Rebuilding Ray.) Eventually he uses his nails to scratch Supes like a catty woman before flying off.


Before the final showdown, two things happen that are hilariously never explained, probably due to editing: Nuclear Man decides to go after Mariel Hemingway—Clark Kent’s boss/love interest—and Superman ages like 100 years due to getting scratched. Again, it’s okay, because Kal El once more discovers a magical solution, a Kryptonian crystal his mom gave him that he totally just found and completely heals him.

Unfortunately, Clark’s “preciousssss” turned out to be Kryptonite.

Superman then catches up with Nuclear Man, who is destroying the city and injuring innocent citizens, and proceeds to stand there for 2 or 3 minutes, yelling, “No! The people!” instead of actually helping them. The pair heads to the moon where they defy physics and gravity to fight on the lunar surface, perhaps the fakest looking movie set ever built. Nuclear Man buries Superman and then flies Mariel Hemingway in to space, where she somehow continues to breathe without oxygen. Superman decides the best course of action is to move the moon to block out the sun, ignoring the fact that this would probably do more damage to Earth than anything Nuclear Man ever could. As predicted, the villain gets sleepy in the absence of light, allowing Superman to throw him in to a nuclear reactor, killing him AND powering all of Metropolis. DOUBLE WIN!

The film then ends with Superman holding another press conference where Lois, Jimmy and everyone else is there to cheer him on. Except Mariel Hemingway, probably because she died from asphyxiation or burned up in the atmosphere upon reentry.

Once they set aside their differences, Superman and Nuclear Man made the planet’s greatest ventriloquism team.

SUPERMAN IV is the worst movie in the series by far, but it never had a chance. At least the third movie had the budget and the opportunity to be good. In some ways, that’s sadder.

Superman cares about “the people,” some cheesy advice from Kryptonian spirits, and the worst of Jon Cryer’s Lenny.

Superman vs. Nuclear Man! BONUS: Clark Kent doing aerobics.

None. Even Lex Luthor’s bimbo is disappointing this time around.

Own the BATMAN AND ROBIN of the Superman franchise… Buy this movie here!

Take a shot or drink every time:

  • Someone says “Destroy Superman”
  • Nuclear Man growls, roars or makes some kind of animal sound
  • Physics or gravity are completely ignored
  • The Fortress of Solitude is now green
  • A national monument or Wonder of the World is in peril
  • Lois receives another “amnesia kiss”

Double shot if:

  • Superman does aerobics

Thanks to Razvan, Trey and Scott for suggesting this week’s movie!

Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email or follow him on Twitter and give him an excuse to drink.


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