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Pictured — the Man of Steel and a great big bomb.
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Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is the fourth and last official installment of the Superman movie series that started in 1978 with Superman: The Movie. Released in 1987, four years after the poorly received (but reasonably profitable) Superman III, this film was an unmitigated flop, both critically and financially.

The film's plot revolved around an Anvilicious anti–nuclear weapons message and a risible villain named "Nuclear Man" (no relation to DC Comics hero "Firestorm, the Nuclear Man"). When a young boy asks Superman to rid the world of said weapons, he finds making the decision a challenge but ultimately agrees to do so, and the world's governments approve. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor has escaped from prison with the help of his teen nephew Lenny. Lex becomes a black-market arms dealer and takes advantage of Superman's disposal of weapons to create the hero's Evil Knockoff, Nuclear Man. Meanwhile, a media tycoon buys out The Daily Planet and turns it into a glorified tabloid, while his daughter, Lacy Warfield, takes an interest in Clark Kent.

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Superman IV was plagued by a severely reduced budget compared to previous films in the franchisenote  (courtesy of The Cannon Group, which bought the franchise after the Salkinds sold it due to the poor reception of Superman III), and it shows in copious amounts of Special Effect Failure throughout. The returns of Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder to the cast did nothing to save this movie. It's also notable as the shortest film in the series at barely an hour and a half. One cut extended action sequence features the "prototype" of Nuclear Man, who closely resembles DC Comics' Bizarro character.


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This film contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Geography: Superman and Nuclear Man battle from Metropolis to China to Italy within a short period, with all three locations in daylight.
  • Artistic License – Geology: Nuclear Man causes Mount Vesuvius to erupt, and Superman stops the eruption by plugging the mouth of the volcano with a hunk of rock cut off from a nearby mountain. Doing so in reality would momentarily stop the eruption, but high-temperature gases would keep building up inside the magma chamber, increasing the pressure so much that the entire volcano would eventually explode, causing way more damage than a natural eruption.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics: Yeah, the sun is a bit more than "a huge nuclear bomb," Lex.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Superman IV would make a physicist hang himself:
    • Human beings breathe perfectly fine in space.
    • When Nuclear Man lets go of Lacy in space, she falls down.
    • Near the climax, Superman pushes the moon to block the sunlight, which is Nuclear Man's power source, leaving him momentarily powerless. Here, The Wedge Principle comes in play, as Supes applying a huge force on a very small point would have caused the moon to be broken in half.
  • Brains and Brawn: Lex Luthor and Nuclear Man. (Lex sees it as analogous to an American football coach and "the best power forward ever".)
  • Big Bad: Lex Luthor.
  • Broken Aesop: Nuclear Man, a villain meant to personify everything bad about nuclear power/weapons etc., is powered by solar power of all things. While this is scientifically plausible (as the sun is basically a giant fusion bomb) it still seems silly for the villain in a Green Aesop story to be powered by the most environmentally friendly power source known to man.
  • Bullying a Dragon: When Nuclear Man arrives at Lex's penthouse, they argue a bit about who is the boss — the creation or the creator who knows his Weaksauce Weakness. Lenny butts in by telling Nuclear Man, "Yeah, you're just an experiment, freako!" Insulted, Nuclear Man levitates Lenny and spins him in mid-air until Lex tells him to knock it off.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: Lenny Luthor. Lex never misses an opportunity to insult him for his lack of intelligence, noting that "I've always considered you the Dutch Elm disease in my family tree" in his first scene, for instance.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: When Mr. Warfield tries to use Superman's cape as a promotional gimmick, Lacy finds herself to have had enough with him.
  • Canon Discontinuity: After Superman Returns was released, this film, along with Superman III and Supergirl, were ignored.
  • Canon Foreigner: The movie's not exactly short on them — the Warfields, Lenny Luthor and Jeremy.
  • Canon Immigrant: Brian Michael Bendis has revealed that Nuclear Man will appear in his Superman run.note 
  • Create Your Own Villain: Superman is the Unwitting Pawn of Lex's scheme to create a "nucular [sic] man", lobbing the nuclear bomb that contains his genetic material into the sun.
