That poorly-received Fantastic Four movie isn’t the first reboot of the series, nor is it the most poorly received. Here’s a look at a 1994 version made just so its owners could hold on to copyright.
Marvel Studios is now a major movie producer in its own right, releasing a handful of big-budget movies each year based on characters like The Avengers, Iron Man, and Ant-Man. The latest superhero movie in theaters is Fantastic Four, a reboot of the 2005 movie series. But it’s not made by Marvel, it’s made by 20th Century Fox, which obtained the rights in the ‘90s, before Marvel Studios existed. And it’s a strange story how it got them.
In 1986, German film company Constantin Film bought the movie rights to the superhero team for $250,000. The purchase had the caveat that if the studio didn’t make a Fantastic Four movie by January 1, 1993, it would lose the rights. If Constantin did produce a movie, however, they’d keep the rights for another decade…or it could go ahead with its plan to sell them to 20th Century Fox, so that studio could make a Fantastic Four movie.
So, it rushed into a production The Fantastic Four, produced by B-movie king Roger Corman on a tiny $1 million budget. The film was advertised and promoted for release in 1994, but it never hit theaters. That’s because Constantin never intended to release it—it was a contractual obligation. Marvel later obtained all copies of the movie and ordered them destroyed…but bootlegs got out, and you can easily find it online.
Here are two other notable examples of what in the movie industry is called an “ashcan copy”:
The Dick Tracy TV Special
In 1990, Warren Beatty produced, directed, and starred in a big-screen version of Dick Tracy, based on the old crimefighter comic strip. Beatty still owns the rights, but they were scheduled to expire in 2008 if he didn’t make another Tracy film. He bought himself some time by making The Dick Tracy TV Special. It consists of footage from the first film intercut with scenes of film critic Leonard Maltin interviewing Beatty…in character as Dick Tracy. (It’s been aired frequently since 2010 on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.)
Dimension Films produced several successful movies in the Hellraiser horror series—those were the ones about Pinhead, the monster with pins sticking out of his face. In 2010, the company discovered that it’s rights would expire in just 11 days if it didn’t make another Hellraiser movie. So, that’s what it did. Hellraiser: Revelations, the eighth movie in the series, was produced in under two weeks.