In 1994, the beloved Marvel superheroes The Fantastic Four were set to hit the big-screen. Fans were anticipating finally seeing the famed comic book foursome, including their adversary Dr. Doom, in a real big-screen movie!
However, the spectacular superhero adventure the cast and crew initially envisioned they were setting out to make was far cry from the final result. While the cast and crew might have been passionate about this project and saw this Fantastic Four film as a turning point in their careers, other higher up entities had different motives, which didn’t involve making an entertaining film for fans.
Executive produced by Roger Corman and made on a meager one million dollar budget, the film would be rushed through a short filming period and filmmakers were faced with the challenge of making what should have been an expensive film on a very low-budget. Everything from the sets to the costumes to special effects were hurdles to tackle with barely any money to spend on.
The minuscule budget was impossible to hide. It also didn’t help that suddenly the production company behind this Fantastic Four film, Constantin Films, didn’t show any interest in actually finishing it. The director, editor, composers and special effects artists continued to work on it (in some cases using their own money to pay for the work), but they were getting no support from the producers or the studio.
Finally, it was learned The Fantastic Four would not get a theatrical release, nor was it ever intended to. Making the film was a simple ploy for Constantin to retain the rights to Marvel’s first family. It didn’t matter whether how polished it was or if it ever actually got shown to audiences in theaters. Just the fact something was made from the property satisfied the contractual requirements to hold on to it.
The Corman Fantastic Four film has become something of a mystery movie. An oddity. This puzzling relic of a project from a popular IP, where it’s almost inconceivable today to believe was so badly handled. It’s like Marvel’s version of The Star Wars Holiday Special. The fact it was indeed made, but has gone unreleased only added to the legend of it.
Older fans who were around in the early ’90s, remember it being promoted, but then suddenly – poof – it vanished. Since then, many superhero fan chins have been rubbed wondering about this curious Fantastic Four movie made by Corman and many questions have been asked about how did the film come to be and whatever happened with it. What is the story behind it?
Doomed!: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four finally answers those lingering questions with the help of the cast, the crew, the director and even Corman himself.
It is a fascinating tale! Especially considering how valued a Marvel movie is today! The very idea of one of its properties falling into the low-budget hands of Corman, is mind-boggling to imagine today. But it did happen!
The documentary covers the story from many different people who were a part of it from the very beginning. They share their own memories and perspectives and tell the story of how they were unknowing pawns in this charade of a film to simply hold onto the rights of the Marvel characters.
Fortunately, Film Threat magazine’s Chris Gore was on the actual set during the brief three weeks of its filming and had firsthand insight into what occurred. He would cover the production and it would be the cover story in the magazine, which helped to start the promotion of this superhero film that would never be released.
What’s really interesting about Doomed!, is seeing the contrast of the marketing of a low-budget theatrical superhero release in 1994, compared to how it would go down today. Magazine cover stories, attending comic book conventions, film trailers being played on VHS tapes with fans gathered around a TV. Many of the same components are the same, but they were in a much more antiquated state compared to today. As it’s described in the documentary at one point, it was a grassroots campaign.
Today with one tweet, a hashtag and a trailer on YouTube, an upcoming film can create buzz and reach fans in a minutes. In 1994, there was a heck of a lot of leg work to do that. And the cast of The Fantastic Four was willing to do what they could and use whatever money they could get from Corman’s frugal fingers in order to promote the film and build excitement for it.
The whole cast sits down and speaks about this notorious project they were a part of (Joseph Culp, Alex Hyde-White, Rebecca Staab, Jay Underwood, Carl Ciarfalio). Hearing from the the filmmakers and particularly the cast of their eagerness to be part of this film, makes it all the more heartbreaking the inevitable secret that is will be permanently shelved.
Even Marvel icon Stan Lee’s visit to the set ignited enthusiasm for the project. Later Lee would do an about face of his feelings about this Corman FF. The cast held onto their optimism, even when signs starting cropping up that something was unusual about this production. There was clearly passion put into the making of this Fantastic Four movie. You have to admire all the hard work and heart they put into their time while working on the movie and the hopes they had for it.
When it comes time to cover the gradual crumble of the finished film on the eve of its premiere, you can see the disappointment, anger and betrayal in the cast and crews faces and voices as they recount when they learned of it.
The film would never hit a theater screen and would become this odd footnote in the history of superhero films. The only lifeline it would get was bootleg copies of it at Comic conventions.
If you’ve seen one of those bootleg copies, it’s easy to use The Fantastic Four as a punchline. Yes, it’s easy to poke fun at the cheap quality the film ended up looking and it probably would never have impressed audiences in 1994. Yet, it is ironic you can find some fans who will say, despite its shabby production budget, it is actually the best film made of the Fantastic Four.
After watching Doomed!, you end up applauding all the passion and work the filmmakers put into it. With all the limitations due to the small budget, they were genuinely trying to make a quality film that would please fans.
As a documentary about moviemaking, Doomed! shows the behind-the-scenes makings of a B-movie and all the concessions, work and solutions needed that go into getting a film finished on a low-budget. It certainly isn’t easy.
It also manages to become something of a redemption to those who worked on it, while also a compelling account of one of those strangest superhero movie projects that never was and answers all the questions fans have had.
“Ahhhh! So that’s the story behind this movie!”