Christopher Reeve hated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, even though he had complete creative control.
If you have never heard of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, you’re not alone. You are also lucky, as this film may star the iconic Christopher Reeve, just like the other three great Superman films of the 1970s and early 1980s, but it is definitely not on the same level. According to CBR, Reeve himself actually came up with the story for the movie, but with the penny-pinching Cannon Group in charge of production, even a good idea was turned into a cheesy, lifeless mess.
“The less said about Superman IV, the better,” Christopher Reeve wrote in his autobiography, Still Me, in 1999. Still, the record should be set straight. While we’ll never know if Reeve’s original idea for this fourth Superman story was the best or not, we do know that that original idea never truly made it to the screen.
The Cannon Group was an extremely low-budget production company in the 1980s, and they went out of their way to be stingy with the budget of this film. At first, the budget was set at $36 million to make the movie, then lowered to just $17 million. Then the film was cut down from two hours and 14 minutes long to just an hour and a half – not enough time to tell the story Christopher Reeve wanted to tell in this Superman sequel.
The worst part, though, was that all of Christopher Reeve’s and director Sidney J. Furie’s ideas were changed so that the filming would cost as little as possible, resulting in something totally different (and much worse) than what they had imagined.
To give an example, Christopher Reeves compared how the Cannon Group shot the film to how Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner would have shot it. He said that the writers wrote a scene in which Superman goes to the United Nations building and gives an important speech. “If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street,” he said.
“Richard 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,” Christopher Reeve added.
Instead, the Cannon Group shot it on the cheap. “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,” Christopher Reeve described. “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 movie, understandably, was a flop, effectively killing the Superman franchise for nearly 20 years. But this came as no surprise to the cast and crew of the film. Jon Cryer, who played Lex Luthor’s nephew Lenny, said that Christopher Reeve told him that the movie would turn out to be “terrible,” and he couldn’t have been more right.
Cuts to the budget not only carved up Christopher Reeve’s story but also led to horrible special effects and choppy re-editing that doomed the film from the start. Matters were only made worse by the fact that the third Superman film didn’t make a huge positive impact on audiences either.
So, because of the Cannon Group’s Scrooge-y nature, the world never saw another Christopher Reeve Superman film. It didn’t see another Superman film at all, until Superman Returns premiered in 2006, starring Brandon Routh. Of course, we now also have Henry Cavill’s Superman and whoever the new face of the franchise will be to fill the void, but we will never know what might have been if Superman IV had stayed true to Christopher Reeve’s vision.