CORMANIA!!! Two Cents Film Club Gazes Upon the Ill-Fated FANTASTIC FOUR (1994)

1994’s unreleased Marvel movie is the subject of this week’s Roger Corman Retrospective

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

Long before Warner Brothers repulsively canceled the release of a completed DC Batgirl movie to write off as a loss, Marvel had their own cinematic late-term abortion: a low-budget Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four movie that was announced and completed, but withdrawn immediately before its planned release. For many years, a leaked version of the film was a holy grail for collectors scouring tape-trading circles and seedy booths at comic and sci-fi conventions, before the internet eventually opened up its availability to anyone curious enough to give it a watch.

Reports and opinions vary on whether the film was ever truly even intended to release, with a prevalent notion held by many (including Stan Lee) that the film was produced solely as a means of the property’s rights-holder Bernd Eichinger to retain the license, lest it would lapse. (If so, it worked – Eichinger would go on to produce the blockbuster 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four films directed by Tim Story).

Ostensibly fearing that the lackluster finished project would sully the Marvel Comics brand, an agreement was reached to cancel the ill-fated project – with Avi Arad purchasing the finished film from Corman and overseeing its destruction.

One thing that’s certain, though, is that while men in suits were doing shady business, the film’s unfortunate cast and crew genuinely believed they were making a real movie and were robbed of its release.

Ed Travis

Corman’s The Fantastic Four falls into that uncanny space of “not as bad as I was expecting after years of rumors, but still not good” that only so many movies can really ever fall into. I actually have childhood memories of seeing images of The Thing and Doctor Doom on the cover of some Starlog or Fangoria type of magazine on a rack at a mall bookstore and then had all these high expectations, only for the film to never come out and exist only in whisper and legend as infamously terrible and unreleasable.

So it was a thrill to finally check out the movie (I assume I watched a bootleg link or something as I believe it’s never been officially released?). Honestly, even if I’ve never been a huge Fantastic 4 guy, but the film kind of works in the way that something like a Disney Channel sitcom works. It’s digestible, has a beginning, middle, and end, is inoffensive and family friendly, and has a cool costume, a laugh here and there, and a neat set or two. But imagine a Power Rangers episode stretched into feature length that also isn’t good at action or martial arts in any way, and that’s what you’ve got with this one.

I’m glad I put my childhood curiosity to rest and viewed it as part of this Corman exploration we’re doing together, but no one really needs to seek this out as it’s just kind of a competent project that offers neither thrills, nor chills. Flame… eh?

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

The legend of The Fantastic Four looms large, and generally outweighs the rather inoffensive and ho-hum movie that’s neither as bad as its often made out to be, nor good enough to warrant any kind of reappraisal. It’s also neither the best nor worst Fantastic Four movie; it’s certainly better than the well-crafted but charmless 2015 film.

The story of the film’s unorthodox journey into cult oddity (which is recounted in the very worthwhile documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four) is ultimately more interesting to me than the film itself, and though I was mulling over what it says about Corman as a producer, it’s not really clear. It seems he may have just been caught in the middle of Marvel’s bad business.

The film itself is merely okay, clearly straining against its budget but delivering something at times tonally similar to (but much cheaper than) contemporary fare like The Shadow and Batman Returns, most noticeably in scenes featuring the Penguin-esque secondary villain “The Jeweler” (whom I initially mistook for Mole Man) and his gang. I actually found the film’s cheap special effects endearingly silly, and felt the costumed version of “The Thing” is pretty effective, especially in consideration of the shoestring operation.

One callout, though – did we really need to see Sue Storm introduced as a child who crushed on a college-age Reed Richards? I get that she’s an adult later 10 years when the pair enter into a relationship, but was this really the best setup to tell this story? I would propose that it’s… not.

@VforVashaw on Xitter

Justin Harlan

As folks like Ed have already said on this post and beyond, this movie basically plays like an old school Power Rangers episode. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the lesser entries of that Saban classic series, as most episodes of MMPR are more compelling than 90% of this film. There weren’t a ton of truly memorable moments for me outside of Johnny Storm uttering the phrase “Holy Freud Batman!” when Reed proposed that the element that gave them their powers was turning their greatest perceived weaknesses into their greatest strengths.

The film is far less interesting than the story of the film. As Austin notes, Doomed! is a very worthwhile watch and follows the story of this film beginning to end. I recommend everyone watch that instead.

I do, however, always love when everyone’s favorite Police Academy Commandant, one Eric Lassard, makes an appearance. So I guess, there’s that too.

(@thepaintedman on Xitter)


Our June block of films pays respect to legendary independent producer and director Roger Corman, who passed away in May. We’ve covered many of his films before, including here on Two Cents, but for Cormania, we’ve curated an eclectic lineup of films that we feel say something about him not only as a producer and director, but as a rebel and visionary as well.

Got something to say? We’d love to have you join us!

Final Selection:
June 24 – LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960) 

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