Fantastic Four Fizzled at the Box Office But Roger Corman’s ‘Lost’ Version is Here to Save The Day
This legendary unreleased film is schlocky, low-budget fun.
The newest reboot of Marvel’s Fantastic Fourlost the weekend battle of the box office to Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible. It came in second place, but for a summer tent-pole superhero feature from the Marvel Universe, that’s failure bordering on full-blown fiasco.
Critical takes on Four have been almost universally merciless. Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers provided one of the more colorful condemnations, saying that film “is worse than worthless. It not only scrapes the bottom of the barrel; it knocks out the floor and sucks audiences into a black hole of soul-crushing, coma-inducing dullness.”
This is the third time filmmakers have tried tapping this vein and given the reliability of Marvel franchises in recent years, it might be the most surprising.
Anyone with an appetite for kitsch or whatever delights there are in low-budget cinema might want to soothe bruises from the latest fantastic failure with a drunken gathering around Roger Corman’s storied, “unreleased” take on Fantastic Four, made in the early 1990s. IMDB’s synopsis of the plot is succinct: “In this Marvel Comic adaption, four astronauts get bombarded with cosmic rays when an accident occurs. The four of them acquire special powers, and decide to form a superhero group called the Fantastic Four. They then fight their arch-enemy Dr. Doom.”
In July Vulture produced a great remix of the once-lost flick’s trailer, which layers the current, brooding Dark Knight-like approach to supehero stories over Corman’s 70s Saturday morning live-action superhero TV show-level scenes:
The full film has been available online for some time. One version with the original trailer has been available on Youtube since 2011, and a slightly better quality copy was uploaded to DailyMotion in 2014.
Corman’s take on Fantastic Four was probably doomed the moment someone asked Stan Lee about at a convention in 1993, and he said, “I don’t think much of it.” Reporting on Doomed, a documentary about the first Four, Variety details its sad fate:
Principal photography wrapped in a speedy 28 days, but the film languished much longer in post-production, without any sign that the producers intended to actually finish it. Hoping to salvage their work, director Oley Sassone and editor Glenn Garland struggled to complete the movie in secret by borrowing rolls of film and cutting new footage on the sly.
The cast hired a publicist at their own expense to help promote the film, and a major public screening was eventually scheduled in 1994 at the Minnesota’s Mall of America. That premiere was cancelled at the last second, however, when the actors received a cease and desist order from the producers.
The film seemed gone then, negatives and all.
The copies found online reveal a straightforward enough story and sometimes surprisingly good music combined with acting styles that range from community theater-level Shakespeare scene-chewing to late-night infomercial flatness. However, it may have the one thing superhero movies sometimes lack–a sense of fun.