The Salkinds had made three Superman movies and planned a fourth if Superman III made at least $40 million. It made $80 million even if people absolutely hated it. As for star Christopher Reeve, he was pretty unenthused about coming back to the role one more time and skipped being in Supergirl, which bombed, as did the Salkind’s Santa Claus: The Movie.
You know how much Golan and Globus loved Cannes, right?
Well, that’s where they made a deal with the Salkinds to buy the rights to Superman movies for $5 million.
They then got Reeve for $6 million, approval over story and director, a focus on ending nuclear weapons and financing his movie Street Smart.
Cannon was already $11 million down and the movie hadn’t even started filming.
Reeve wanted to direct, but other than some second unit, he wasn’t ready for a full film. Wes Craven was supposed to be the director, but he and Reeve didn’t work well together. Reeve asked for Ron Howard and got Sydney J. Furie, the maker of The Entity, Iron Eagle, The Taking of Beverly Hills and two Rodney Dangerfield movies, Ladybugs and My 5 Wives.
Consider that at one point, Cannon was almost the studio that made a Superman and a Spider-Man movie at the same time.
In his book Still Me, Reeve noted that Cannon was cutting budget anywhere they could, even shooting scenes set on 42nd Street in England. He said, “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.”
In fact, Cannon reduced the budget from $36 million to $17 million, but would still lose money, as their strategy of selling TV and video rights before the movie was made worked with smaller movies, but not with this budget, even as cut down as it was, even with the crew replaced by cheaper crews, even with shooting Smallville in England.
There was also a really bad test screening that caused 45 minutes of the film was cut, including another nuclear man that Superman destroys. Also by cutting the movie from two hours to ninety minutes, theater owners could get two more showing a day and make more money.
That said, while the movie made $36.7 million worldwide — and still made money on its cut budget — people hated it. It was the last Superman movie for 19 years and Reeves said, “Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish.”
At one point, the more monstrous Nuclear Man footage was considered for use as a sequel in which Superman would die at the hands of that creature and would be resurrected in the bottled city Kandor. This was years before the death of Superman story and somewhat close to what happened in the comics.
Somehow, Cannon was able to get Reeve (Superman/Clark Kent), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Jackie Cooper (Perry White) and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen) to return. It starts with a big downer, as both of Superman’s Earth parents are now dead and there’s no way Marlon Brando is going to be in this movie.
Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has been taken over by David Warfield, a tabloid tycoon who fires Perry White and replaces him with his daughter Lacy (Mariel Hemingway). Also, the world is on the brink of nuclear war — which seemed quaint for a few years right? — and Superman grabs all the nukes, puts them in a giant net and throws it into the sun, which seems kind of dangerous.
Lenny Luthor (Jon Cryer) breaks his uncle out of jail and they meet with the military industrial complex who wants to kill Superman like they did Kennedy, so they all make a Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) who can infect the Man of Steel with radiation and kill him. Also, there was a reason why Superman looked at that Kryptonian energy module in the beginning because it heals him.
What follows is the best kind of dumb: Superman pushes the moon and causes an eclipse, which shuts off Nuclear Man but does not cause giant waves that destroy Earth. Lacy is left in space, floating around with no oxygen but she’s fine while Superman activates a nuclear power plant by dropping Nuclear Man into it and powering the entire world and that should be no danger either, before bringing Lacy back and saving the Daily Planet.
Comic book movies wouldn’t recover until Tim Burton’s Batman.
Cannon wouldn’t live much longer.
Reeve would be paralyzed eight years later.
Superman IV was finally redeemed by just how bad Batman and Robin was.