Here’s why Christopher Reeve came to regret making both Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. The casting search for the original 1978 Superman is somewhat legendary, with pretty much every major leading man of the era – like James Caan, Clint Eastwood and Robert Redford – being approached. The part eventually went to relative unknown Christopher Reeve, who in both looks and performance came to embody the character for decades to come.
Reeve later reflected on passing up Superman auditions a couple of times, fearing it would be a cartoonish character with no dramatic meat. It was director Richard Donner who talked him into playing the part and seeing the many layers to explore in the Man of Steel. Superman and Superman II – which has a “Donner Cut” – were shot back to back, but Donner’s constant clashing with producers the Salkinds led to filming on the sequel being suspended to focus on finishing the original. While Superman was a gigantic success and critically acclaimed, Donner was later replaced on Superman II with Richard Lester, who reshot large chunks of the sequel.
Given Reeve’s and the rest of the cast’s close relationship with Donner, this caused tension during the production. It also saw Reeve reluctant to reprise the part of Superman III, but he was eventually convinced and it became – oddly – the first entry where he was first billed. In truth, Superman III is less a Superman movie than a dated Richard Pryor comedy that happens to feature Superman in it. Pryor was a fan of the series and a huge star during this era, so producers hired him to play a computer hacker working for an evil industrialist who wants to take over the world’s oil and kill Superman. The sequel is more focused on labored, not particularly funny setpieces centered on Pryor’s Gus. Outside of a fight between Clark Kent and his evil Doppelganger – also played by Reeve – and a nightmarish scene involving a character being transformed into a cyborg, it’s a dud.
Reeve Wished He’d Only Made Two Superman Movies
Superman III even ditched a much cooler title – Superman Vs Superman – after threats of a lawsuit from the makers of Kramer Vs Kramer. Reeve’s – who passed on 2001’s Hannibal – agreed that the sequel didn’t work, and expressed in interviews he wasn’t happy with how it turned out. This led him to decline returning for a cameo in 1984 spin-off Supergirl and vowing he was done with the series. When it came time for Superman IV, the Salkinds sold their rights to b-movie experts Cannon, who set about wowing Reeve back. In addition to a $6 million payday, they would finance his gritty drama Street Smart and allow him creative involvement.
Reeve used his creative input to tell a story about Superman tackling nuclear disarmament, but it soon became very apparent Cannon was in serious financial trouble. They couldn’t afford to properly execute the setpieces and action the script required and cut corners wherever possible. The result was that Superman IV – which has an upcoming fan edit – mixed a bad screenplay with chintzy, unconvincing special effects. Reeve already knew it was turkey and his co-star Jon Cryer – who played Lex Luthor’s nephew Lenny – later recalled meeting the actor, who told him in advance the sequel would bomb and he should be prepared for its reception.
If Reeve disliked Superman III, he didn’t hold back on the fourth film. In the book Somewhere in Heaven: The Remarkable Story of Dana and Christopher Reeve, he was quoted as saying “Superman IV was a catastrophe from start to finish. That failure was a huge blow to my career.” In interviews following the sequel’s release, he ruled out another return and pointed to the many issues with The Quest For Peace as the reason. In a 1989 interview for BBC chat show Wogan, when asked if he had made one too many Superman films, he responded with “Two too many, to be frank” and decried sequels that he felt “ripped” audiences off like Superman IV had done.