Since its creation in 1961, the Fantastic Four has made the jump from page-to-screen in four animated television shows, four big screen adaptations (albeit one that was never released) and even a short-lived radio series that starred comedic legend Bill Murray as the voice of the Human Torch. However, with the exception of the upcoming reboot, none of the stories in those movies (save for similar character origins) have come from the comics.
While Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer was inspired by the Galactus Trilogy, the writers modified the actual story so heavily that it was even harder to recognize than Galactus – who appeared onscreen as a space cloud made of dust. The cartoons and radio series (which essentially had voice actors read directly from the comics while Stan Lee narrated) stuck closer to the stories than any of the films – and it didn’t need to be that way.
There are have been scores of story arcs throughout the Fantastic Four’s rich decades long history that would make for a much better movie. We can’t discuss them all, but these are the 5 we’d like to see come to life.
[NOTE: For discussion’s sake, we’re assuming Marvel Studios owns the movie rights to every character mentioned in this post.]
Fantastic Four Vol. 3, #35-39: “Flesh and Stone” (1998)
Let’s start by saying unless the character in a film is unknown to the general movie-going audience (such as, Green Lantern, Blade, Ghost Rider or Iron Man), there should be no more origin films – especially for films that have been rebooted three times. That being said, the “Flesh and Stone” story arc is a good place to both introduce the characters and immediately insert tension and conflict.
In the 5-part series (reprinted as one large volume in 2001), the Fantastic Four experiences rough times as Reed Richards (aka Mister Fantastic) in is danger of losing the Baxter Building and all of its assets to bankruptcy. Meanwhile, in addition to fending off creditors, the super-powered team must also battle Diablo, the Skrulls and Grey Gargoyle. As if that isn’t enough drama, Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) is having an internal struggle about giving up his powers, forsaking his friends, or stay in his monstrous form forever.
Fantastic Four Vol. 3, #46-50: “The Resurrection of Galactus” (1998)
One shared aspect of most superhero movies is their use of one-note villains who want to either rule the world (Loki), control it (Red Skull), conquer it (Zod) or destroy it completely (Galactus). While all villains are threatening in their own way, none of them can hold a candle to the person who can collapse entire universes – Abraxas. While Galactus is a badass destroyer of worlds, the Fantastic Four still managed to thwart him many times, but he has only ever been killed once – by Abraxas, the embodiment of destruction.
After Abraxas kills Galactus, the Fantastic Four must call upon powerful allies – Silver Surfer, Moondragon, Quasar, Marvel Girl, Namorita and others – in an attempt to resurrect their long-time foe, for he alone can keep Abraxas in check. To do this, they must prevent him from acquiring the Ultimate Nullifer (Johnny Storm knows its location), which would allow him to destroy every known multiverse in existence.
Fantastic Four Vol. 1, #575-578: “Prime Elements” (2010)
In a story spanning across four issues, the team goes underground to battle the Mole Man and his minions in “The Hidden City of the High Evolutionary”, explores the very depths of the Antarctic ocean in “The Old Kings of Atlantis”, ventures into the vastness of space on the Blue Area of the Moon in “Universal Inhumans” and finally, they finds themselves fighting for their lives against the Anti-Priest and his followers in “The Cult of the Negative Zone”.
Most film scripts follow a standard three-act structure – setup, confrontation, resolution – and use that often creativity-stifling structure across multiple films to tell one complete story – but what if used in 45-minute segments instead? The Fantastic Four story arc, “Prime Elements”, would be the ideal candidate for such an endeavor. Would storytelling like this be risky? Absolutely, but if done right, it could be the beginning to a whole new way of telling superhero stories on film.
Fantastic Four Vol. 1, #583-588: “Three” (2011)
Arguably, the 6-issue “Three” story arc is one of the most epic and saddest stories from the expansive Fantastic Four library. There’s so much going on with this story that it’s almost impossible to keep it all straight. Old foes, such as Doctor Doom and the Yancy Street Gang, reemerge to make trouble for the team, while newer villains, such as the Anti-Priest from the Negative Zone, once again attempt to conquer Earth. Even long-time adversary Galactus shows up trying to devour Nu-World.
As if that chaos wasn’t enough: The Thing reverts back to regular old Ben Grimm, Sue (Storm) Reed (aka Invisible Woman) gets caught in the middle of an Atlantean war, the team splits up to fight battles on all fronts and, most importantly, Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) is killed when he bravely takes on the inhabitants of The Negative Zone allowing his friends to escape. The death of a major superhero has never occurred in a movie, (the events of X-Men: The Last Stand were nullified in X-Men: Days of Future Past, remember?) so killing off Johnny Storm would be an interesting place to start. Don’t worry, it’s a comic book, so he comes back a few issues later.
Fantastic Four Vol. 5, #1-5: “The Fall of the Fantastic Four” (2014)
The downfall of the Fantastic Four begins innocently, with the team off exploring the galaxy. But they’re quickly called home when a group of invaders from a parallel-dimension, Counter-Earth, begin attacking New York City. It’s during this fight the team is thrown into turmoil as Johnny Storm loses his powers, and they must do battle with Frightful Four – The Wizard, Wrecker, Thunderball, and Bulldozer. With Johnny on the bench, previous members of the Fantastic Four – Ant-Man, She-Hulk and Miss Thing – all lend their assistance in order to defeat this new and dangerous threat.
Typically by a film’s end most superhero movies, save The Dark Knight, hoist their respective heroes and anti-heroes up on pedestals, free from criticism or consequences for the mess they made – though The Avengers touches on this briefly, as does Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. This recent story arc from the fifth volume of the Fantastic Four goes against that trope, leaving our team of heroes’ fates hanging in the balances to answer for the destruction of Manhattan by the story’s end.
One reason why Hollywood studios continually dip back into the comic book well (other than money) is because the stories don’t need to be created, just adapted. Unfortunately, somewhere during the movie making process, that concept becomes lost and writers (generally at the prodding of studio execs) attempt to create a new compressed story for comic characters that isn’t really needed.
Hundreds of writers have been doing the work for decades and not only are their stories popular, but they’re interesting and continue hold up over the years.
What are some of your favorite stories from the Fantastic Four comic series you would like to see adapted for film? Sound off in the comment section.