Comic book fans have often shared displeasure with film adaptations of certain Marvel Comics characters and stories over the years, voicing the opinion that Disney-owned Marvel Studios should reacquire the movie rights to all of their comic book properties. It was mostly just wishful thinking until a few years ago Marvel Studios actually got back the licenses to key characters including Blade, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Punisher and others.
With the main Avengers all under the Marvel Studios umbrella, and many of the supporting characters back too, there were less and less properties owned by other studios – the largest of which being Spider-Man at Sony Pictures. But earlier this year, Spidey came home too (sort of) in an unprecedented partnership that sees Sony and Marvel working together to relaunch Spider-Man into the successfully established Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, if Sony and Marvel can work together in this way, can Fox and Marvel do the same? It’s been widely publicized for two years how the X-Men (and all mutant characters in Marvel Comics) have been pushed out of the forefront alongside the Fantastic Four – the latter of which had all of its comic series cancelled. These Fox-owned characters are not listed in the latest Marvel encyclopedia and don’t get merchandise tie-ins. They also cannot be licensed out for merch on things like posters and lunch boxes. Marvel is avoiding helping and publicizing characters they don’t own the film rights too. And it’s all about the movies.
Where three years ago Marvel and Fox had some semblance of a relationship with Marvel having someone on the set of The Wolverine and the actors appearing in interviews for Marvel.com, that has since vanished. We don’t know why, it just is. For now.
All of this is what makes the last few days so interesting to observe with the Fantastic Four reboot finally debuting this weekend after several delays and widespread reports of trouble on set and intensive re-shoots… and it was a mess. The film is drastically under-performing at the box office compared to estimates largely due to how poorly the film has been received by fans and critics. It’s the worst reviewed Marvel branded movie ever to release theatrically and it has the lowest moviegoer-voted CinemaScore of any superhero film ever.
Analysts called Fantastic Four’s opening weekend a “nightmare” and today, THR reports Twentieth Century Fox may have a $60 million loss to write-off thanks to the release. And this is still an active issue. The superhero flick has only been in theaters a few days, and sometime in the near future, perhaps as the dust begins to settle, decisions and announcements need to be made regarding what’s next for the Fantastic Four.
A sequel was scheduled last year for June 2017 but after this weekend, with Fox systemically crushing public interest in a live-action version of the Fantastic Four and adapting it into something not financially viable, something needs to change. The day the film came out we poised the question of whether or not Fox should sell the Fantastic Film rights back to Marvel but it’s not that simple.
Fox has several options so we can go down the list and theorize on what they will do. Developing Fantastic Four 2 for mid-2017 simply doesn’t compute and we can’t see a future where Fox and the stars of this movie are back in just a few months shooting another after what went down this weekend. A more likely option is a delay for another film and a quasi-reboot, one that could even include the same stars. The actors of the film were not the problem. Everything else was so a new creative vision could be in the cards.
What we do know is that if Fox aims to maintain the FF film license – and Hitfix claims they will continue with plans for a sequel but it’s way too early to know that for certain – they must have a film shooting every few years (every seven years according to comicbook.com’s source). It’s the same for the rights to X-Men and was the same for Daredevil – a property Fox pulled the plug on at the last minute which resulted in Marvel getting the rights back who turned it around into a successful Netflix series.
That means Fox has until 2022 to put another Fantastic Four movie into production so there’s no rush. If they don’t, Marvel will get the rights back. At the moment, it’s difficult to say whether moviegoing audiences will be willing to put this year’s Fantastic Four behind them enough to accept them as something beneficial to crossover with the X-Men or to see continue on their own. And a re-reboot is a tough pill to swallow as well which means Fox is in a similar position to what Sony Pictures was last year when they failed to revitalize The Amazing Spider-Man series with its sequel.
The mixed-to-negative fan response The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Sony’s overly ambitious slate of potential spinoffs forced Sony into a position where they needed to work with Marvel to ensure the long-term bankability of the Spider-Man live-action franchise since re-rebooting Spider-Man again on their own, outside of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, and into a series that could never see the characters interact with the main Marvel universe seemed insane. Moviegoers already saw Peter Parker and some of those villains twice and didn’t care for more, especially in a world where there’s also the ever-expanding MCU and upcoming DC Comics Cinematic Universe.
That’s where Fox is right now. The Fantastic Four – on their own – cannot compete in a world where DC Entertainment and Marvel Studios are pumping out 2-3 big budget interconnected blockbusters annually with access to more characters and the ability to adapt long-form crossover stories from the source material. Is it worth connecting the FF to the X-Men? There’s an easy way to do it using time-travel, as hinted at by X-Men: Apocalypse director Bryan Singer, but why would anyone want to burden the successful X-Men franchise that’s currently riding a high from X-Men: Days of Future Past (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the positive buzz surround Deadpool with characters from a film universally despised?
No, that doesn’t make sense.
A direct Fantastic Four sequel in 2017 doesn’t fit; a crossover (anytime soon) with the X-Men doesn’t fit; and a quick reboot doesn’t fit either. Does Fox then sit for a while and try again to keep the rights? Perhaps. That’s how they’ve done it in the past but we’d like to think there’s an opportunity here for everyone to benefit. Fox flat out selling back the Fantastic Four rights back to Marvel or trading for merchandise or TV rights to the X-Men doesn’t seem too realistic, but perhaps they come up with another sort of deal similar to Sony’s. What if Fox and Marvel work together to relaunch the Fantastic Four? Hear us out.
Marvel’s plans for the next 4-5 years (known as Phase 3) do not leave much room for a Fantastic Four movie and even if they needed to shift dates around again like they did for Spider-Man, Marvel may not want to. And they don’t need the Fantastic Four themselves either. Instead, Reed Richards and his team could be introduced as supporting characters for use later. More importantly, and why Marvel really wants the property back, is to have access to the library of supporting characters. Dr. Doom is a key villain in many of Marvel’s largest crossover events, including what the last three years of Avengers stories in Marvel Comics have been building towards – the biggest event ever in Marvel known as the modern Secret Wars. Doom and (two versions of) Reed Richards are all central characters in these current events.
On top of that, it was widely publicized a few years ago when Fox’s hold on the Daredevil rights was expiring that Marvel reportedly tried to make a deal to let Fox keep Daredevil in exchange for the right to use a few supporting FF characters, namely Galactus and Silver Surfer. Fox said no. But since it’s possible Fantastic Four as a series is dead before it even starts, maybe a deal can be made now. After all, if Fox isn’t going to use their Marvel cosmic characters, Marvel Studios certainly can. It might be the only way fans see them on the big screen and if Fox can’t get Fantastic Four right (and they couldn’t) and if they don’t work with Marvel (they haven’t been able to so far) then the real crime is preventing these stories and characters from being realized on screen.
That’s the reason fans clamoring for Marvel to reacquire properties are justifiable in this case, because it may be the only way there’s a worthy future of the Fantastic Four and all the alien races they come attached to. What do you want to see happen?
Fantastic Four is now in theaters. Deadpool opens February 12, 2016; X-Men: Apocalypse on May 27, 2016; Gambit on October 7, 2016; Wolverine 3 on March 3, 2017; Fantastic Four 2 (maybe) on June 9, 2017; and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13, 2018. The New Mutants is also in development.