If we were to discuss the best comic book movies ever made, we wouldn’t include any of the movies featuring Marvel’s ‘first family,’ aka The Fantastic Four. To date, they have all been less than fantastic and more deserving in a list featuring the worst superhero movies of all time.
The movies featuring the fab foursome (not to be confused with the Beatles) rank alongside Elektra and Batman & Robin for cinematic awfulness, which is a shame considering the original comic books are held in such high regard by superhero fans.
So, what went wrong with these movies? Why are they so bad? Let’s take a closer look at the Fantastic Four flops that failed to thrill audiences.
The Origins of the Fantastic Four
This American team of comic strip superheroes made their debut in 1961 thanks to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who created the super-powered quartet for Marvel Comics.
For the first time, readers were introduced to the “first family” of superheroes, although strictly speaking, Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) was a friend of Reed Richards and not a relative.
Alongside Ben and Reed were Sue Storm, Reed’s fiance, and Sue’s hotheaded younger brother, Johnny Storm. After commandeering an untested spaceship that Richards had designed, the group were struck by cosmic rays that genetically altered all on board.
After this accident, Reed gained the ability to stretch and contort his body, Sue could become invisible at will, Johnny was able to turn himself into a human fireball, and Ben mutated into a rock-skinned powerhouse.
This dysfunctional family decided to use their powers for the greater good of mankind and in the comic books that followed the debut issue, they faced off against a variety of enemies, from the world-eating Galactus to the hideously scarred Doctor Doom who hid his face behind an ominous iron mask.
In the late 60s, the comic books were adapted into a popular animated television series. Further animated shows followed and in 1994, the first Fantastic Four movie was put into production. There was the potential for something fantastic but the finished product took its cue from Sue Storm and vanished from view.
The Fantastic Four movie that was Doomed to extinction
You may have seen the other Fantastic Four movies that are mentioned in this article but here is one movie featuring the fab foursome that you may not have seen. There’s a very good reason for this. Unbeknownst to the cast and crew who worked hard on the movie, it was never actually intended for an official release. Well, that is according to some of the people involved with the movie anyway!
As legend has it, German film producer Bernd Eichinger bought the movie rights to the Fantastic Four in 1986 but thanks to his $40 million vision, he struggled to get a major studio to finance the film. The planned movie ended up in development hell as a consequence, which was bad news for Eichinger who only had a limited timeframe to make the movie before the rights expired.
In 1992, Eichinger rushed a Fantastic Four film into production so he could retain the rights to the superhero family. It was made on the cheap with the help of B-movie king Roger Corman and it starred a decent cast of actors, including Alex Hyde-White (Pretty Woman) as Reed, Rebecca Staab (Superman & Lois) as Sue, Jay Underwood (The Boy Who Could Fly) as Johnny, Michael Bailey Smith (Men In Black II) as Ben, and Joseph Culp (Mad Men) as the villainous Victor Von Doom.
After a 22-day filming schedule, shooting was complete and the cast and crew waited patiently for the movie’s release. But in 1994, they were informed the movie had been shelved, much to their disappointment as some members of the production thought they had a hit on their hands.
There’s another version of events that details the reasons for the film’s no-show, and it’s one that involves Marvel Entertainment chief Avi Arad, who allegedly wanted to make a big-budget Fantastic Four film of his own. Not wanting Corman’s version to interfere with his long-term goal, he allegedly asked Eichinger to kill the film and paid him for doing so.
Whatever the reason for the lack of an official release, you shouldn’t lose any sleep over it as the movie isn’t very good. The cast and crew probably decided it was “clobbering time” when they heard it had been canned but in all honesty, it would likely have hurt their careers if critics of the time were given the opportunity to see it. This is because the movie was cheaply made and quickly put together, with none of the wit or spectacle that one might expect from a comic book flick.
But while it was never released into cinemas or given an official release on the then prosperous video market, the movie did get into the hands of fans thanks to bootleg copies that made their way to the general public. You’d be hard-pushed to get hold of a video copy now but the full film can be streamed on YouTube if you would like to see it.
There is also a documentary that goes into the backstory of the movie – Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four – which we recommend if you’re curious about the fate of this extinguished Fantastic Four tale.
The Fantastic Four movies that Flamed Out on release
The Fantastic Four did get a big screen release in 2005 when Barbershop director Tim Story brought the super-powered quartet to the screen. The cast, including a pre-MCU Chris Evans as the Human Torch and Jessica Alba as the Invisible Woman, was a good one, and the special effects were pretty decent, even if they weren’t quite up to the standard of those we have seen within Marvel’s post-2008 movies.
