Can Fox’s Fantastic Four Escape Irrelevance and Compete with Today’s Cinematic Heroes?

Fox's first two 'Fantastic' movies proved to be duds, but a reboot is set to debut in 2015. Will the property find its footing on the silver screen?

Feb 27, 2014 at 1:19PM

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Superhero movies are the film industry's current fixation. With wide appeal and the potential for massive returns, it's easy to see why. Comic book heroics make an easy transition to increasingly lucrative foreign markets and have the potential to reach all manner of demographics. That said, some studios have had much more success than others. While Disney (NYSE:DIS) is the clear winner of the superhero boom, Time Warner has also scored billion-dollar hits from films in the "Batman" franchise. Meanwhile, Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) has had a much more difficult time cashing in on its superhero properties.

While Fox's "X-Men" films have found varying degrees of success, the company has been unable to create traction with its "Fantastic Four" efforts. Now, after two films that can be largely written off as disappointments, the studio hopes to improve the value of its license with a reboot. Will Fox be able to make The Fantastic Four relevant in the world of superhero movies?

Less than fantastic

2005's Fantastic Four brought in approximately $330 million internationally on a production budget of around $100 million. This was apparently enough to greenlight a sequel in the universe, which arrived in 2007 with Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The sequel's disappointing box office take of approximately $289 million proved damaging enough to end the series and kick off plans for a reboot. Actor Chris Evans went from playing Johnny Storm to Captain America, and the success of "Batman" and The Avengers made it easy for the filmgoing public to forget that the "Fantastic" films had ever existed.

An absence of fun for the whole family

Fox's two attempts at making the Fantastic Four universe work on film hinged on delivering family friendly films. While the first movie in the series released as a PG-13 actioner, Rise of the Silver Surfer was light enough to receive a PG rating. Anything below PG-13 has been a rarity for comic book properties, and it is unlikely that other studios will take additional cracks at Fox's kid-centric approach. 2015's Fantastic Four reboot is set to star Kate Mara, Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, and Michael B. Jordan and will almost certainly take on a darker tone than 2007's Surfer.

That won't be enough to steer the property to success.

Can anyone make a good Fantastic Four movie?



It's worth questioning whether The Fantastic Four are a good fit for the silver screen. There is an innate goofiness to the super troop that encouraged Fox to take the series in a lighter direction with Surfer, and this will create obstacles to moving the series in a different direction. Its characters are ill-suited for gritty adaptations. A team consisting of a man with the elasticity of rubber, a flaming wisecracker, a rock golem whose most notable contribution to pop culture is the line, "It's clobbering time," and a woman whose namesake stems from not being seen may not be the best starting point for a successful film series.

Disney's relative unknowns could clobber The Fantastic Four

With Fox working to reboot the Fantastics, Disney is looking to create a franchise around another space-faring team. Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy is positioned for an Aug. 1 release and will be a test to see if the studio can deliver a hit with a lesser-known comic book property. The film will feature the likes of Chris Pratt, Zoey Saldana, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, and WWE wrestler Dave Batista in an intergalactic adventure that could be one of summer's breakout hits. The considerable hype that has already been built for the film is evidence that an established brand isn't necessary to create interest in a comic book film. It also shows just how strong the Marvel name is at present.

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Contractual obligation

Fox will continue to pop out Fantastic Four movies to prevent the film rights from reverting back to Marvel, but if the upcoming reboot turns in a Silver Surfer-esque performance, the company would be better off trying to sell the property back. There is a limit to how often these series can be rebooted before they need to lie fallow for a decade or two. The Fantastic Four may have good name recognition, but Guardians of the Galaxy is looking like a better box office bet.

How much are the Fantastic Four worth to Fox?

The first two "Fantastic" films left a bad taste in the mouths of critics and audiences alike. If the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot proves to be the third disappointment in a 10-year span, Fox would be better off shopping the property to Disney. Perhaps the Marvel cinematic universe would offer a more suitable stomping ground for the underachieving super-team.

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Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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