Although Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment are the biggest rivals of Disney and Marvel Studios in theory, in practice a growing feud between Marvel and Fox over two major licensed franchises has evolved over the past five years. Having been legally obligated to produce another “Fantastic Four” film by this year lest the rights return to their parent company, the expected result under director Josh Trank’s angered Marvel brass so much that the comic for their “first family” has been canceled with no relaunch expected until at least 2016. It seems that corporate and fan concerns were true as this weekend’s box office grosses as reported yesterday (August 9) by Box Office Mojo reveal that “Fantastic Four” had the worst opening weekend of any Marvel related superhero film in at least three years, yet a sequel remains on the docket according to the Hollywood Reporter.
2015’s “Fantastic Four” as directed by Josh Trank (who co-wrote the screenplay among at least five producers) was intended as a reboot of Fox’s film incarnation of this team from 2005-2007. Their most controversial casting choice was Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/Human Torch, but before long leaks about the altered origin and the low ball approach to handling Marvel’s premiere super villain Doctor Doom (played by Tony Kebbell), whose origin and design did not match the mighty monarch. The film grossed $26.2 million domestically over its’ opening weekend, which placed it #2 for the week behind the latest Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” film installment. The last time a Marvel related film debuted this poorly was in 2012, when Sony’s “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” saw an opening tally of just over $22 million. In fact, this opening tally for “Fantastic Four” is so low that it is even below the initial weekend for 2002’s “Blade II” by New Line Cinema, without adjusting for inflation! With a budget of at least $120 million, unless the international markets prove to be kinder to the film than North America, Fox is almost certainly expected to take a bath on the film.
As the Hollywood Reporter notes, the reaction to the film has been nothing short of chaotic. Fox refused to allow critics to review the film before its’ opening weekend – the sort of classic hiding of a lackluster production which is usually reserved for cheap horror films or Adam Sandler vehicles. Once critics did get to see it, the film has earned the lowest CinemaScore rating for any superhero film since its’ founding in 1979, which was C-. Over on RottenTomatoes.com, the film’s score of 9% is lower than many classically bad superhero films such as “Steel” or “Batman & Robin” from the late 90’s. Josh Trank took to Twitter and blamed the reaction on Fox Studios’ edit of his film in a post which was since removed. Despite all this, a representative from Fox told the Hollywood Reporter that, “studio fully supported Josh Trank’s vision for the film, as we do with all our filmmakers”. In addition, a sequel which has already been announced for June 2017, and Fox hasn’t terminated those plans yet.
The production of a “Fantastic Four” film based almost solely on retaining their licensing rights is hardly a new idea. In 1983, the German founder of Constantin Film approached Stan Lee for the rights to make a film based on the four, and three years later got it for roughly a quarter of a million. Yet, by the end of 1992, no film had been produced and Constantin Film was at risk of losing those rights and eating that cost. Desperate to beat the production deadline, the studio turned to music video director Olay Sassons and co-producer Roger Corman (who was infamous for crafting no end of low budget films throughout his career) to whip up a “Fantastic Four” film as fast as possible with a budget of roughly $1 million. Shot in less than a month, the film starred Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm (with stuntman Carl Ciarfallo as the Thing), and Joseph Culp (son of Robert Culp) as Doctor Doom. The end result was apparently so poor that Avi Arad, then a high ranking Marvel executive due to his success with selling their toys via Toy Biz, reportedly paid the studio “a couple of million of dollars in cash” to prevent them from releasing the film and to obtain all prints of the film, which were destroyed. Considering that this was happening in 1993 and Arad by then had seen the success of the “X-Men” cartoon on FoxKids, was producing a “Spider-Man” one for the network and had his eyes on one for the “Fantastic Four”, he likely figured a poor film would nix any odds of the Four getting a cartoon. Bootleg copies of the film managed to survive the purge and have been mainstays of comic conventions ever since. The movie itself is hardly a spectacular affair, but it certainly has ambitious and easily has the best version of Doctor Doom put to film yet, with Culp giving an over-the-top performance. By 1998, Fox had the rights to produce a film for the “Fantastic Four” as well as the “X-Men”, and over a decade later, the former have clearly been more successful for them.