The film was budgeted at $100 million and it raked in $330 million at the international box office but while the movie did well financially, those who sat down to watch it in cinemas were very disappointed.
So, why is it so bad? Well, for one thing, the movie is surprisingly dull, which is the worst thing a comic book picture can be. Too much time is spent with the Fantastic Four bickering among one another and there is very little action. There are a couple of setpieces that allow the heroes to show off their powers but what should be exciting moments are scuppered by bad editing and direction that are likely to induce confusion rather than a palpable sense of excitement.
A sequel followed in 2007 – Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer – which mercifully had a lot more action than the previous movie. The special effects were more impressive, especially those in relation to the Silver Surfer who was a welcome addition to the movie’s plotline.
But fans, who were looking forward to a movie that seemed to take its inspiration from The Galactus Trilogy, an epic comic strip saga that is beloved by many, were left disappointed as it didn’t do justice to the source material. When Galactus did arrive, he was less the helmeted giant that he was in the comic books and more a giant space cloud that was far from being the formidable presence that fans were expecting.
The heroes do get to use their powers a lot more in this movie, and there is one thrilling scene where the Human Torch takes to the skies and chases the Silver Surfer through Central City. But despite some brief moments of superheroism, our heroes tend to use their powers for personal use rather than actual world-saving. At one point, Sue Storm even uses her power of invisibility to hide a pimple on her face! Talk about vanity!
The problem with these movies is the writing as the Fantastic Four are rarely given anything interesting to do. Some of the scenes are cringe-worthy – Sue Storm’s stripping scene in the first movie, where she struggles to stay invisible after disrobing, is particularly gratuitous – and there is very little character growth (ironic, considering Reed’s stretchy body parts).
A third movie was planned as well as a Silver Surfer spin-off but due to the disappointing box office performance of the second movie, it never saw the light of day.
The Fantastic Four movie that Tranked at the Box Office
2015’s Fantastic Four movie should have been a good one. It had an excellent cast, including Miles Teller (Whiplash) as Reed, Jamie Bell (Rocketman) as Ben, Micheal B. Richards (Creed) as Johnny, and Kate Mara (House Of Cards) as Sue. It also had a director in Josh Trank, whose 2012 movie Chronicle, was an exciting sci-fi superhero movie that astounded most of the critics and audience members who saw it at the time.
Expectations for a decent movie were high, especially as it was due for release at a time when superhero movies were mostly spectacular, but shortly before release, it became apparent that the movie wasn’t likely to live up to the hype.
Rumblings of on-set clashes between the cast and their director started to surface, and Josh Trank spoke about studio interference that (allegedly) ruined his cut of the film. He said:
“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s the reality though.”
But while the studio (20th Century Fox) may have stepped in to re-edit his film, it’s fair to say that it wouldn’t have pleased many people anyway. This is because of Trank’s decision to create something gritty and more grounded than the stories fans knew and loved, with a darker tone and moments of body horror that could have come straight out of a David Cronenberg movie.
When watching the finished product, you might be fooled into thinking you’re in for a good time. The opening chapter, where we spend time with the junior versions of Reed and Ben at High School, is entertaining due to a lightness of touch and some moments of humour. But when they reach adulthood, the movie descends into mediocrity and it’s many faults become apparent. For one thing, there are continuity errors aplenty, but the biggest sin the movie commits is the one that blighted the other Fantastic Four movies – a lack of action!
The movie was one of the biggest bombs of the summer and it quickly earned the title of one of the worst superhero movies ever made. It led to Trank being dropped from a planned Boba Fett movie and its failure dissuaded the studio from pressing ahead with a sequel.
The movie’s actors went on to bigger and better things, but the same couldn’t be said for its director. He has only made one movie since Fantastic Four – the Tom Hardy-starring Capone which is equally as underwhelming – and as far as we know, he has now retired from directing.
Will there ever be a decent Fantastic Four movie?
The Fantastic Four are now in the hands of the MCU so hopes are high that we will finally get to see a decent movie.
The new movie featuring the iconic family, which is due for release on May 2, 2025, will be part of Phase Six of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which also includes Avengers: Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars, and it will be directed by Matt Shakman, who previously worked on Game Of Thrones and Marvel’s WandaVision.
No cast members have been announced at the time of writing and we don’t know anything about the upcoming movie’s plot. But despite the radio silence, we’re optimistic that the movie will be a good one.
That being said, people were saying the same thing before the release of the 2015 flop, so who knows? Only time will tell if it will be a case of “flame on” or another case of “flame out” when the movie finally hits the big screen. We’re desperately hoping it won’t be the latter!
Are you a fan of the Fantastic Four? What do you think of the movies that have so far been released? Let us know in the comments below!