Roger Corman is a master of working with limited time and money. He’s heralded as the King of B Movies and preaches a practice of putting all of the money on the screen, not wasting it on lavish expenses elsewhere. Despite having never won a traditional Academy Award, he won an honorary one in 2010 for his contributions to the film industry. He launched the film careers of Ron Howard (as a director), Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, William Shatner, James Horner, and many more. He has produced 412 films so far, but only one was never released (and before you ask, it’s not a bad film). This is the story of that one film.
Perhaps doomed from the start, The Fantastic Four was directed by Oley Sasson, and starred Alex Hyde-White as Mister Fantastic, Rebecca Staab as The Invisible Woman, Jay Underwood as The Human Torch, Michael Bailey Smith as The Thing (with Carl Ciarfalio as the suit performer), and Joseph Culp as Doctor Doom, with a score by David and Eric Wurst reminiscent of The Rocketeer and Vertigo. You’re probably familiar with their story by now, either via the 59 years of comics, 4 animated series, 3 released films, or all of the above. A group of 4 friends accidentally gain very different powers and fight a few bad guys, it’s not a complicated story, it’s just a tried and true super hero formula. The film was finished in 1994, but never released.
What sets this Fantastic Four film apart from the other 3 is that it never over-promises and under-delivers. The other Fantastic Four films had huge budgets, and as far as big budget films are concerned, were a disappointment. This film sets expectations early, meeting them well and consistently throughout, and I think that’s part of its charm, as with all good Corman films. To quote Roger Corman, “One of the worst things you can do is have a limited budget and try to do some big looking film.” It won’t wow you, but it won’t disappoint you either. And the good news is, you don’t have to take my word for it, you can watch it yourself!
The story of this film’s fate is indeed a sad one. Depending on who you talk to, it was never intended to be released, a decision that was kept from everyone involved in its production. The general consensus is that the film was produced solely to maintain the filming rights, which were set to expire soon if no film was produced. This is largely why Corman, who was also unaware of the scheme, was brought onboard as a producer for his well-know skill of working with limited time and money. Everyone involved in the production of this film expected it to be the next blockbuster superhero film, they were even in the middle of marketing and convention appearances when Marvel Comics purchased all copies of the film and destroyed them.
At the time, Marvel wasn’t doing well in the film industry. While DC Comics produced the incomparable Batman, Marvel produced the laughable Captain America. Marvel desperately needed to bring everything in-house, no matter what the cost, no matter how shady the scheme. And, say what you will about the tactics, it’s hard to argue with the results.
The unreleased Fantastic Four film, produced on a budget of $1 million, was likely written off as a production expense on the following film’s $100 million budget. Fortunately, one copy managed to escape the purge and lives on as a frequently duplicated bootleg. This is a good film, a lot of people worked really hard on it, and it deserves to be seen. You can watch The Fantastic Four via the YouTube video embedded above or download it from The Internet Archive.
If you’d like to know more about what happened, watch Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four on Amazon Video, and if you’d like to know more about Roger Corman, watch Cult-Tastic: Tales From The Trenches With Roger and Julie Corman for free on ShoutFactoryTV. If you want to see other films produced by Roger Corman, you can find many of them for free on ShoutFactoryTV. I hope you enjoy The Fantastic Four as much as I do!