How Marvel Lucked Out by Shelving 'Inhumans' Movie

The film was supposed to open Friday, but the property has taken a nosedive in TV and comics over the past few years.

In another world, Friday would’ve been the day when Marvel Studios released Inhumans, the big-screen version of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby characters introduced in 1965’s Fantastic Four No. 45. Four years ago, Marvel Studios announced an Inhumans movie for a Nov. 2, 2018, release, but its lack of existence might be the best news for Marvel Studios given what else the property has suffered through during that period.

Inhumans was named as the penultimate movie of Marvel Studios’ Phase 3 plans back in October 2014, after months of rumors. Those rumors were fed, in part, by the publishing focus on the property, with the Inhumans being brought to the fore in a storyline called “Inhumanity,” which was described as having “seismic” effects on the Marvel Comic Book Universe by then-editor-in-chief Axel Alonso.

Despite the best efforts of Marvel’s comic book creative staff — and a number of crossover issues with multiple popular titles — that seismic impact was never truly felt, in what might have been the first sign of how poorly the property was going to fare across media over the next few years. Inhuman was postponed, and then went through a change in writers at the last minute, with Matt Fraction being replaced by Charles Soule. It was a switch explained by Alonso in a manner that once again emphasized the importance of the project: “The series that Matt wanted to write would have been good," Alonso said, "but it was not the series we need to lay the foundation for this new universe within the Marvel Universe.”

Inhumans was not the foundation of a new universe within the Marvel Universe; despite heavy promotion, sales were poor and the series was canceled within a year, only to be immediately replaced by two series, Uncanny Inhumans and All-New Inhumans, continuing the storyline. Sales remained low but Uncanny was the more successful of the two, lasting 20 issues — All-New only survived through 11 — before being canceled and once again relaunched with 2017’s Royals and Black Bolt as part of a promotion shared with the X-Men line. Both of those replacements were canceled within a year, and replaced with a five-part miniseries that suggested publishing was finished with the property for a while: Death of the Inhumans.

Meanwhile, while the comic book incarnation of the characters were failing to find success, the movie was similarly troubled. It was pushed back to July 2019 as a result of the Sony/Marvel deal for Spider-Man: Homecoming in February 2015, only to later be removed from the release schedule altogether. Although Marvel Studios offered no official explanation for that latter move, the reason became clear in November 2016 when Marvel and ABC announced the Inhumans TV series, an eight-episode miniseries produced in connection with Imax, with the first two episodes debuting in Imax theaters as a stand-alone movie.

The series was played up by all parties as a big deal, with Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood telling The Hollywood Reporter that it was “a quadruple win — a win for Imax, a win for Marvel, a win for ABC Studios and a win for ABC to launch a show in an innovative way and get attention.” There were only two problems: The show was very bad, and no one was interested, despite the Marvel brand.

Described by critics as, alternately, “boring,” “cheap,” “a disappointment on every level” and “the worst Marvel adaptation of the year,” Inhumans’ unique release schedule meant that it managed to flop on two different platforms: It flopped in its Imax debut, being outearned by a rerelease of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and its television ratings were little better. Unsurprisingly, the show wasn’t renewed for a second season, and the characters haven’t been seen in any other Marvel production since.

Given the continued failure of the Inhumans in other media, the lack of the big-budget movie Marvel had announced might be considered a lucky escape for the studio. After all, 10 years into its existence, Marvel hasn’t really suffered a flop yet. Looking at how successful Inhumans has been elsewhere, this might have been the movie to end Marvel’s winning streak. It’s probably for the best the movie didn’t happen.