The Fantastic Four were the foundational building blocks of the Marvel Comics Universe. While under their original publication name they created characters like Captain America and Namor the Sub-Mariner, it was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s collaboration on The Fantastic Four in 1961 where the age of the Marvel superhero was born. The comic boldly claimed the headline ‘World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ and from those pages sprang characters like Doctor Doom, The Silver Surfer, Galactus, Black Panther, The Watcher, the Inhumans, and many more. They helped pave the way for other heroes like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, and the Avengers.
However, whereas all those other Marvel characters got successful movie franchises, The Fantastic Four have not been so lucky. While 2005 Fantastic Four was a box office hit, it was a critical bomb, and the 2007 sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer underperformed. With Marvel Studios now creating their own film studios and could eventually get the film rights back if 20th Century Fox didn’t get a new movie into development, the studio quickly scrambled to get a new movie made. The finished result was the 2015 Fantastic Four (stylized as Fant4stic), which went on to become one of the worst regarded superhero movies of all time.
How did a movie with strong comic book mythology, a young director hot off a hit film, a cast of some of the most talented young actors in Hollywood with rising stars, and some impressive trailers turn out so bad? With a new Fantastic Four reboot in the works, here is a look at what went wrong with the Fantastic Four film from 2015.
Fant4stic Problems With Development
Fox first announced they were rebooting Fantastic Four in 2009, just two years after Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Early on, the decision was made to draw influence from the Ultimate Comics version of the Fantastic Four, in order to distinguish it from the previous film incarnation. In July 2012, Fox hired Josh Trank to helm Fantastic Four after his debut film Chronicle became a surprise hit at the box office for the studio just a few months prior. Jeremy Slatter was hired to pen the script, which is when the first speed bump hit, as the director and writer had two very different creative visions for the project.
Being hired shortly after The Avengers had come out and become a box office goliath, Slater was aiming for that tone and style, writing a big comic book-inspired script that featured Galactus and Doctor Doom as a herald for the world-destroyer. Trank on the other hand hated The Avengers and did not connect with Slater’s script. Trank wanted the film to be closer in tone to the body horror films of David Cronenberg like Scanners and The Fly. Trank withheld information from Slater about meetings with Fox and studio notes, and Slater eventually left the project. Other writers came on board, including Simon Kinberg who had worked on the script for many of the X-Men films.
Next came casting, and having worked with Michael B. Jordan on Chronicle, Trank cast him as Johnny Storm. Trank wanted to cast a Black actress to play Sue Storm but the studio reportedly blocked that decision, and the role eventually went to Kate Mara. Mara later stated that Fantastic Four was one of her worst experiences on a film, and Trank reportedly took his frustrations out on her. Trank also picked Miles Teller, hot off The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, to play Reed Richards, and the two would eventually clash on set multiple times.
Changes Made During Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four began filming on May 5, 2014, and lasted 72 days. Trank said that shortly before production began, the studio cut $30 million from the film’s budget. Trank and 20th Century Fox reportedly feuded quite a bit while filming took place, and it was noted the movie did not have an ending. Reshoots were ordered by Fox in January 2015, as they were not satisfied with the cut they had seen.
When the film entered post-production, Trank and the studio continued to clash over the film. Trank, through the help of the Director’s Guild of America, was able to negotiate a new deal where both Fox and Trank were working on their own separate cuts of the films. While it is currently unknown what was cut or taken out, behind-the-scenes footage and concept art for the film show that the movie was supposed to include the team traveling to the Negative Zone in a makeshift version of the Fantastic Car that Reed designed. H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot was also supposed to be included, but it’s unknown if that was only meant as a small cameo.
Marketing and Release of Fantastic Four
The teaser for the film was released in February 2015 to coincide with the release of Kingsman: The Secret Service. The trailer received positive notes from viewers, as it seemed to showcase a very different-looking Fantastic Four than what had come before. Yet as the film grew closer to release, 20th Century Fox started pushing more action-centric ads with Kanye West’s ‘Power’ prominently and arranged a more lighthearted tone. The cast attended San Diego Comic-Con during a massive Fox/Marvel panel that included the cast of X-Men: Apocalypse, Deadpool, Hugh Jackman, and Channing Tatum, who was set to play Gambit.
In a bad sign, the movie’s social media embargo did not lift until 7 pm on Thursday, the same time as its first showtimes, indicating that 20th Century Fox knew the reviews of the film could easily sink their chances at a semi-decent opening weekend. Then, on the very day of the films opening, Trank took to Twitter to express his frustration about the cut of the film being released in theaters. The tweet read, “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 reality though.”. While Trank quickly deleted it, the damage was done and the tweet was estimated to have cost Fox $10 million.
Aftermath of a Fant4stic Flop
Fantastic Four opened to $25 million in its opening weekend, coming in number two behind Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in its second weekend. By its third weekend, it fell to number 10 at the box office, and it closed out its domestic run with $56 million (which is what the 2005 Fantastic Four film made in its opening weekend).
Fantastic Four was labeled the bomb of the summer movie season, and quickly earned the title of one of the worst superhero movies. The negative reaction to the film, as well as Trank’s tweet and the overall rumors about his behavior on set led to Trank being dropped as the director for the planned Boba Fett solo film at Lucasfilm. The stars all recovered, with Michael B. Jordan quickly signing on to the cast of Black Panther with his longtime collaborator Ryan Coogler. Miles Teller recently co-starred in Top Gun: Maverick, the biggest movie of 2022 so far. Despite the hectic and troublesome production, one silver lining did emerge as Kate Mara and Jamie Bell met on the set and married in 2017, and had one child together.
Fox canceled the previously announced sequel which was set to open in theaters on June 9, 2017. While Fox floated ideas for how to continue the brand, including a Doctor Doom origin movie, Disney began the move to acquire 20th Century Fox which became official in 2019. Shortly after, plans to bring the Fantastic Four into the MCU began to move forward, and the character’s introduction will kick off Phase 6 on November 8, 2024. In many ways, the 2015 Fantastic Four serves as a cautionary tale, but an interesting artifact of a superhero film made at a point of transition for many involved. In the seven years since its release, it has not generated the same nostalgic reappraisal that other comic book movies have, but it is certainly one that the next film can only improve upon.