The attempted reboot of the Fantastic Four movie franchise was a dismal failure this weekend. What might that mean for FOX going forward?
FOX executives were hoping for better results for its new Fantastic Four film. Weekend box office was barely half of even the most pessimistic forecasts. Reviews were routinely weak. Exit polling of those brave souls who turned up at theaters this weekend was highly discouraging. Director Josh Trank has publicly trashed the finish product, claiming studio meddling.
North American receipts for the opening weekend of Fantastic Four were estimated at just north of $26 million. The film had a production budget pegged at about $120 million. Add in marketing and distribution costs and the movie needs global receipts well north of $200 million to break even, never mind turn a profit. With a disastrous start and poor word of mouth, it seems highly unlikely that the international box office will save Fantastic Four.
So what does FOX do now? FOX holds the movie rights to Marvel’s X-Men and Fantastic Four properties. After the X-movies hit a bit of a stumble a few years back, FOX righted that ship with the successful First Class, Days of Future Past and The Wolverine. With Fantastic Four, FOX hoped to finally jumpstart that languishing property and craft its own franchise of Marvel movies to rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. This failure puts the Fantastic Four part of that equation in serious jeopardy.
It’s no secret that the Fantastic Four rights nearly lapsed a couple years ago. FOX managed to start a new production barely in time to keep the rights from reverting to Marvel. Given the finished product, contentions that the current Fantastic Four amounts to a “spite” film are difficult to discount. What are FOX’s options moving forward?
After the two underperforming Tim Story movies of a decade ago and the outright failure of the current Josh Trank-directed version, that FOX could greenlight another Fantastic Four movie is all but unthinkable. Going forward with a sequel would be the epitome of economic irresponsibility. That kind of move would cost executives their jobs.
FOX could just allow the movie rights to revert to Marvel (or even actively surrender them, if they wanted to definitively move on). In the past few years, Marvel re-acquired rights to many characters that had been held at other studios thanks to licensing deals that long preceded the founding of Marvel Studios. There’s precedent for other companies allowing the rights to flow back to Marvel after unsuccessful movies left sequels untenable. It would be the easiest route.
FOX could try to follow the Sony playbook and actively collaborate with Marvel Studios. After Sony’s last Spiderman movie didn’t quite match creative or financial targets (though it turned a profit), Sony struck a rather smart deal with Marvel, one that allows Spiderman to appear in MCU films. At the same time, Sony gets access to the creative and marketing talent responsible for the astounding MCU winning streak to help craft future solo Spiderman movies and spin-offs.
The difference is that the Marvel/Sony relationship never seemed to deteriorate to the level that the Marvel/FOX relationship has. At least not publicly. FOX supporters have charged Marvel with trying to sabotage the Fantastic Four reboot by minimizing the characters’ prominence in its publishing and merchandise lines, even benching the regular series with no re-launch date announced. Marvel fans, meanwhile, point out FOX’s unwillingness to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation or to lend popular X-Men and Fantastic Four characters for use in MCU films. It’s difficult envisioning the two studios working together based on recent history.
FOX’s other option would be to deploy the Fantastic Four into its X-Men franchise, to keep the FF characters in play. Whether that would preserve FOX’s rights to the characters is a gray area. It would be using the characters in a movie, but it wouldn’t be a “Fantastic Four movie.” That might not be enough to reset the clock to keep the rights from reverting to Marvel. It would depend on the wording of the FOX/Marvel contract. While it could be a time-buying business move for FOX, injecting characters from an instantly notorious cinematic bomb into its successfully rejuvenated X-movie universe would be a creative blunder. It’s difficult imagining the creators of the X-movies demonstrating any enthusiasm for that course.
FOX has some serious thinking to do and important decisions to make. They need to examine what they hope to accomplish with Fantastic Four movies and if those goals are remotely realistic.
The argument is growing stronger that FOX and the Fantastic Four might each be better served going their separate ways.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on August 10, 2015.