Movies That Never Were – Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four

This week on Movies That Never Were we’re going to look at a Movie that actual was. That movie is 1994’s The Fantastic Four and whilst actually it was finished it has never been officially released. Sure, there are bootlegs out there, I remember picking up a VHS of it years and years ago but officially? This film doesn’t exist and as such it’s definitely something of a curiosity.

Our tale this week beings in way back 1983 at a meeting between German producer Bernd Eichinger and Stan Lee to discuss the former obtaining the rights to make a live action Fantastic Four movie. The rights weren’t actually up for grabs until 1986 (they were already licensed out at that point) so Eichinger had to wait. Come 1986 and Neue Constantin Film, owned by Eichinger, obtained the rights for a sum he described as “not enormous” which was most likely less than $250,000. Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures were interested in working with Neue Constantin to provide financial backing but they thought that the film would need a far bigger budget than they were prepared to provide.

Neue’s rights expired on December 31st 1992 and with that deadline approaching they asked Marvel for an extension but Marvel said no. The film had to be in production by that date or else the rights would revert back to Marvel. In September 1992 Neue hired B-Movie legend Roger Corman who agreed to produce the film on a shoestring $1million budget.

Production officially began on December 28th 1992, just in the nick of time, with music video director Oley Sassone hired to direct. The 21 day shoot was filmed predominantly at Concorde Pictures soundstage in California. The cast comprised of pretty much no-one you’ve ever heard of which helped keep costs low.

The film endured months of post production once filming had wrapped but was still beset by budget issues. David and Eric Wurst, the films composers, used $6,000 of their own money to hire the orchestra for the sound track. That’s how tight things got. But with it being in production Neue kept the rights from defaulting back to Marvel.

A 1993 article in Wizard magazine gave a tentative release date of September 3rd 1993. During the summer of 1993 trailers did actually run in some cinemas and the cast were at San Diego Comic-Con International (not as big an event as it is today but still the highlight of the comics calandar) to promote the film. It was here that the film was given it’s “official” premier date of January 19th 1994 at the Mall of America (the then newly opened and largest mall in America) in Minneapolis. Imagine Meadowhall in Sheffield but 12 times as big and you’re close. They even announced that Ronald McDonald House, a charity ran by McDonalds to help kids in need, would be the charity they would be collecting for at said Premier.

It’s here where dates get a little fuzzy but at some point in late 1993 Eichinger informed the director Sassone that the film would not be released. Rumours quickly started, and they continue to this day, that the film only went in to production to let Eichinger keep the movie rights to the FF. Stan Lee is adamant that the movie was never meant to be shown and said it was unfair that he, the cast, and the crew, were not told this and had to find out the hard way.

Corman and Eichinger dismissed Stan Lee’s claim and  said that they had a contract to release the film but someone bought them out.

So what exactly happened?

Well in 1993 Avi Arad became the main executive at Marvel Comics in a move that saw Marvel merge with ToyBiz and finally become a financially stable company. Given the financial mess Marvel was in at that time it’s very true to say that without Avi Arad Marvel most likely wouldn’t be here today.

Apparently Avi Arad rang up Corman and Eichinger and said look what you did was great, it shows you love the FF, I understand all the time and money you’ve both invested, so let’s do a deal. That deal? He bought the film from Corman and Eichinger and ordered that all prints were to be destroyed. Why did he do that? Well in essence he felt that a very low budget movie was going to hurt the franchise and hurt Marvel themselves. This was a time where DC Comics were releasing big budget Batman films every few years (of ever decreasing quality admittedly) so they were rightly worried.

Reports vary but it’s said Arad bought the film for between $2-$3 million. Interstingly, however, because this film DID get made (even if not released) it guaranteed that Eichinger kept the rights to the Fantastic Four. 2004 saw the release of the first big budget Fantastic Four movie which was interestingly enough produced by Eichinger and his company, now called Constantin Film, and was released by 20th Century Fox.

So seeing as this one actually got made, and bootlegs are easily obtainable plus the whole thing is on YouTube, perhaps the question here then is it any good?

You’d imagine that a film shot for just $1million with a no-name cast would be truly awful but you’d be wrong. Admittedly most of the acting is decidedly wooden, the special effects are not special in the slightest, and the sets and costume look incredibly cheap but… The script is strong and the film has heart. This is easily, hands down, the best live action take on The Fantastic Four we’ve seen so far. Despite the many flaws it is definitely a diamond in the rough so it’s well worth a watch especially if you like your budgets with lower production values than most modern fan films.

I think that there is a perfect Fantastic Four film out there just waiting to be made but I think the only way it’ll ever happen is if the FF are brought in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Stranger things have happened True Believers.