Wes Craven is best known to film fans as the horror maestro behind A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, but he came very close to directing a Superman movie in the ’80s. It would have been a big risk, but one that could have rescued Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. And gosh, it needed rescuing.
Craven explained how he nearly became involved with the DC Universe‘s marquee hero in a 1986 interview with Fangoria Magazine to promote some of his best horror movies. “Cannon Films approached me for Superman IV, and that had a $30 million budget,” he said.
The director went on to reveal why, despite his interest in the job, he didn’t get a crack at this particular DC character. “Chris Reeve and I had creative differences. He and I didn’t see eye-to-eye, and he decided I wasn’t the director for it. But there’s a strong chance that I’ll go on and do that kind of picture.”
It would be easy to say Craven had a lucky escape. Superman IV completely fell apart thanks to Cannon Films’ financial woes in the mid-1980s, with the budget cut to ribbons and 45 minutes of footage dumped when test audiences hated the movie. We have to confess that, when we rewatch the Superman movies in order, we usually skip it.
As Craven’s words suggest, Reeve had a great deal of creative control over the story this time around. He had even been in the frame to direct, but Cannon decided that the Superman actor was too inexperienced to get behind the camera. It’s probably the only correct decision they made.
With shoddy effects and a story that doesn’t work as a fun adventure – weighed down by Reeve’s honorable attempts to make a point about the nuclear arms race – Superman IV was a disaster. But with the innovation of Craven, who had already worked with DC with a campy take on Swamp Thing, it could have been one of the hero’s best movies.
Let’s face it; Craven does one thing above all else, and that’s reinvention. His two major franchises are perfect examples of series willing to shape-shift through new movies in order to match the times. That’s something Superman absolutely needed in 1987. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of camp, as Swamp Thing showed, but this Superman could’ve done with a little of Craven’s edge.
The director was always a master of tone, which would have prevented his Superman from pushing too far into darkness. He could have avoided the trap Zack Snyder – another filmmaker with horror roots – fell into with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, both of which robbed Superman of his moral heart in favor of Christ metaphors and colorless cinematography.
Craven sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 76, so we’ll never see what his take on Superman would have been. He was intrigued by Batman, too, describing the Caped Crusader as his favorite comic book in that Fangoria interview and declaring his intent to make Batman a “period piece.” We’d have been first in line for that.
As for modern audiences watching the DC movies in order, we’ve got Superman Legacy on the way as the opening salvo of James Gunn’s plan for the Gods and Monsters era once this year’s Aquaman 2 release date – directed by yet another horror specialist in James Wan – is behind us.
Meanwhile, find out why Christopher Nolan opposed Man of Steel’s most controversial scene and learn about the Superman movie you’ve never seen (and don’t want to see). Or, for the latest DC film, read our Blue Beetle review.