  • Crying Little Kid: A deleted scene has Nuclear Man create a tornado, only for a girl to get caught up in it, leaving Superman to rescue her. It's much, much, much invokednarmier than it sounds. (The crying girl in question was apparently played by Christopher Reeve's daughter, Alexandra — and by a wholly unconvincing dummy.)
  • Dead Foot Lead Foot: The subway. Not only is there no preventive measure for such a thing here, but the lack thereof makes Big Blue's speech about public transportation being the safest way to travel slightly comical.
  • Death by Irony: Nuclear Man dies when Superman drops him into the reactor of a nuclear power plant (having knocked him out). Of course, this should have revitalized him if the movie obeyed its own rules.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Lacy Warfield. Though deep down she resents her father, she grew the spine to stand up to him only after he tried to use Superman's cape as part of a gimmick. Also, she tries to woo Clark to prove Lois wrong, only to see he really is a nice guy and comes to really like him when she sees he's really a nice guy.
  • Demoted to Extra: Not to the extent that she was in Superman III, but Lois Lane still spends much of the film sidelined in favor of Lacy. However, this time she has a few important bits at least, most notably where she gives Superman back his cape, which had wound up at the Daily Planet after Mr. Warfield tried to use it for a cheap headline after Superman's defeat.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Jeremy writes a letter to the Daily Planet, asking Superman if he would help rid the world of nuclear arms. At the next day's press conference, Jeremy's disappointed response is "I just wish Superman would have said yes." The Planet (under the Warfields' ownership) publishes and distorts the headline into "Superman Says 'Drop Dead' to Kid!" When New York City faced bankruptcy in 1975 and Mayor Abraham Beame asked the government for a federal bailout, President Gerald Ford gave a speech denying the request, and the New York Daily News published the headline in reference to federal relief which read "Ford to City: Drop Dead" — which the New York Times later proclaimed Ford never said.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Nuclear Man.
  • Dumb Muscle: Nuclear Man; as Lex quietly quips to Supes when he introduces the two to each other, he's "Not one of your great thinkers!" He does get a little cleverer by movie's end, asking Lex "What do you fear?" at one point, apparently out of curiosity.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: In the scene where Nuclear Man starts the volcanic eruption.
  • Evil Knockoff: Nuclear Man, of Superman. He's also arguably an Evil Knockoff of his own prototype, who like Bizarro from the comics is more confused and misunderstood than outright evil.
  • Expy:
    • Mr. Warfield is based on Morgan Edge from the comics. He's also a No Celebrities Were Harmed incarnation of Rupert Murdoch.
    • Nuclear Man himself is something of an Expy to Bizarro. This is especially apparent in the original cut, where "Nuclear Man One" is a very childlike buffoon who Does Not Know His Own Strength.
    • Lacy is similar to Cat Grant. Both are romantically interested in Clark, though in Lacy's case she does it to prove to Lois that "all men are attracted to [her]" because she's "very, very rich".
    • Lenny Luthor is basically a Gender Flip version of Lex's niece Nastalathia from the comics.
  • For the Evulz: Why Nuclear Man heads out to cause Monumental Damage once he and Superman meet.
    Lex: Destroy Superman.
    Nuclear Man: First, I have fun!
  • Fake Twin Gambit: Superman AND Clark Kent have a double date with Lois and Lacy. Of course he pulls it off.
  • Foreshadowing: Lois notes that Perry, as he leaves the Daily Planet offices after his ouster by Mr. Warfield, looks like "my dad when he went to the bank to ask for a loan." As it turns out, that's exactly what Perry's headed out to do, and it's what saves The Daily Planet. (He convinces the bank that the old-style Planet is something worth protecting, and the loan allows him to buy up outstanding shares of stock in it, rendering Warfield a minority stockholder who's unable to control it.)
  • Genetic Memory: Featured in the expanded cut: Nuclear Man is actually a clone of a previous Nuclear Man, who passed his knowledge of Superman and infatuation with Lacy on to his successor.
  • Hammered into the Ground: At one point in the fight scene on the moon, Nuclear Man pounds Superman into the lunar soil, complete with sledgehammer sound effects.
