Superman Month – Why Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is Worse Than Superman Returns

Luke Owen looks into the debate on which is the worst Superman movie…

While we are in the middle of Superman Month, I thought I would address a question that has plagued a generation – which is the worst Superman movie? But before we can answer that, let’s look into some history…

Superman: The Movie was a groundbreaking film in terms of special effects (for the late 70s) as well as comic book story telling. It took a campy superhero and turned him into a big screen bad ass. Richard Donner and his crew genuinely made you believe a man could fly as Christophe Reeve saved the world from evil Lex Luthor. With the box office success still ringing in their ears, Warner Bros. put together a plan to make Superman II which is actually a lot better than it really deserved to be.

Donner was at loggerheads with Warner and was eventually kicked off the project during filming and replaced with the much cheaper Richard Lester, who re-cut and re-filmed some scenes to make an almost different movie. But, with all of its back stage troubles, Superman II is a worthy follow up to the masterpiece that is Superman: The Movie.

However, things suddenly took a funny turn in more ways than one with Superman III which brought in famed comedian Richard Pryor in one of the odder entries into the lexicon. Superman III is not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination, but not a worthy successor to the films that came before it. The studio then turned to Superman’s cousin Supergirl in order to save the franchise, but that also failed. Was the Superman franchise dead in the waters?

After Supergirl, the producing rights of the Superman franchise were sold by Alexander and Ilya Salkind to Golan-Globus’s Cannon Films – a production company known for spreading budgets thin to accommodate the various projects they had on at the time. According to Reeve, Golan-Globus didn’t have a script in place when they approached him about Superman IV (although they did have around 30 movies in production), but gave him creative control for the movie and a directorial role for Superman V should the film be successful. Reeve, wanting to get an anti-nuclear message out, used Superman IV as his vehicle in a movie that is such an utter mess that it almost boggles the mind. The film once again tanked and would lay dormant for 20 years.

During the 90s, Warner Bros. did try to resurrect Superman through various different projects with writers like Kevin Smith and J.J. Abrams taking a stab at the character and at one point they had Tim Burton set to direct with Nicholas Cage in the leading role. Sadly, every single project fell apart – except for one.

In 2006, Warner Bros. released Superman Returns directed by X-Men visionary Bryan Singer. The movie was met with a lot of mixed opinions but, in the end, it once again killed the franchise dead.

So the question remains – of the two movies that killed Superman, which one is worse?

As you can probably tell by the title of this article, I believe that Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is beyond the worst of the Superman franchise (animated movies included) for a variety of reasons.

Before we go on, let’s just remind ourselves that Superman Returns is a dreadful movie. Ignoring the fact that Bryan Singer was trying too hard to get is “homophobia is bad” views across using the Man of Steel (although not as heavy handed as X-Men 2), it’s just a boring movie with bland leading performances from Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth (with a performance so forgettable I had to double check IMDB that she was even in the movie). Kevin Spacy does his best to ham up the show but he fails in what is essentially a mediocre summer blockbuster. I’ll never forget my friend, a massive Superman fan, going to see it again and again because he was convinced it wasn’t a bad movie and he wanted to find out what Singer was trying to accomplish. He eventually admitted it was bad, but the plane sequence was good.

Superman IV: The Quest For Peace on the other hand doesn’t have a fancy plane scene to fall back on. It just fails at everything.

While it’s quite easy to poke fun at the idiocy of Quest for Peace like Superman talking in space, moving the moon out of orbit, the pathetic fight with Nuclear Man, Lacy going into space and breathing, Lex Luthor cutting Superman’s super strong hair with scissors, the actual creation of Nuclear Man, Nuclear Man having Lex Luthor’s voice, Superman rebuilding The Great Wall of China with his eyes, Lenny Luthor, the terrible blue screen effects, the overuse of the “flying shot” and Christopher Reeve’s half-arsed performance (to name a few), there is a bigger issue with the film.

The Quest For Peace often reminds me of Godzilla vs. Hedorah in which director Yoshimitsu Banno was more concerned with getting his message across about pollution that he actually forgot to make a good movie. Not only that, but he was so focused on why we shouldn’t have pollution that he forgot to consider the other side of the argument – much like a Michael Moore documentary. Superman IV has the same issue, Reeve was so wrapped up in his anti-nuclear message that everything else (including science of all things) takes a backseat to his politics that he wanted to force upon us. Simply getting rid of “all nuclear weapons” isn’t going to make the world a brighter place to live in. It’s these simplistic and frankly insulting views that make Superman IV: The Quest for Peace so hard to sit through.

But worse still, like Banno and Godzilla vs. Hedorah, he used the wrong vehicle to get his message across. Superman may stand for truth, justice and the American way, but he is not a member of Green Peace. Movie audiences just wanted to see a fun summer blockbuster (like they’d seen previously) but what they got was a convoluted and often confused mess.

Of course, it isn’t helped by all the idiocy I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

So while Superman Returns features an emo Superman stalking Lois Lane and watching her sleep, it is a work of art compared to the lowbrow quality and mind-bending stupidity of Superman IV. If anything, the biggest crime to come from Superman Returns is that, after 12 years, that was the best they could come up with?

If you still disagree with me, let me put it this way: When Bryan Singer was putting Superman Returns together, he ignored the continuity of Superman III and Superman IV to follow on from the Donner movies. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace is so bad, that even Superman Returns doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Month in Review show for Flickering Myth’s Podcast Network. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.

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