Superman 1978 – 1987 5-Film Collection: 4K UHD Review

In 2018 Warner Bros. released Superman: The Movie onto 4K UHD for the first time. This week, WB released the 1978-1987 films in box set. This includes the first film, Superman II (Theatrical and Richard Donner Cut), Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Each film has been remastered in 4K resolution with HDR. Each generation has had their own Superman and the late Christopher Reeve will always be mine.

Superman: The Movie

There were many elements that contributed to 1978’s Superman becoming a global hit. First would be Mario Puzo coming off The Godfather to take on a legendary comic book character. The late filmmaker Richard Donner, who would follow-up his horror hit, The Omen with something wildly different. The casting of Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, the introduction of Christopher Reeve as the man of steel and of course the chemistry between Reeve and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane.

Kal-El’s origan story here is a magical one and for me hasn’t been done better since. While Marlon Brando did hold gravitas as Kal’s biological father, Jor-El, it is the brief moments with human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter respectively) that have the most heart. These scenes really do a great job of showing how Kal/Clark was raised without spending too much time on it. When Clark eventually becomes Superman, he heads to Metropolis, gets a job at the Daily Planet and meets who will become one of the most important people in his life, Lois Lane.

You can’t have a Superman movie without a villain and of course Lex Luthor is the top of the list. The casting of Gene Hackman was inspired, and he chews up each scene to perfection. Ned Beatty seems to be having some fun as Lex’s bumbling henchman. However, I never understood what Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) saw in her boyfriend Lex. I mean, the guy has no problem hatching a plan that would cause the death of her mother. Nothing will get in the way of Lex’s real estate scheme that will result in the death of millions. Not even his girlfriend’s mom. However, Superman is not going to let that happen and of course, he does save California and New Jersey all in the same day.

Superman: The Movie Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following previously released special features on Blu-ray Disc:

  • Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spangler
  • The Making of Superman – vintage featurette
  • Superman and the Mole-Men – vintage featurette
  • Super-Rabbit – 1943 WB cartoon
  • Snafuperman – 1944 WB cartoon
  • Stupor Duck – 1956 WB cartoon
  • TV Spot
  • Teaser Trailer
  • Theatrical Trailer 

Superman II (Theatrical and Richard Donner Cut)

Much like with the 2011 Blu-ray Anthology set, we get both Superman II theatrical and Richard Donner cuts of the film. While the director’s cut improves on many character-related issues that were prominent in the theatrical cut, it’s just not nearly as much fun. Maybe it’s because I grew up loving Superman II, which remains my favorite Superman film to date. Sure, when Donner was removed from the film and replaced by Richard Lester, the film became campier with more humor added than originally intended. I think it’s comparable to the Roger Moore’s 007 movies of the time. The Kryptonian villains, Zod, Non and Ursa are also Superman’s best on-screen nemesis to date. Despite not being a major physical presence, Terrance Stamp still manages to make Zod a truly threatening foe. While I do like some of the additions to Donner’s cut, most notably the addition of Brando’s footage and the reasons for why Clark wants to become human, I sorely missed the opening scene in Paris with the terrorists. While visual effects have come a long way, there is a charm with many of the optical effects used here. Superman’s big showdown with Zod and his team in downtown Metropolis is still a bunch of fun with plenty of old school destruction.

Superman II Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following previously released special features on Blu-ray Disc:

  • Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler
  • The Making of Superman II – 1980 TV Special
  • Superman’s Soufflé – Deleted scene
  • Fleischer Studios’ Superman vintage cartoons
    • First Flight
    • The Mechanical Monster
    • Billion Dollar Limited
    • The Arctic Giant
    • The Bulleteers
    • The Magnetic Telescope
    • Electric Earthquake
    • Volcano
    • Terror on the Midway
  • Theatrical trailer

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following previously released special features on Blu-ray Disc:

  • Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz
  • Introduction by Richard Donner – featurette
  • Superman II: Restoring the Vision – featurette
  • Deleted scenes
    • Lex and Ms. Teschmacher head north
    • Lex and Ms. Teschmacher head south
    • The villains enter the fortress
    • He’s all yours, boys
    • Clarke and Jimmy
    • Lex’s gateway
  • Famous Studios vintage cartoons
    • Japoteurs
    • Showdown
    • Eleventh Hour
    • Destruction, Inc.
    • The Mummy Strikes
    • Jungle Drums
    • The Underground World
    • Secret Agent

Superman III

Things begin to go downhill from here. Richard Lester returned to helm the third installment of the Superman films and you can tell right from the overly-long slapstick opening credits that this is not going to be anything like the first two films. While not a total disaster, Superman III does take the series into some truly low points. I don’t blame Richard Pryor for the film’s shortcomings. The comedian was a Superman fan and was offered a nice payday to take on the role of Gus. He may not have been believable as a computer genius, but at least he wasn’t cast as the film’s main villain. That went to Robert Vaughn who played greedy industrialist Ross Webster. Vaughn is a natural at playing bad guys, but here he felt like a last-minute replacement for Lex Luthor.

