When it comes to shitty superhero movies, Superman IV is a perennial occupant of any list of them. I still hate Batman and Robin more, but that’s only because I was 12 when Superman IV was in theaters and only slightly less critical. Plus, Superman IV seemed like a crap film beset by budgetary and story problems while B&R seemed like a giant “fuck you” to anyone who ever professed to enjoy reading comic books.
As the saying goes, if you don’t have a better idea, then shut your asshole face. With that in mind, I thought it would be a perfect idea to come up with a list of 10 ways that Superman IV could’ve been improved.
And if you don’t like any of these, see the first sentence of the preceding paragraph.
10. Don’t make it
This sounds like a cheap shot, but think about it; Superman III was not nearly as successful at the box office. Aside from similar opening weekends (Superman II drew $14,100,523 its first weekend, and Superman III earned $13,352,357), Superman III grossed only a little over half of what Superman II did, at least in the United States ($56,950,623 vs. $101,347,629).
Lest you think I exaggerate how poorly Superman IV did, according to stats found on IMDb.com, its *gross* in the U.S. was $15,681,020. I shit you not. Its theatrical run made about as much as the opening weekend of Superman III. And have you seen Superman III lately? It makes Xanadu look like Gone With the Wind. But at least they had money to work with.
By the time this sequel came around, the movie rights had been sold to the Cannon Group, which at the time was owned by cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Fans of shitty movies know they’re in for a treat when they see “A Golan-Globus Production,” as the cousins were known for inundating theaters and video-store shelves with low-budget crap.
Even if Cannon was notorious for shoestring-thin budget movies, this was in conjunction with Warner Brothers. Surely there’d be some money there, right? Well, according to the awesome resource, Superman Cinema, among other shenanigans like using nonunion workers at its Elstree studios in England, not all the money the company got for the movie actually went to the movie.
“Warner Brothers were particularly annoyed, because their money used to back ‘Superman IV’ was being moved on to other Cannon projects.”
This explains so much of why everything looks so shitty. Everyone involved with the movie had to cut corners where they could, and no matter how talented they are–and there were a lot of talented folks working on this–there is a finite limit to what can be accomplished. Of all the entries on this list, it’s almost the most important one, but it’s not at the No. 1 spot because you really need to keep this in mind for the rest.
Having covered most of the reasons for the downfall of the movie in the previous entry, I consider all the rest of these to be a bit of wishful thinking. You know, had all things been equal and the people who worked hard on the movie not been screwed over–these are the ways the movie could’ve been improved.
9. Hone the story
Granted, what made it to the screens isn’t necessarily the story that they started with. The screenplay was written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who also wrote one of my favorite 80s movies, The Legend of Billie Jean. I am curious to see what the original script was like, because as much as it apparently got trimmed, I’d hack the shit out of it.
The problem is that there are way too many subplots, even if the budget wasn’t cut to shit. You’ve got Superman ridding the world of nuclear weapons (which I think is problematic as it is), Lex Luthor dealing in black market nuclear arms, Luthor cloning Superman to create the Nuclear Man (or as he calls him, the Nucular Man), a media mogul taking over the Daily Planet and making it into a sensationalist rag, the daughter of said mogul crushing on Clark Kent, and some whiny little kid writing to Superman to get him to create world peace. Oh, and Clark Kent is selling his parents’ farm. Almost missed that one.
Honest to Jaboo, could we cut it down to an A story and a B story? If you’re dead set on the Quest for Peace angle, make that the main story while Lex Luthor tries to defeat Superman with his cloned supervillain. Which leads to the next one.
Please. Lex Luthor tries to create a clone of Superman but it doesn’t come out right. How is this not Bizarro? In fact, among the large chunks of the movie that got cut, there was a whole bit with a previous attempt at a Nuclear Man. He looked fairly close to a Bizarro-like character, but he was unstable and disintegrated in battle with Superman.
Having seen the clips of it, I’m glad they cut it, but it just makes a stronger case for Bizarro.
Besides, how does it make sense that Luthor makes a clone from Superman’s DNA, and then it doesn’t look anything like Superman and instead looks like some douche from a buttrock band? And aside from being strong and able to fly, he has entirely different powers and weaknesses.
All you gotta do is make the clone a slightly imperfect duplicate of Superman, with the same powers. This would make him a more formidable adversary, especially if he’s under Luthor’s control.
7. Why add when you already have characters?
After making such a big deal with setting up Lana Lang as Perry White’s secretary at the end of Superman III, why add Lacy Warfield as yet another potential love interest? That would be more in line with the comic book precedent of having a love triangle of sorts among Superman/Clark, Lois, and Lana.
6. Don’t screw with the special effects team
Give the guys the money they need, because in a Superman movie, the effects are important. Sure, if you have a strong story, you might be able to skimp a teeny bit, but if you’re saddled with this script, you need every little bit of help you can get. Cutting the funding so much that the SFX guys have to use the same shitty straight-ahead flying shot over and over is just wrong.
