This story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The reviews and box office for the latest Fantastic Four movie have not been good, but at least the franchise has a fantastic backstory. Twentieth Century Fox made the new version and released two other films based on the Marvel superhero team in 2005 and 2007. But the Four with the strangest fate was made more than two decades ago and never released. Three weeks before its scheduled 1994 premiere at Minneapolis’ Mall of America, the film was permanently shelved.
The first Four had gone into production in 1992 because the movie rights held by Bernd Eichinger‘s Germany-based Neue Constantin Film would revert to Marvel unless Neue had a film in production before Dec. 31, 1992. Neue couldn’t get a big-budget version going with a major studio so the company turned to Roger Corman, who specialized in low-budget, rapidly made films. “They had a script for a film with a $30 million budget but wanted to make it for $1 million,” says Corman, 89. “My first thought was ‘Now that’s a challenge. We might have to trim a few things.’ “
The film was rushed into production five days before Neue’s option ran out. Once it was completed, the German company had 90 days to buy out Corman’s distribution rights, which, surprisingly, it did. “I went to lunch with Bernd, who told me he’d sold both the film and the rights to Fox, who was going to make a $60 million version and they didn’t want this low-budget movie around,” recalls Corman. “I was kind of disappointed because it would have been an interesting challenge to distribute, but I was sitting there with a pretty hefty check.”
Fox’s planned film, with Chris Columbus directing, never went into production. “That the movie was denied its moment in the sun allowed it to become something of cinema legend,” says the 1994 film’s star Alex Hyde-White, “which it probably would not have attained otherwise.” Though the film was said to have been destroyed, it lives on via YouTube and is the subject of the upcoming documentary Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four.