The ‘Fantastic Four’ Reboot Could Kill the Comic-Book Movie Craze

The comic book movie craze unofficially began in the summer of 2000, when X-Men hit theaters. By the time the Tobey Maguire-led Spider-Man trilogy ended seven years later, audiences were hooked. What followed were groundbreaking films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man, disappointments like Green Lantern, and even a comedy starring Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet. 

More recently, Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and Marvel have raised the bar with their cinematic universe, but nothing lasts forever. Whether it's the recent lack of Westerns or influx of zombies, pop culture, and Hollywood in particular, often experience ebbs and flows when it comes to subject matter. So maybe it's time to ask: When will the comic book movie craze end?

The movie that could end it all
In this genre, the four horsemen of the apocalypse might arrive in the form of Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, the Invisible Woman, and the Human Torch -- the members of the Fantastic Four. Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA  ) is rebooting the franchise, and plans to release the first installment next summer.

Remember them?

The original 'Fantastic Four,' circa 2005. IMP Awards.

The original Fantastic Four debuted in 2005, and made a respectable $330 million on a budget of $100 million. But critical reviews were awful -- a 27% approval rating, per Rotten Tomatoes -- and the sequel, Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, was equally bad quality-wise.

The reboot, tentatively titled The Fantastic Four, promises a younger look at the super group. Kate Mara of House of Cards fame, and Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller of That Awkward Moment have already signed on to star, with Josh Trank, best known for 2012's Chronicle, set to direct.

What could go wrong?
It's easy to think the original films' financial success means the reboot is headed for blue skies. Fellow Fool Daniel Kline uses this logic to project that The Fantastic Four "will be a hit," but he ignores a sign of potential doom: superhero fatigue.

The 2003 version of Hulk, for example, was introduced two decades after Lou Ferrigno's reign as the green guy ended. Superman Returns came 19 years after Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Even Chris Evans' Captain America appeared much later than his early '90s straight-to-video peer.

The Fantastic Four, on the other hand, is scheduled for release less than 10 years after the first iteration hit theaters. And that film's most entertaining protagonist -- Evans (far left in the picture above) -- now embodies one of The Fantastic Four's biggest competitors. As the length of time between originals and reboots continues to shrink, it's possible movie-goers will simply grow bored. Or perhaps more likely, fans will refuse to accept new faces in the same roles they can remember other actors playing.

Superhero fatigue is arguably what derailed The Wolverine's debut last year, and similar complaints were levied against The Amazing Spider-Man. While fans still showed up in droves to see those movies, both had quality, well-recieved predecessors to generate buzz. All Fox's reboot has is the bad taste Fantastic Four left in critics' mouths the first time around.

The larger plan
As Io9 wrote recently, Fox's ultimate goal is to create a "megafranchise" by following the blueprint Disney and Marvel have created. The company's rights allow it to combine mutants with The Fantastic Four, but at the box office, the X-Men are hardly the Avengers.

Of the world's highest grossing movies, two Marvel films (Iron Man 3 and The Avengers) are among the top five. The X-Men aren't even represented in the top 100. Although talk of a Wolverine cameo in The Fantastic Four makes for good press, it's silly to pretend Fox has the ability to craft its own version of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. The X-Men are a very, very poor man's version of The Avengers.

Io9 said it best:

The MCU has built excitement from film to film, partly based on the idea that they're all one cohesive storyline ... and the X-Men movies, basically, already have the most laughable continuity you could imagine. Try to reconcile the original trilogy with the Wolverine origins film and First Class — you can't. These films were made by people who see continuity as a shorthand for "Hugh Jackman always shows up."

Looking ahead 
A final, potentially damning factor that may affect The Fantastic Four is competition. As of now, the movie is set to be released in the same summer as Marvel's Ant-ManThe Avengers: Age of UltronMad Max: Fury RoadFast and the Furious 7Terminator: Genesis, and The Bourne Identity 5, and in the same month as Jurassic World.

With Star Wars: Episode VII coming out that winter, it's possible 2015 will be the biggest year for movies ever -- not what I'd want to contend with if I were Fox, regardless of the problems detailed above.

At the end of the day, though, superhero fatigue is this genre's gravest danger. And as more studios try to craft "megafranchises," the level of risk will only intensify. Anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a bright future, but for the sake of all other comic book movies to come, The Fantastic Four needs to get it right because eventually, audiences might stop paying for garbage.

If that happens, and trust is lost between filmmakers and their fans, the comic book movie craze could be over ... for good.

My colleague Daniel Kline disagrees. Read his take here.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 4:01 AM, Interventizio wrote:

    Critics don't know anything about the spirit of the Fantastic Four comic: that playful, joyful atmosphere well represented by the pranks between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. The movies (especially the first one, which I liked the most) captured this spirit perfectly. The critics should only be reviewing Oscar-mature drama movies and live entertainment movies to the judgement of the public.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 4:01 AM, Interventizio wrote:

    Critics don't know anything about the spirit of the Fantastic Four comic: that playful, joyful atmosphere well represented by the pranks between Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm. The movies (especially the first one, which I liked the most) captured this spirit perfectly. The critics should only be reviewing Oscar-mature drama movies and live entertainment movies to the judgement of the public.

  • Report this Comment On April 20, 2014, at 5:41 AM, manifestpanda wrote:

    While I agree that the public might not buy into what Fox is selling when it comes to the next few years for their superhero movies, I don't think it has anything to do with the genre being financially unstable. The examples you provided to justify the point of this article are really off base. Sure, there might have been decades long gaps between a live action hulk or captain america adaption but those are some terrible examples considering the Hulk hardly made it's money back and Captain America didn't do nearly as hot as some of the other Phase 1 movies.

    From what I can tell, fans and audiences are buying tickets for the MCU movies because they trust the studio to move the story forward, and not backwards with endless reboots. Fox is getting by with the X-men films, but they're not seeing any growth. They have yet to produce an x-men film with a box office gross of 500 million, and Days of Future past is going to be Fox's most expensive film since Avatar and more expensive than Disney's Avengers. Don't blame a movie that barely just cast it's leads for the potential demise of a multi billion dollar film genre. So 20th Century Fox might not be in the race anymore if their gamble is too risky, and the FF movie might tank as well due to bad production and poor advertising. For god's sake their entire supporting casts' rights are over at Disney, Universal, and Sony. No Black Panther, Namor, She-Hulk, or Inhumans to interact with for Marvel's first family.

    Also, the entire crux of your argument is that a reboot coming out so soon will hurt the public's interest in Superhero films. Doesn't work like that pal, The Spider-Man reboot made like 600 million dollars and other spandex crusaders are still breaking box office records. Even if the MCU stumbles too many times in the future to recover from, that won't stop Warner Bros and other studios from cashing in on their characters. Superhero movies were being made before there was proof it was financially viable, and now that they define the summer movie season it's hard to believe we're anywhere near the end.

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