Fox's secret plans for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four could actually have meant the MCU had some serious competition. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe was launched in 2008, it was something of a grand experiment, and even Marvel Studios couldn't be confident that it would prove to be a success. The key to Marvel's shared universe was its sense of momentum and direction, which made viewers see each movie as another chapter in an ongoing narrative.
It's easy to forget that the fledgling MCU wasn't the only game in town. Although the DC Extended Universe was yet to enter the scene, Marvel was already competing with another established superhero brand, which was also based on characters who sprang from the pages of Marvel Comics. Fox's X-Men franchise had been launched back in 2000, and although it had been damaged by 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, the studio was working to put together a plan that would bring the X-Men back to the big screen.
In the aftermath of the Disney/Fox acquisition, details of Fox's earlier plans are finally becoming public knowledge. The fascinating thing is that many of them are clear missed opportunities, ideas that - had Fox pursued them, and carried them out well - could have established the X-Men as just as big a brand as the MCU. As early as 2010, Fox had plans in the works that could potentially have damaged their competition.
Fox Had Civil War And Secret Invasion Films Planned For The X-Men & Fantastic Four
It seems that Fox quickly saw the potential of the MCU's shared universe model. Back in 2010, they began to put together plans to create a shared cinematic universe of their own, one that incorporated the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Lifting ideas from Marvel Comics' "Civil War" event, they commissioned screenwriters Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz to write a script that would force the two teams to go head-to-head. The story kicked off with the Human Torch going nova while trying to apprehend the villain called the Molecule Man, blowing a hole in Manhattan and sparking the Super-Human Registration Act.
The heroes split on opposing sides, some supporting the SHRA and some opposing it, and naturally it soon turned to war between the two groups. Astoundingly, one of the key fights was apparently between Wolverine and Mr. Fantastic, ending when Reed Richards pinned Wolverine down, extended his hands until they were just a single molecule wide, and used them as scissors to cut Wolverine's arms off. After a third act battle, the heroes would make peace - and then a post-credits scene would tease what was coming next. As well as a superhero Civil War, Fox was planning to bring in the Skrulls for a Secret Invasion.
It's not hard to see the potential for this, not least because the glimpse of a shapeshifting Skrull would have led to intense debate among viewers. Which X-Men and FF members were secretly Skrull impostors, and how had they influenced the Civil War? It's reasonable to assume the armless Wolverine would have been revealed as a Skrull; the idea even has comic book precedent, with an ill-fated Skrull infiltrating the X-Men by pretending to be Wolverine back in the '90s.
Fox Would Have Done A Crossover At The Same Time As Marvel
This crossover movie would have changed the narrative surrounding 2012's The Avengers. The Avengers was a hit, grossing over $620 million domestic and $1.5 billion worldwide. One major contributing factor was the fact that there had never been anything like it, and at the time nothing like it was in the works either; The Avengers was unique, a crossover movie combining different superhero franchises in a single epic narrative. The DCEU's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice wasn't even announced until SDCC 2013, and it would be five years before Warner Bros. could launch their own team crossover movie, Justice League.
Now imagine a scenario where, although The Avengers would still be the first, Fox had already announced an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover event. Marvel would have been ahead of the game, but it would have been clear to everybody that studios believed The Avengers would be a success, and that a new wave of superhero blockbusters was on the way. What's more, it wouldn't have been Warner Bros. who were seen as Marvel's main competitor; it would have been Fox.
Fox Would Have Used Up Two Of Marvel's Best Stories
Making matters worse for Marvel, Fox would have been adapting two of the most influential comic book events of the last 20 years. That would have meant they were operating on a scale even Marvel Studios hadn't yet reached. Furthermore, assuming the initial Fantastic Four/X-Men crossover performed well in the box office, there's no reason to assume Fox would have immediately decided to run the Secret Invasion story. They could have imitated the comics, using each event movie to establish the context for their next separate films, building up to a forthcoming crossover.
This would also have effectively taken certain plots off the table for Marvel. Captain America: Civil War, for example, would almost certainly never have been made; the Sokovia Accords would have felt imitative rather than original. Marvel probably wouldn't have chosen to introduce the Skrulls in Captain Marvel either; another studio would have beaten Marvel to the idea of shapeshifting aliens, and frankly would have already used them on a vastly different scale, with a full-fledged invasion.
Essentially, it wouldn't have taken long for Fox to begin looking as though they were moving ahead of their competitors. Marvel would have needed to take a different approach, with Fox's every decision closing off options that they'd have loved to explore. When Warner Bros. announced Batman V Superman in 2013, it would have felt as though their "versus" model was imitating Fox rather than Marvel, implicitly suggesting Fox could become the market leader.
Would The MCU Have Expanded With Competition?
It's important not to overstate Fox's competitive advantages, though, because Marvel Studios has always been highly responsive to changes in the market. When Warner Bros. announced Batman V Superman in 2013, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige decided the time was right to pivot to more ambitious ideas such as Captain America: Civil War. He'd presumably have made the same kind of decision a couple of years earlier in this scenario, and it's reasonable to assume the tail-end of Phase 2 and the entirety of Phase 3 would have looked completely different. What's more, while the loss of Civil War and Secret Invasion arcs would have been a blow to Marvel, it wouldn't have been fatal. Marvel has literally decades worth of comic book stories to draw upon for inspiration, including a whole host of events that don't involve any Fox properties at all, and so couldn't possibly be compromised by Fox's plans.
The real impact, however, would have been on the DCEU. Warner Bros. was already left playing catch-up after the success of The Avengers, and the first few DCEU movies were constantly contrasted with Marvel. Now, Warner Bros. would have been the third studio to try to launch a shared cinematic universe rather than the second, and their Batman V Superman pitch would have felt imitative of Fox's versus blockbuster. The DCEU would have had an even more troubled beginning because of Fox's competition, and it may never have been able to establish itself at all.
The X-Men/Fantastic Four Civil War plot has clear potential, but at the same time it's easy to understand why Fox didn't actually take that approach. 2011's X-Men: First Class proved that the X-Men franchise could still perform well in the box office, and the Fantastic Four brand just wasn't quite strong enough; Fox would have risked damaging the X-Men if they committed to this crossover. The studio don't seem to have been entirely persuaded by Stentz and Miller's take on the FF either; when they hired Josh Trank as director of Fantastic Four, he was given the OK to rewrite the script completely. It's easy to criticize Fox for these decisions - especially in light of the box office failure of Trank's film in 2015 - but at the same time, they were certainly understandable.
- New Mutants (2020) release date: Apr 03, 2020