  • Has Two Daddies: Lenny states that he and Lex are Nuclear Man's parents upon creating him.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Nuclear Man demands the opportunity to "destroy Superman now" in his first scene, only for Lex to say no. When Lex finally gives the OK, Nuclear Man decides he'd rather go on a rampage first. Had either of them been more eager at the crucial point, the end might well have been different.
    • Mr. Warfield skipped a few important details in taking over the Daily Planet, as Perry White said.
  • Hulk Speak: Nuclear Man. "Destroy Superman!" is practically his catchphrase!
  • Hurl It into the Sun: Superman rounds up all the nuclear weapons on Earth and throws them into the sun. Unfortunately, Lex Luthor attaches a genetic matrix created from Superman's hair to the final nuclear missile. And when Superman throws it into the sun, the result is the creation of Nuclear Man, who Superman then has to fight.
  • In-Joke: "Visual Effects (U.S.) [by] Olsen, Lane & White."
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", which Luthor was whistling at the prison quarry before his escape, is whistled by the other inmates when Superman drops him off at the end.
    • "No pain, no gain" at the gym (where Clark tries his hand at working out without using his powers).
  • Irony:
    • Nuclear Man is solar-powered. Yep, the guy whose very existence represents the horrors of nuclear war and the supposed dangers of nuclear energy is also the most eco-friendly supervillain ever created. Then again, "nobody's perfect".
    • Also, Superman himself is solar-powered. Admittedly, before this time his powers were mostly ascribed to being a Heavy Worlder. Around this time, John Byrne rebooted the character in the Man of Steel miniseries, and Superman's cells absorbing solar radiation to fuel his abilities became the primary explanation for how his powers worked (and unlike Nuclear Man, Supes can hold a charge).
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: A plot device introduced in Superman II becomes invokeda bit more disturbing in this film. Superman comes awfully close to using this power as a date rape drug.
  • Monumental Damage: The Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Inverted. The day David Warfield buys the Planet, when Clark enters the newsroom, he identifies the new boss as the "tycoon who owns all those sleazy tabloids." Lois and Jimmy correct him: "Who owns all those sleazy tabloids ... and The Daily Planet."
  • Mythology Gag: Lex and Lenny creating protoform ("creating life"), just like in the Superboy comics where a teenage Lex tried the same thing.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Surprisingly, Superman's "Rebuild-the-Great-Wall-of-China-Vision" is not quite the most ridiculous in the character's many decades of stories.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Superman's attempt to end nuclear weapons leads to Nuclear Man's creation.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Narrowly averted. Lex, impersonating a general on a U.S. Army base, gets impatient with the technician's pace of aiming the missile that will 'deliver' Nuclear Man and fires it himself. Somehow, the missile clears Earth's atmosphere when it could have blown the base to bits.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: One subplot is about the Daily Planet being taken over by a Rupert Murdoch stand-in. Likewise, Jeremy is a Gender Flip stand-in for Samantha Smith.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Nuclear Man is solar-powered. The name comes from Lex's ludicrous misunderstanding of the sun as a "huge nuclear bomb".
  • Obviously Evil: Lex's circle of greedy corporate co-conspirators, especially the one who complains about daylight with no apparent medical reason.
  • Oddly Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: The second and third films were simply numbered; this installment gained a subtitle, "The Quest for Peace."
  • Out of Character: Brilliant mastermind Lex Luthor keeps pronouncing "nuclear" as "nuke-you-lar".
  • Paid Harem: Lex Luthor has one.
  • Papa Bear: Mr. Warfield tries to protect Lacy from Nuclear Man.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Nuclear Man.
  • Plot Hole: How does Superman instantly know that Nuclear Man is referring to Lacy Warfield when Nuclear Man asks Superman "Where is the woman"? Baffling in the theatrical cut of the film, it's only slightly less so in the extended cut. In that version, the first incarnation of Nuclear Man apparently fell in love with Lacy prior to his demise. Even then it's something of a leap in logic for Superman to deduce that the second Nuclear Man has all the memories of the first.
    • Or Superman was just trying to pretending to know to dissuade the rampaging Nuclear Man who is ranting about some woman. Whether Superman knows to whom he is referring or not, he says, "Give it up. You'll never find her."
