These days, there seems to be no shortage in site for franchises. Studios today take this approach to minimize expenditures and increase revenue, via ticket sales, merchandise sales, and product placement deals. Because of this, blockbuster films are often called “two and a half hour commercials”. Hollywood takes this approach because of past film franchise successes, such as the Harry Potter franchise, whose overwhelming success for Warner Brothers Studios spawned the spinoff franchise, Fantastic Beasts, a franchise currently on track to release a whopping five movies, two of which have been released.
The franchise so far has succeeded, as Warner Brothers already has a base audience of Harry Potter fans, giving them incentives to see the films in the form of plot point or characters, such as young Albus Dumbledore. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, is the most profitable and well-received franchise of all time, spanning ten years with no sign of slowing down. It is because of this franchise that studios began looking at creating “Universes” rather than franchises, because they allow for more connectedness and allow more room for creativity in terms of characters. And most importantly, films apart of these “Universes” have been some of the biggest money-makers of all time, like this year’s Avengers: Infinity War. However, attempts at creating franchises and “Universes” have not always taken the Marvel route of success.
The Fantastic Four films have remained as one of the biggest failures for Marvel-associated movies. Though at the time, the two major films, Fantastic Four (2005) and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) had no competition until 2008, when films like The Incredible Hulk and most importantly, Iron Man, rolled around. After the major crossover film The Avengers, people wondered when the characters of Fantastic Four would join Iron Man and Captain America in the Marvel Universe. The real question was whether or not 20th Century Fox would sell the rights of the characters to Marvel.
The short answer to this question is they did not. 20th Century Fox decided not to sell the rights, and instead started to seriously develop a new Fantastic Four film, with a brand new cast of up-and-coming actors. One of the biggest reasons they wanted to produce the film, though, is that they had to in order to keep the rights of the characters. If they lost the rights, they would lose an opportunity to start a superhero franchise, which they did not possess at the time. They hoped this film would spawn sequels, and give them a reason to keep the rights of the characters and profit from them in a way that Marvel profited from theirs. Their hopes, sadly, were not met, and instead, their worst fears realized.
From the very beginning, things were looking promising for 2015’s Fantastic Four. They hired some of the best new talent in Hollywood: Miles Teller (Whiplash) as Reed Richards, Michael B. Jordan (Creed) as Johnny Storm, Kate Mara (Chappaquiddick) as Sue Storm, and Jamie Bell (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) as The Thing. The studio also hired a promising new director, Josh Trank, to helm the film. Things looked very promising on the outside for a time. However, rumours began to stir about creative differences between the director and the studio.
This, in turn, led to reshoots, a sign to moviegoers and critics that the film may or may not be what they expected. Reshoots are often the equivalent of a red flag in film. However, reshoots can be profitable and work out for the best. For example, the Star Wars anthology film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story underwent reshoots, and went on to be critically successful, as well as raking in a billion dollars at the box office. Unfortunately, this would not be true for 2015’s Fantastic Four.
Despite sponsorships and product deals, such as a Fantastic Four themed menu at the restaurant chain Denny’s, the film failed to bring in enough revenue to break even from production costs. The film failed not only financially, but also critically, receiving a “Rotten” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. To many, critics and moviegoers alike, the film tried too hard and failed to be ‘dark’, combined with a nonsensical plot, a recycled villain, and poor CGI. Many were disappointed, for they had held out hope that this film would finally be the first Fantastic Four to be a ‘good’ film.
The director took to Twitter to defend his efforts, placing the blame on the studio executives from 20th Century Fox and their conflicting visions, claiming if he were allowed more room creatively, the film would have turned out much better. Studio meddling is not uncommon in blockbusters, and even franchises. For example, the film studio Sony Pictures is known for their reputation of “ruining” good films by meddling with all aspects of production.
Most notably, The Amazing Spider-Man film series, which suffered from overstuffed plot and lack of Spidey-charm, as well as emphasis on fan service, which many say is not attributed to director Marc Webb, but the studio executives behind him that pulled the strings. Studios do not meddle to create problems, rather, they see their meddling as necessary in order to avoid problems. Regardless of critical reviews, however, if Fantastic Four had at least done well financially, the plans for a sequel would have come to fruition. Of course, it did not, and this film signaled a downturn at 20th Century Fox.
Fantastic Four was a heavily-awaited for and hyped film leading up to its release, with a big enough budget to create a solid film, giving these iconic characters the proper treatment. Instead, the film bombed spectacularly. Many people claimed it had to do with the scathing reviews the film received, and that those reviews drove away audiences from seeing the film. This is true in part, as many moviegoers look to critics and their reviews for guidance in choosing a film to see in theaters.
However, word of mouth is also in play when it comes to box office performance, as people will see films their friends recommend to them. People did not recommend this film to their friends and families because the film, in short, is not good. In this writer’s opinion, the film had almost laughable special effects, clunky dialogue, confusing plot threads, and a simply unengaging storyline. Perhaps it was because audiences had seen this same sort of story before, more than once including the same villain, Dr. Doom, as well as an origin storyline. Perhaps if Fox had taken the Marvel route, ditching the origin story and old villains like they did with Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), the film would have been at least more engaging and interesting to watch from a plot standpoint.
If this film had been received well by audiences and critics, things would have turned out very differently. The film would have most certainly made more money at the box office, and would have most likely had a sequel if the film had been successful enough. Granted, the stars of the film were not as negatively affected as the studio and director were, as they were able to book projects afterwards that went on to be successful, such as Michael B. Jordan’s Creed, which spawned a sequel, Creed II, a film that was released very recently. On the other hand, the film did negatively affect the director, Josh Trank, especially in terms of reputation, leading him to book no reputable projects. However, the film’s failure had the biggest negative impact on the studio itself.
Concerning how it impacted the studio itself, there are many reasons as to why. For one, it showed that they were not capable of producing a good Fantastic Four film, despite them holding onto the rights, keeping them away from Marvel Studios, for so many years. Secondly, it showed that there were internal issues inside the company itself that needed to be dealt with properly. Additionally, not only did this film signal a downturn for the studio, further films it released in later years showed the same signs. In addition to retaining the rights to the Fantastic Four characters, 20th Century Fox also retained the rights to the X-Men characters and subsequent “Universe”.
The studio ‘revived’ the series with a brand new cast, and released promising films like X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, both well received by critics and audiences, while also making plenty of money at the box office. However, a year after the Fantastic failure, Fox released the third X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse in the new series. This film received lackluster reviews compared to its predecessors, and did not make nearly as much money at the box office. This was only another example of the studio’s failure to handle a major film with a large fanbase.
As most people know now, 20th Century Fox does not currently exist as its own separate entity. The majority of the assets were bought out by Disney earlier this year, including the rights to X-Men and most importantly, Fantastic Four characters, as well as smaller film studios that operated under Fox. One could imagine how different things would have been this year for the studio if not for their failure with Fantastic Four. And Fox executives, with billions of dollars in their pockets, must now look on as Marvel Studios takes the reins from them, and incorporates such icons as Wolverine and The Human Torch into their overwhelmingly large cast of characters.
Perhaps they will do better than 20th Century Fox, given their track record with crossovers. But from now on, one will always think what if? If anything, the spectacular failure of the Fantastic Four reboot showed just how overmounting pressure from audiences, a ticking clock, and possible over meddling by the studio led to a cinematic failure of epic proportions, one that led to the turmoil that resulted in their demise and buy out from Disney.