1. In 1983, following the mixed-to-negative reaction to Superman III, Christopher Reeve hung up his cape and announced his retirement as Superman. The producers, Alexander Salkind and his son Ilya, assumed that the Superman films had run their course and so in 1985 they sold a five year option on the rights to the franchise to Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of Cannon Films for just $5 million.
Cannon immediately set to work on making Superman IV, although things didn't start smoothly. Initial discussions with Christopher Reeve were not proving fruitful, and the duo had no story idea to present him with. Golan and Globus then decided that the only way to lure Reeve back to the franchise was to make him an offer he simply couldn't refuse - if Reeve would agree to star in Superman IV, he could have more creative control, he could write the story, there would be a decent $36 million budget to make the film and the duo would bankroll another project that Reeve would like to produce. Reeve accepted the offer.
2. Reeve began to work on the story with Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal. In their first screenplay Nuclear Man would've been very much like Bizarro Superman and would've also been played by Reeve - sort of reminiscent of the scene in Superman III. When they had a script they were happy with, the team presented it to Cannon.
Unknown to Reeve and co at the time, Cannon had overstretched themselves with almost 30 movies in various stages of production (including the expensive Masters of the Universe) and so set about cutting multiple expensive proposed scenes (for instance, one scene was to feature Superman rebuilding the Great Wall of China brick by brick at super speed. Cannon decided it would be better - cheaper - if Superman developed the ability to just be able to point at the wall and it rebuild itself!) and putting cost saving stipulations on the production, as Reeve described in his autobiography Still Me,
We were also hampered by budget constraints and cutbacks in all departments. Cannon Films had nearly thirty projects in the works at the time, and Superman IV received no special consideration. For example, Konner and Rosenthal wrote a scene in which Superman lands on 42nd Street and walks down the double yellow lines to the United Nations, where he gives a speech. If that had been a scene in Superman I, we would actually have shot it on 42nd Street. 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. Instead, 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. 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.That promised $36 million plummeted to just $17 million. Milton Keynes doubled for New York, and the planned 6 months of special effects was cut to "no more than 30 days". Is it any wonder the film looked as bad as it did when released?
3. On the lookout for a reasonably priced director, a cheeky offer was put in to Richard Donner, who'd been fired by the Salkinds between the production of Superman I and II, he declined the offer. Moving down the line of Richards - Lester, director of Superman II and III was then approached, he also declined. Wes Craven was in negotiations to direct the movie but had many creative differences with Christopher Reeve and decided against the project. Eventually Golan and Globus recruited Sidney J. Furie to helm Superman IV, not on the strength of his back catalogue (which includes the Michael Caine thriller The Ipcress File) but because he was in between shooting Iron Eagle and Iron Eagle II for Cannon.
4. Although both the previous Superman cinematic directors declined the chance to return for Superman IV, many key members of the special effects crew that worked on the first three Superman films and Supergirl were all happy to return, initially, and were hired during pre-production. However, almost all of them left before the movie even went in front of the camera following salary disputes.
5. Gene Hackman had refused to work on Superman III because of the way the studio had treated Richard Donner, but he and Margot Kidder (who had effectively been written out of Superman III because of her protests over Donner-gate) agreed to return to the franchise on the strength of Reeve's creative involvement.
Although Cannon were very happy to have the whole team back (with Mark McClure and Jackie Cooper also returning) they didn't think that Kidder was now good looking enough to be Superman's love interest so insisted that a role was written in for a younger actress, and Mariel Hemingway was hired as Lacy Warfield, the other love interest.
6. A deleted section of the film featured Clark Kent visiting the graves of his foster parents. This was to have preceded the film's theatrical scene where Clark returns to Smallville to meet the contractor in hopes of selling or leasing the Kent Farm. Though the original set from Superman; the Movie was still standing in Ontario, Canada, Cannon would not fund the oversees shoot so the Kent Farm was recreated in the village of Baldock, Hertfordshire.
7. As mentioned, Reeve was set to also play Nuclear Man, but Cannon decided that the split screen effect would be too expensive and instead hired Mark Pillow in his first and only movie role. However, although it never made it to the screen the script called for two Nuclear Men, the one we saw and a first prototype, also created by Lex Luthor, who was without intelligence and unable to speak. Again Cannon balked at the expense of Reeve portraying this "Frankenstein's Monster" so Clive Mantle, best known for his work on Casualty and more recently on Game Of Thrones, was cast...
8. When Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was completed it ran to almost two and a quarter hours, but after a disastrous test screening in California the decision was made to heavily edit the film prior to release. Approximately 45 minutes were cut, including all of the first Nuclear Man scenes.
In their infinite wisdom, the Cannon Group believed this to be a smart move (and to be fair it probably was - have you seen the deleted footage?) but not because of quality or anything like that but because they reasoned a lean 90 minutes film would be able to receive more screenings per day, and potentially make more money that would eventually filter back to the studio.
It didn't work!
9. Before Superman IV made it to the screens, Golan-Globus Productions made good on their promise and bankrolled Reeve's pet project to the tune of $5 million. The film was called Street Smart, an R rated thriller starring Reeve, Kathy Baker, Mimi Rogers and Morgan Freeman who earned much praise for his role of Fast Black, even garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. However, very few people had seen the film as Cannon provided exactly zero towards the publicity budget, and so it grossed less than $1.5 million.
10. Universally panned by critics, Superman IV did actually make money. After a terrible domestic run, opening in fourth place and ending on a gross of less than $16 million, the International market saved Superman IV with a final tally of just short of $37 million.
You'll remember back at the beginning of this article the offer Cannon made to Reeve, the one he just couldn't refuse? Well there was another sweetener to the deal, if Superman IV proved to be a success then Reeve would be allowed to direct Superman V. However, after the negative reaction from press and fans, Reeve wisely wanted nothing to do with Cannon again and regretted his decision to be involved with the film in the first place, saying
"Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish. That failure was a huge blow to my career."However, not wanting to pass up an opportunity to make a few extra dollars, Cannon considered using that cut 45 minutes of footage as the basis for an 'all new' Superman V. Thankfully nothing came of this idea and the rights to the franchise reverted back to the Salkinds, which is where we'll pick up the story next time.
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