For a film that was never officially released, 1994’s The Fantastic Four has become a cult classic. Maybe it’s more to do with the mystique around the production than the actual final product, because some of the special effects and acting looked exceptionally dodgy. Mind you, considering that Roger Corman was involved, we shouldn’t have expected too much in the first place.
Speaking to Newsweek, documentarian Marty Langford said he considers it to be the most successful of all the Fantastic Four movies because it “came the closest to the spirit of the property.”
He explained that with the “limited scope and budget, [the filmmakers] recognized they couldn’t do the big set pieces and concentrated on the family story. I think that worked.”
Langford’s opinion might be controversial, but the fact is that Marvel’s First Family has had a hard time on the big screen and it all started with the 1994 film. Depending on who you talk to, the movie might have been merely a stopgap and intricate ruse to salvage the rights – and it’s still an issue that’s debated to this very day.
With that said, we dug a little deeper to find out more about this project. Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About The Disastrous 1994 Fantastic Four Movie.
15. Stan Lee Had No Faith In The Production
Marvel’s greatest marketing asset is Stan Lee. Even after decades with the comic book publisher, Lee is the hype machine for its projects. That said, even he knew that something was fishy with The Fantastic Four.
The makers of Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four confirmed that Lee didn’t want to speak to them about the project.
However, they did earth footage from a comic book convention in 1993, where Lee said, “I’m not expecting too much of it. It was the last movie to be made that we had no control over. Our lawyers just gave away the rights.”
Speaking to Kevin Smith years later, Lee stated the movie was never intended to be released, but the cast and crew didn’t know about it. He believed it was only made so that the studio wouldn’t lose the rights to the franchise.
14. Mark Ruffalo Auditioned For The Part Of Doctor Doom
Before he took on the role of Bruce Banner/Hulk, Mark Ruffalo already had a successful Hollywood career, starring in films like Zodiac and Shutter Island. In the early ’90s, though, he was still trying to find his feet and major big-screen break. Naturally, he thought a comic book movie about Marvel’s First Family would be a good stepping stone.
According to Mark Sikes, the casting assistant for the movie, Ruffalo was one of the people who auditioned for the part of Victor Von Doom, AKA the Fantastic Four’s fabled nemesis. Unfortunately, the gig went to Joseph Culp, who did actually look the part as the famous supervillian.
13. Joseph Culp Played Jon Hamm’s Father In Mad Men
Imagine having to tell your friends that your big break wasn’t actually a break at all. That’s exactly what happened to Joseph Culp, who portrayed Dr. Doom in The Fantastic Four, in what was meant to be his first major film role but went ultimately nowhere.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the end of the line for Culp and he found steady – if not remarkable – work afterwards. His biggest and most recognizable performance came as Archie Whitman, Don Draper’s father, in Mad Men. He appeared a handful of times as we found out more about Don’s past and his troubled childhood.
12. Wizard Magazine Ranked It Higher Than Batman & Robin
In the days when few households had internet access, comic book fans got their fix of news and reviews from Wizard. It was a popular magazine and a huge part of geek culture that sadly ceased its print operations in 2011.
In November 2008, when the mag was still swinging away, it published a list of the “50 Top Comic Movies of All Time (…and Some So Bad You’ve Just Got to See Them).”
While these sorts of things are obviously subjective and controversial, it was still surprising to see Wizard place The Fantastic Four higher than the likes of Batman & Robin, Steel, and Red Sonja.
11. The Director Is Happy It Was Bootlegged
You have to feel for director Oley Sassone. After putting in so much effort into making this movie, despite the ludicrous budget and time constraints, the rug was pulled out from under him.
It seemed like the fruit of his labor was doomed to be forgotten as merely a footnote in comic book movie history – until the fanbase changed this.
Even though the film wasn’t released to the public on VHS or in cinema, someone got hold of a copy and it’s done the rounds at conventions and on the worldwide web. In fact, you can even watch the movie on YouTube right now.
10. It Went Into Production 3 Days Before The Deadline
Not many people knew that Neue Constantin had to put a film into production before the December 31, 1992 deadline – especially not the cast and crew of the film.
Constantin’s Bernd Eichinger requested an extension from Marvel, but the comic book publisher wasn’t interested, knowing it could make more money from a bigger studio.
Naturally, there was a scramble to ensure the rights didn’t expire since comic book properties were in high demand in Hollywood at the time. It was manic rush but production began on December 28, 1992, only three days before the deadline.
The film took between 21-25 days to shoot, which is an extremely short period of time for even a low-budget movie, but Eichinger’s company succeeded in holding onto the rights and sticking it to Marvel.
9. The Rights For The Movie Cost $250,000
If Stan Lee and Marvel had known the amount of money they would make with the MCU, chances are they would’ve been more reluctant to sell off the rights to a bunch of their characters earlier on.
While the likes of the X-Men and Fantastic Four are all back home now, it’s unlikely that anyone wanted them to leave in the first place. Sadly, Marvel was in financial peril at the time and did all it could to remain above water.
In 1985, Spider-Man was sold for $225,000 to Cannon Films, while Fantastic Four went for a reported $250,000 to Neue Constantin. While Bernd Eichinger never confirmed the actual figure, he did agree that it was purchased for “not [an] enormous” amount.