For everything that didn’t work with Superman III, there are a few elements that worked quite well. I loved the chemistry between Reeve and Annette O’Toole who played Clark’s high school crush, Lana Lang. I liked the idea of Clark going back to Smallville for his high school reunion. Another thing that worked quite well and, in my opinion, turned out to be one of the best parts of the four films, was Superman’s transition to evil. That junkyard fight with himself is so good. I wish Superman III made that the main focus of the film. I mean, what better person for Superman to fight on screen than a villainous version of himself. They could have even gone the Bizarro route.

Superman III Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the following previously released special features on Blu-ray Disc:

  • Commentary by Ilya Salkind and Pierre Spengler
  • The Making of Superman III – 1983 TV special
  • Deleted scenes
    • Save my baby
    • To the rescue
    • Making up
    • Going to see the boss
    • Hatching the plan
    • The con
    • Rooftop ski
    • Boss wants this to go
    • Superman honored
    • Gus’ speech
    • Hanging up on Brad
  • Theatrical trailer 

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

What happens when a studio like Cannon Films breaks away from churning out easily profitable low budget schlock in favor of buying film rights to IP’s like Masters of the Universe, Superman and giving stars like Sylvester Stallone massive paydays for bad films? Well, they dig themselves a massive financial hole and the only way they can try to dig their way out of that hole is to cut spending. That is what happened in the case of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Director Sidney J Furie (Iron Eagle) stepped behind the camera for this fourth man of steel adventure. Christopher Reeve was completely done with the character, but he agreed to come back in exchange for story approval and financing for his film Street Smart.

Superman IV is a movie that should never have happened, much like the 4th Jaws movie that was released that same summer. After the 3rd film, it was pretty clear, that the audience just wasn’t there anymore for the series. Even the stars didn’t have much interest in being there either. The budget restraints made the production a total nightmare for all involved. The finished film looked like anything but. Cheap effects, terrible script and more of the same from Hackman. While Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow) was a cool looking original villain that was created just for the film, he was basically just a powerful puppet for Lex. Regardless of how terrible this movie is, Reeve never phoned in his performance. He remained just as impressive as Clark/Superman as always.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack contains the

following previously released special features on Blu-ray Disc:

  • Commentary by Mark Rosenthal
  • Superman 50th anniversary special – 1988 TV special
  • Deleted scenes
    • Clark’s morning
    • Jeremy’s letter
    • Superman’s visit
    • Nuclear Man’s prototype
    • Metropolis after hours
    • Lex ponders
    • Flying sequence (extended scene)
    • Battle in Smallville
    • Battle in the U.S.S.R.
    • Nuclear arms race
    • Superman’s sickness
    • Red alert
    • By my side
    • Lark and Lacy say goodbye
    • No borders
  • Theatrical trailer

All five films (including Richard Donner’s Cut of Superman II) receive 4K HDR10 transfers and they look truly super. While the first film is the same as the 2018 release (with only the 5.1 audio being removed), each of the other titles arrive on 4K for the very first time. Presented in 2160p HDR10, each of these films are a notable improvement over their Blu-ray releases. While some of the optical visual effects seem even more dated with the upgrade in resolution, there is still plenty here to marvel at (even if it’s DC). Superman’s costume has never looked more beautiful, especially in the better lit shots. Luthor’s underground lair in the original film is one of the first things that stuck out to me, especially his pool. The water looks crystal clear.

While both cuts of Superman II look splendid, the theatrical version is superior in many ways. While I know Donner was not happy with the version that was ultimately released in theaters, his cut just doesn’t fully work. Between using screen test footage and other factors, it isn’t as visually appealing as the theatrical. Also, the theatrical version is more fun. The new 4K transfer of Donner’s cut is uneven due to the various elements used to create it. The theatrical cut fares so much better. Superman’s final showdown with Zod in the Fortress is a perfect example of just how great this transfer is.

Superman III might be one of the best looking 4K transfers in the set, even if it isn’t one of the better films. From the wheat fields of Smallville to the urban landscape of Metropolis, the locations look absolutely crisp. Much like Lex’s lair in the first film, the villain’s office here looks just as memorable, Same goes for his rooftop urban ski lodge.

Superman IV has both never looked better and worse at the same time. The fourth and final installment of the Reeve’s films came to an end in 1987 when Cannon films notoriously cut down the budget and released a basically unfinished 90+ minute hack job with The Quest for Peace. While this transfer looks fantastic when it comes to scenes without special effects, things look absolutely dreadful when the optical effects turn up on screen. Everything that looked cheap before stand out even more with this new release. Still, it’s fun to see Hackman back hamming things up.

Each of these films include a Dolby Atmos track and while each does impress, there is an opening score issue with Superman IV. Most probably won’t notice, but as someone who is very familiar with the entire series, it definitely stood out. Granted, most probably won’t even watch A Quest for Peace more than once.

If you are a big fan of Christopher Reeve’s take on the man of steel, this set is definitely worth including in your collection. My biggest gripe would be the lack of the first film’s extended cut, but maybe we will get that down the line.

By: Marc Ferman