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: Jeremy, the boy whose letter to Superman moves him to get rid of all the world's nukes, has a teacher somewhat like this. "I know you're all upset about the crisis..."
  • The Power of the Sun: The Nuclear Man has powers derived from the Sun, which apparently are "turned off" when not exposed to sunlight. The movie is incredibly inconsistent about the details of this.
  • Reality Warping: Superman's "Rebuild the Great Wall of China" Vision.
  • Rule of Three: Lex gets money from three backers to undertake the project that spawns Nuclear Man: a Renegade Russian military officer, an American pundit, and a French Jerk.
  • Same Language Dub: Gene Hackman provided Nuclear Man's voice. Lampshaded in Luthor's first scene with him.
    Luthor: You have my voice.
    Nuclear Man: No, you have MY voice.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Clark declines a developer's offer to buy his family's farm — he'll only sell to "a real farmer."
  • Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Trailer: This trailer for the Superman anthology does not include any clips from Superman IV.
  • Skeleton Key Card: Lois uses a credit card to get into Clark's apartment to return the cape Superman lost in his battle with Nuclear Man.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Lacy Warfield. Even though her father is an enormous jerkass and gave her the job of publisher through nepotism, she is a genuinely nice person who resents her father's treatment of the Daily Planet employees.
  • Too Dumb to Live: As shocking as the Statue of Liberty being dropped on you might be, good citizens of Metropolis, if you have enough time to point up at it and yell, "Wouldja look at that!", you probably have enough time to try to run away from it, too.
  • Totally Radical: Jon Cryer is just trying too damn hard as Lenny Luthor.
  • Two-Timer Date: Pulled when Clark has to go on a date with Lacy and give an interview to Lois as Superman at the same time. Hilarity Ensues as even Superman has trouble maintaining the charade despite having super speed and all that. Made all the more annoying because Clark had outed himself to Lois as Superman twice in the film series, one of those times in this movie, but erased her memory for reasons inscrutable. The sequence, which calls for a deft, farcical touch, also gets the opposite from the director.
  • Voodoo Shark: Nuclear Man is born fully clothed due to Lex including a couple of pieces of fabric in the missile that "weave" enough material for the job thanks to being thrown in the sun and having an onboard computer.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Nuclear Man loses his strength in the shade.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Jeremy and Lacy both vanish from the film without explanation; the former after Superman's speech to the UN, and the latter after Nuclear Man's defeat. Yet again, the scenes showing what happened to them hit the cutting room floor. Clark invited Lacy to carry on at the Daily Planet, but she decides to stay with her father and try to reform him. Jeremy, on the other hand gets taken on a flight by Superman ... into space. Where the two have a conversation. The former scene's deletion is puzzling given it was only about 30 seconds long, but the latter omission is probably more justifiable.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Superman invites Lois on a flight, similar to the scene in the first film. In that film, Lois accidentally slipped from his grasp, forcing him to rescue her. Here, he decides to deliberately drop her and then rescue her, for reasons which don't really make sense.
    • Actually, it looks like he gently flings her forward, letting her momentum carry her forward for a few seconds; afterward, he asks how she liked "flying solo." Still, given her initial Oh, Crap! reaction, a little warning beforehand would have been nice, so the trope still applies to a degree.
  • Wolverine Claws: Nuclear Man sports some nasty sharp bag-lady claws. And when Big Blue is scratched by them, he winds up with a case of radiation poisoning.
  • Writer on Board: Christopher Reeve was given creative control of the story, a thinly-veiled veneer for his anti-nuclear, anti-corporate media philosophies. In one particularly jarring scene, Superman saves the passengers aboard a runaway subway car, then gives a speech to a crowd of pedestrians about the benefits of mass transit.
    • Like much of Superman IV, it's a Call-Back to Superman: The Movie, when Supes urges Lois that flying is still the safest way to travel. Again, there's a lack of fine touch, so instead of seeming like a boy scout, he seems like an idiot.
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: The look on Superman's face conveys the trope perfectly when he sees Nuclear Man lifting the Statue of Liberty off its foundations and flying it into downtown Manhattan.

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