For a certain group of fans the desire for Fantastic Four to flop has been strong. They believe that, should the movie tank, the rights to Marvel's First Family will revert to Marvel. Before this week I would have (and often did) said it would never happen, but Josh Trank's ill-advised tweet saying the final film didn't reflect his vision has turned a movie that is failing at the box office into a tabloid story. Now all bets are off.
This is the second time Fox has tried to do Fantastic Four, and this production was at least partially inspired by the fact that the studio's deal with Marvel requires them to produce a new film with the property every few years. That was also the reasoning behind the infamous, unreleased Roger Corman version - an attempt to hold on to rights. Now that this new movie is out, even as a bomb, Fox retains those rights for a few more years. But what happens next?
Fox could decide to put their head down and carry on. They have a great cast, one that is surely locked in for three pictures. The film ends with the Fantastic Four as a team with a new base (called Central City, in a very insidery reference to the location of the events of Fantastic Four #1) and a sequel - which has been dated by Fox - could just pick up with that and run. There are a lot of problems with the back of half of Fantastic Four, but I think all of that is totally surmountable in a sequel that softly sidesteps what didn't work (let's say we put some pants on The Thing next time) and dives into more of a superheroic story that truly utilizes what the Fantastic Four license offers.
The problem, of course, is that this would cost money - money Fox didn't even want to spend on this film. So while it would be awesome to see The Watcher show up and Galactus arrive as something other than a cloud, there's no way Fox would follow up a failure by simply throwing more money at it.
So does Fox just quietly let the rights lapse? Do they simply sit on the property for six or seven years and when the time comes do nothing, allowing Marvel to get back their First Family in the 2020s, after Phase Three ends? I have to admit that the idea of a Fantastic Four entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Infinity War seems too back-asswards for me to comprehend - it's like saying Superman arrived on Earth after Batman had already been at it for twenty years. That 'First' in 'First Family' isn't an honorific.
Does Fox go and work out a Sony-type deal with Marvel Studios? I'm sure that there's a contingency plan at Marvel for just such a thing, and adding the Fantastic Four to Infinity War seems like kind of a killer move. But any scenario where Marvel gets the rights back means a THIRD version in ten to fifteen years, and everybody's already groaning about Spider-Man and those movies have been basically successful. The stink on Fantastic Four is thick, and another reboot isn't going to change that.
I do wish I knew the exact parameters of the Fox/Marvel contract. Do the Fantastic Four need to headline their own movie, or can they share the spotlight? There had been rumors of an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover before this film tanked, but could that be Fox's saving throw? Again, I think this cast is strong - why not bring them back and pit them against the mutants? Dimension hopping is part of the premise of the new FanFour, so put that to work in a film where Reed opens a rift to Earth X-Men. This could be a way to rehabilitate this iteration of the Fantastic Four before giving them their own sequel. Prove to people that they like these actors in these roles.
I honestly don't know what will happen. Conventional Hollywood wisdom has Fox doing whatever they can to keep the rights - making a failure is bad, but giving your failure to someone else who makes it a hit is the ultimate black eye in this business. If the Fantastic Four returned to Marvel under Kevin Feige I would be intrigued, but by the time the contract is up Feige will likely have moved on. Will whoever succeeds him have his magic touch? Or will the Fantastic Four defeat yet another filmmaking team, this time at a different studio?
A week ago I would have said that, no matter what happened at the box office, Fox would try to keep Fantastic Four away from Marvel. But the Trank tweet, the seething schadenfraude surrounding it and the dismal box office - the film may barely top Pixels' dire opening - has totally changed the scenario. What happens next is going to be a journey into the unknown.