The last attempt to launch a Fantastic Four franchise by Twentieth Century Fox (NASDAQ:FOX) was brought down not by a super villain but by something that has defeated countless films -- bad timing.
The movie with its light, playful tone, bright colors, and cast of vaguely familiar mostly TV stars was released on July 8, 2005, three weeks after Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins changed public perception as to what a superhero film could be. That meant that while public interest in the Fantastic Four characters was high, the actual film was sure to disappoint and kill the franchise before it even started. It's similar to how the rise of Nirvana made '80s hair metal bands look insincere. There was nothing wrong with Fantastic Four but it was a pre-Batman Begins living in a post Batman Begins world.
With its upcoming reboot of the franchise, Fox has a chance to reach the Fantastic Four fans who turned out for the first movie but were disappointed enough to lose interest and send its sequel to lower overall box office.
Fantastic Four was a hit last time
While the 2005 movie was not the hit Fox may have hoped for, it actually did almost as well as Batman Begins, taking in $330 million in global box office while the Dark Knight's film took in $374 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Four also had an estimated $100 million budget to Batman's $150 million, IMDB reported. Neither was The Avengers, but both Fantastic Four and Batman Begins were successful.
Where things went wrong was 2007's Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, which kept most of the now clearly out-of-tune elements from the first movie, taking in only $289 million globally. By comparison, the second Batman film, The Dark Knight, crossed the billion-dollar mark at the global box office.
The cast is not a problem
There has been a fair amount of Internet chatter over the decision to cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm/The Human Torch because the comic book version of Storm is not black, which Jordan is. The character is also the brother of Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, who will be played by the decidedly white Kate Mara. Though this particular story line "problem" can be explained away easily enough (mixed-race parents, adoption) the controversy should help the new film. If there was any audience question that the 2015 Fantastic Four is a reboot -- not a sequel -- some fanboy casting outrage will take care of that.
More important than the controversy is that the first film had only one semi-legitimate movie star in the core cast -- Jessica Alba, who is more a famous person who appears in movies than a movie star. The rest of the previous Four and the villain, Dr. Doom, were played by either unknowns (Chris Evans as The Human Torch well before his Captain America fame) or established TV actors, like Michael Chiklis who played The Thing.
The new movie will star Miles Teller, Jamie Bell, Mara, and Jordan who are either rising movie stars (with Jordan's career being particularly ascendant) or edgy stars of breakout hits (Mara stars in Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX) House of Cards). The cast of the first movie felt like it was a well-stocked TV movie of the week, whereas the new film has a cast that makes it feel like an event film -- a young, hip take on The Avengers cast.
"The new cast may not be household names or A-listers, but in terms of a next-generation 'best of class,' it can't be beat," The Hollywood Reporter wrote when the casting became public.
Fantastic Four will be a hit
When the first FF film was released it was not only pre-Batman trilogy, it was also pre-Iron Man. The public demand for and acceptance of big-ticket superhero films has grown exponentially. Avengers did $1.5 billion in global box office -- and as long as your movie does not star The Hulk, north of $400 million has become common for superhero films. The first Fantastic Four showed that the public has an interest in these characters and if that film had been better -- or even released a few months sooner -- it might have been closer to a $500 million hit.
Rise of the Silver Surfer only doing slightly worse than its predecessor showed that even after a failed first film there was public interest in the adventures of these characters. That audience will come out to sample the reboot and if the movie is good it will be a hit. Of course a bad movie can spike the series, but with the cast in place and the wealth of stories in the FF universe available, it seems likely that Fox will deliver a movie that's true to the characters but not as instantly dated as the previous film instantly was.
As is often the case, my colleague Jake Mann disagrees with me, going so far as to claim it could kill the comic-book movie craze. Read his take here.