5. Pay attention
The movie opens with Superman rescuing a cosmonaut and then chatting them up in Russian. Nice, except he does so IN AIRLESS SPACE. Later, the Nuclear Man kidnaps Lacy Warfield (sure, why not) and flies INTO AIRLESS SPACE without protecting her with a suit or anything. Superman causes him to drop Lacy, but she’s rescued before she falls to Earth FROM AIRLESS SPACE. And then, of course, there’s the big fight scene with Superman and Nuclear Man on the moon, which looks like someone threw up a black sheet and a shitload of rocks on a tiny soundstage. I feel like I should be able to see the boom mike.
Also, aside from being among the mindnumbingly boring fight scenes in what is ostensibly an action movie, there’s what I consider to be the “Bat Credit Card” scene of this film. The Nuclear Man flashes his silver Lee Press-On Nails and blows up portions of the Great Wall of China. How does Superman fix this? With his rebuild-the-fucking-Great-Wall-of-China vision.
Yeah, you know, even in Superman II, they pulled shit sorta like this, first by having Zod use some kind of telekinetic beam and then famously having Superman attack Non by peeling off an expanding Fruit Roll-Up version of his S-shield and throwing it at him. But as a kid, I justified it by thinking sure, maybe Zod was exposed to some weird space thing or janked-up red kryptonite that permanently gave him that power. Hinky, yeah, but possible. And the S-shield thing could have been something specific he set up as part of defense in the Fortress of Solitude. Again, pretty thin, but I was willing to make the excuses, see?
Not only is it stupid to have him rebuild the wall brick-by-brick with this heretofore unseen power, but since Nuclear Man blew the damn thing up, it’s not like there were intact bricks for him even to rebuild it with.
And how can you tell that this was made primarily in England aside from the United Nations building looking like a local theater? Maybe it’s the use of the British spelling of “favourite” in a headline instead of “favorite,” the way we spell it here.
Christ, guys, were you even trying?
4. Don’t cut some stuff out only to add stuff ripped off from the first movies
Superman IV recycles the green power crystal seen in the first two movies. The crystal made the Fortress of Solitude in the first one and apparently restored his powers in the second one after he got his ass kicked by some mouthbreathing fuckshoe in a diner. In this movie, it restores his health and powers after he gets some cat scratch fever a la Nuclear Man.
It also redoes the Superman and Lois flight from the first movie, only this time it looks crappy. This flight is capped off by him using the kiss of amnesia seen at the end of Superman II.
During the city fight scene with Nuclear Man–which is practically itching to be the giant Metropolis battle from Superman II–Superman even says one of the same lines: “Don’t do it! The people!”
Just because it’s a “comic book movie” doesn’t mean everyone has to be dressed in gaudy, eye-raping clothes. I’ll give Lex Luthor’s nephew Lenny (sigh) a pass on this since he’s supposed to be a teenage douchehydrant. But all the shiny-shiny stuff almost everyone else wears is distracting, even for it being 1987.
One scene that I think is a bit overdone but still works for me is when Superman has an interview date with Lois Lane at the same time Clark Kent is supposed to have a date with Lacy. It involves him switching back and forth from Clark to Superman over and over and seems almost like a cast-off from a late-run Three’s Company episode. But the reason it works for me is Christopher Reeve.
I have yet to see anyone else nail the Clark/Superman dynamic. I can *almost* see people believing they’re two different guys, just by the way he carries himself as each persona. Superman is so confident and relaxed, whereas Clark is borderline nervous breakdown territory. Yeah, this shouldn’t have worked at all, but Reeve gave it some life; it’s my favorite scene in the whole movie, aside from the end credits.
2. Mark who?
You’re casting for a supervillain who is not only supposed to go toe-to-toe with Superman but who will also beat him at one point, and you cast Mark Pillow, one of IMDb’s nearly one-role wonders? In Mr. Pillow’s defense, he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to work with, as the script required him to just look menacing, but still.
I read that there was the intention of Chris Reeve playing Nuclear Man in a dual role (which would’ve made even more sense if they’d gone with Bizarro as the bad guy), but since they’d just done the evil Superman/Clark Kent battle near the end of the previous movie, they thought it’d be too similar.
Which is really funny when you consider how much of the movie ended up being bitten from the previous entries.
1. Wait another year or two and just start from scratch
The main drawback to this is that had they waited, there would have been a really good chance that Reeve wouldn’t have been Superman. He only agreed to do a fourth movie because the filmmakers promised to do another project of his, in this case, Street Smart, with Reeve and Morgan Freeman. If they had waited, they probably would have just had to recast.
But it would’ve given them a chance to start a new story that tracked with whatever budget they set for it rather than starting a movie and being cut off at every turn. Hell, the wait might have even gotten the rights away from Cannon, although in that case Cannon might have been able to bring to fruition another superhero franchise it had the rights to at the time: Spider-Man.
So if you think about it, it seems pretty likely that the failure of Superman IV at least prevented a heinously shitty Spider-Man movie from being made. That’s sort of a silver lining, right?