Continuing our lead up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which opens on March 25th, Scott J. Davis looks back at the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the final film to star Christopher Reeve as the true Man of Steel…
Back in 1983, the Superman franchise was in full swing, despite the tense and fractured on-set fights and fallouts which saw original director Richard Donner leave after Superman: The Movie before he was able to finish Superman II, released almost three years later under the new direction of Richard Lester. Both films were huge financial successes with Superman: The Movie 1978’s second highest-grossing film behind Grease.
A third film was inevitable, with Lester again directing the returning Christopher Reeve alongside legendary comedian Richard Pryor, who had made a joke on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson at the time saying how he would love to been in a Superman film. The producers, Alex and Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler, took him at his word and cast him as computer nerd Gus Gorman, who would help Superman defeat villain Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn). Sadly, the strain had begun to show on the franchise and while Superman III was a success, it was lacking the magic of the first two in both tone and quality.
The Salkinds and Spengler then turned their attention to 1984’s Supergirl, starring Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway, but once more couldn’t recapture the magic of the first films and their spin-off flopped, grossing just $14.3million and garnering some scathing reviews. And so, they sold the film franchise rights to Cannon Films, an independent production company known at the time for low-brow films such as Invasion USA (and many other Chuck Norris films), Enter The Ninja, Breakin’ and its sequel Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (arguably the greatest title for a film in history).
Run by Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, The Cannon Group Inc. as they were known, were trying to break out of their production “assembly line” methods (making films cheap and selling to foreign distributors for profit) in an effort to take on the Hollywood studio system by releasing more respectable films. Acclaimed film-makers Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavettes and Franco Zeffirelli had boarded the Cannon train, but while films with artistic integrity helped to gain them some degree of respectability, it barely bankrolled the company and so Golan and Globus decided to take some risks – some big risks.
As well as buying the rights to Superman, Cannon had optioned the rights for the massively successful Masters of the Universe toy-line and cartoon series from Mattel, and paid upwards of $15 million to Sylvester Stallone to star in two big actions films, Cobra (1986) and Over The Top (1987), the latter directed by Golan himself. On paper, 1987 was the year that Cannon was going to make it big, with the possibilities both in terms of box-office and gaining respect as a company huge. If Masters and Superman delivered on Cannon’s sizeable investment, the sky was the limit.
It started well. With their collective negotiating power, Golan and Globus convinced Christopher Reeve to return once more as the Man of Steel by promising two things: that he could be involved with the story/script phase of the fourth film, which led to Superman planning to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and that Cannon would finance his pet project Street Smart, which debuted in March of 1987 and grossed just $1.1 million in the US. Golan had some reservations about Reeve during the making of Street Smart, with the star reportedly stating that if Cannon “didn’t have another $1 million to shoot it in New York, how do I know you have $30 million to do Superman?” He was right.
With Reeve’s involvement, fellow Superman alum Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen), Jackie Cooper (Perry White) all joined the cast alongside Jon Cryer (Pretty In Pink) and Mariel Hemingway (Manhattan) and newcomer Mark Pillow as “big bad” Nuclear Man, while acclaimed film-maker Sidney J. Furie (The IPCRESS File, Lady Sings The Blues) was hired to direct the film. It was clear to all however that Superman IV wasn’t going to be a fun shoot.
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