Fantastic Four in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
In the run-up to Fantastic Four's release, fans and interviewers peppered X-Men series writer and producer Simon Kinberg with questions about a possible crossover between the Fantastic Four and the Fox's bankable mutant brand. Kinberg, along with Trank and Singer, gave conflicting answers - making it clear that even if the two hero teams could crossover, there weren't any set plans (at this point). Without question, if there was a benefit to crossing the two franchises over, specifically if Fox could make more money without harming either brand, they'd find a way to make it happen. After all, with X-Men: Days of Future Past toying with time-travel and Fantastic Four opening-up alternate dimensions, it's easy to see writers wouldn't have to stretch too hard in order to explain how the two series could overlap (even if they are, for now, entirely separate).
Yet, with such a negative reaction to Fantastic Four, it's unlikely that moviegoers will be seeing the team back on the big screen in the near future - especially at the risk of poisoning a X-Men series that, after a few stumbles, is mostly back on track. As indicated, Fox will have roughly a decade to plot a new installment in the Fantastic Four franchise - either a sequel or another reboot - but, with goodwill flowing toward X-Men, and comparatively lower returns on investment for the last three Fantastic Four movies, should Fox even bother developing a new movie with the foursome for another nine years?
No doubt, they could sideline the characters and wait for an opportunity (or filmmaker) that might bring the characters back (again) but the Fantastic Four has already been waning in popularity for over a decade. It certainly hasn't helped that Marvel is actively pushing non-Marvel Studios superheroes out of the spotlight in print comics and online promotion - in order to more prominently feature characters they completely own; yet, where the X-Men and several characters within the franchise have retained interest from existing and new (younger) fans, Fantastic Four comics, merchandise, and overall brand recognition is at an all-time low - even with the new movie hitting theaters.
In response, Fox's best move may be to try and sell the Fantastic Four rights back to Marvel Studios - for a cash payout and potential cut of whatever Marvel might make off of the characters on film down the line.
The recent Spider-Man deal was mutually beneficial because both Sony and Marvel want to, and can, make a lot of money from Peter Parker. To that end, the partnership is purely an opportunity to raise the profile of the character and the films he appears in. Marvel Studios isn't paying Sony for any appearances by Spider-Man in the MCU - and neither studio will receive a box office percentage for any film, featuring Spider-Man, that is produced by the other house (read: Sony won't see any MCU ticket sale profits and Marvel won't see Spider-Man solo movie ticket sale profits).
Unlike Sony, who holds the rights to one of Marvel's most popular superheroes, but needed to breath life back into the Spider-Man franchise, there's no indication that Fantastic Four is going to increase in popularity over the next ten years - especially as the DC movie universe takes shape and Marvel Studios Phase 3 kicks into gear (introducing a whole new group of characters that can fight alongside established Avenger favorites). To that end, sitting on Fantastic Four, or trying to develop yet another brand relaunch could actually cost Fox in the long run. If they let the rights expire, they get nothing and if they invest in another unsuccessful reboot, the studio could actually lose money. Though, if they sell the rights back early - for a cut of whatever Marvel decides to do, they could see income (with no work on their end) for years to come.
For fans, the idea of sidelining the Fantastic Four at Marvel might sound like heresy but Fox hasn't exactly delivered a version of the foursome that comic book lovers (or movie viewers) can really champion. At least if Marvel owned the characters, they could slot them into other MCU films, especially given that Reed and his team play an instrumental part in several high profile Avengers storylines (including Infinity War). Further down the line, with the characters already established in the MCU, Marvel might deliver a truly great Fantastic Four movie - one that isn't burdened by worn-out origin story setup and training montages. There are plenty of great Fantastic Four storylines from the comics that can be explored (and build on the expanding MCU) but, based on prior efforts, Fox has failed to provide a successful launch pad for the team - one that would need to make the aging comic heroes relevant to modern readers and viewers.
Should Fox decide to cut a deal with Marvel and sell back the Fantastic Four rights, hopefully Marvel Studios will still continue to invest in high-risk, high-reward projects (like Guardians of the Galaxy). Given how many notable characters the studio already owns (characters that don't have their own films), it's hard to imagine the Fantastic Four will cause a major change in Marvel's future plans. Either way, with the MCU film slate established for the next half-decade, fans can at least look forward to several new heroes hitting the screen in coming years - even if Fantastic Four steals priority down the line.
Either way, in an industry where epic shared universe stories are becoming the norm, the only way to truly reinvigorate the Fantastic Four may be to hand the characters back to Marvel (and secure a cut of whatever the studio does with the heroes going forward). After all, what's worse? A supporting role for the Fantastic Four in the MCU or another failed relaunch in five or ten years?
If you’ve seen Fantastic Four and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Fantastic Four Spoilers Discussion. For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Fantastic Four episode of the SR Underground podcast.
Fantastic Four runs 100 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, and language. Now playing in theaters.