8. Bernd Eichinger Refused To Admit It Was A Ruse
To his grave, Bernd Eichinger refused to admit that the movie had been a ruse to keep the rights to the franchise.
While many people have spoken out about it and said it was never meant to be released, he remained adamant that there was every intention to release it until Avi Arad stepped in.
“He really didn’t like the idea that a small movie was coming out and maybe ruining the franchise, you know? So he says to me that he wants to give me back the money and that we should not release it,” Eichinger told Los Angeles Magazine.
7. The Script Was Written In Three Weeks
As with most low-budget productions, the script was turned in very fast for The Fantastic Four. Craig J. Nevius and Kevin Rock produced their magic in a reported three weeks.
Like the rest of the crew and cast, though, the writers had no idea that there was never an intention to release the film.
Nevius, who’d collaborated with Roger Corman several times before, was disappointed that it was never released since he’d been a longtime fan of superheroes and jumped at the chance to work on the film.
Even so, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Nevius, as he said the movie paved the way for another film Black Scorpion, which he also wrote, and a subsequent TV series that he was an executive producer of.
6. Even The Director Didn’t Know It Was A Ruse
The one person who was the most devastated about the film never being released was director Oley Sassone.
By 1992, he was a seasoned commercial and music video director and had worked on a few Roger Corman features, but this was meant to be his big shot at success.
“You know how it works,” he told VICE. “You make a film for no money, and it breaks out, and then everybody wants to make a film with you.”
After the production had been wrapped up, Sassone received a phone call from Corman, telling him that the film wouldn’t be released and thanking him for this work on the film. “I just was staring around, dumbfounded in LA, like, what the f**k?” He’d had no idea the production was an elaborate trick.
5. The Music In The Trailer Is From Battle Beyond The Stars
Having worked on a plethora of low-budget films, Roger Corman is a master at squeezing every cent and taking the necessary shortcuts to keep the financers happy.
In the case of The Fantastic Four, he had even less money to play with than usual and was forced to get creative for the marketing campaign.
If you play close attention to the music in the trailer, it’s actually a theme from another Corman production, Battle Beyond the Stars, which was released in 1980. To be fair, the final film had its own original music, though.
Undoubtedly, this is yet another example of how pressed for time and money everyone was on this production. We can only imagine the late nights and panicking that must’ve ensued – and it was all for nothing.
4. Avi Arad Bought The Rights And Destroyed The Copies Of The Film
As Bernd Eichinger mentioned, Marvel executive Avi Arad bought the film to ensure it never got shown.
Many years later Arad confirmed that he was wary about how the low-budget film could cheapen the brand, then purchased the film for a couple of million dollars in cash and ordered all the prints to be destroyed. Savage!
Arad’s masterful plan didn’t go quite to plan, however, and not all the copies were destroyed. Someone salvaged a copy (or few), made prints, and began distributing the film at conventions and on the internet. Fans went wild and gobbled it up.
3. Patrick Warburton Auditioned To Play Ben Grimm
When you look at the names that auditioned for The Fantastic Four, you realize that it could’ve been even more popular than what it is now. Another famous face (and voice) that wanted a role on the film was Patrick Warburton.
Warburton auditioned for the role of Ben Grimm. While we don’t know if he would’ve also worn the costume for the Thing, it’s intriguing to think of prospect of the actor as Grimm. He has a distinct voice and it’d be interesting to hear him say, “It’s clobberin’ time!”
In the end, Michael Bailey Smith ended up getting the part of Grimm, while Carl Ciarfalio played the Thing. Warburton did get a chance to portray a comic book character later on, as he took on the title role in The Tick TV series.
2. The Budget Was Reportedly $1.5 Million
Even in the ’90s, a budget of $1.5 million was laughable – especially for a superhero affair that required special effects.
Think about it: Mr. Fantastic’s body is supposed to stretch, Invisible Woman is meant to disappear, the Human Torch flies and is engulfed by flames, and the Thing is made of rock.
Like Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four‘s Marty Langford suggested, this did force the filmmakers to focus on the story and not the effects, because they really didn’t have a choice. Whether the film is better off because of it is a matter of opinion, though.
Funny enough, it appears as we’ve come full circle with superhero movies now. With many fans clamoring for substance over style, and complaining about the sheer amount of special effects and CGI in the films nowadays.
1. Rebecca Staab Was A Former Miss Nebraska
By the time that Rebecca Staab appeared in The Fantastic Four, she’d already accumulated a healthy amount of acting credits and was far from a newcomer. Her career didn’t stop after the film, either, and she’s gone on to perform in a host of other shows and movies throughout the years.
What a lot of people don’t know about Staab is that she’s a former Miss Nebraska. After graduating from high school in 1979, she competed in the competition the following year and won. Later in 1980, she competed in the Miss USA pageant and finished in the top 12.
Interestingly, before Staab was cast as Susan Storm, Renée O’Connor also auditioned for the part. O’Connor later became known for her role as Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess.
Do you know any other interesting things about The Fantastic Four? Let us know in the comments section!
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