Marvel movies: Is the 1994 'Fantastic Four' the best adaptation ever?
Out of all of Marvel’s superheroes, the Fantastic Four have received the worst cinematic treatment by far. Since 2005, there have been three Fantastic Four movies, each one worse than the last. But now, Marvel Studios is taking over, and fans everywhere are asking themselves, “Is this finally it? After all these years, could we actually get a Fantastic Four movie that’s … good?”
But maybe the actuals question we should be asking is: Can the Marvel Cinematic Universe top what’s arguably already the greatest Fantastic Four movie?
Even casual Marvel movie fans are probably familiar with 2005’s Fantastic Four which was followed by its 2007 sequel, Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer. The storylines were clunky, the characters uninteresting, and the dialogue painful. Disappointed viewers agreed that it couldn’t get much worse. Then director Josh Trank came along, said “Hold my beer” and gave us the god-awful Fant4stic (the derisive nickname for the 2015 Fantastic Four movie). From the story to the characters to the cinematography, the whole thing was a mess. We don’t like to speak of this time. It was a dark period for the internet. Redditors were ready to lead riots at local movie theaters and bring mayhem to the streets.
Around the time Fantastic Four (2015) came out, there were strange whisperings on Reddit. Rumors permeated the dark web; reports that there was indeed another Fantastic Four movie made in 1994, but hidden away where none could find it. A Fantastic Four movie rumored to be so awful that not only did it not get a theatrical release but even Marvel denied its very existence. (Other reports claim it was created and shelved solely to keep the rights from reverting back to Marvel.)
Many a Marvel fan searched the far corners of the deep web in search of the elusive 1994 Fantastic Four movie, but all failed. It wasn’t until recently that some mysterious individuals discovered the full-length feature. We don’t know who they are or how they obtained the footage, but these brave souls took the hero route. They uploaded the movie to YouTube. For free.
Naturally, this warranted investigation. There were too many questions that had to be answered. Was the 1994 Fantastic Four as awful as it was rumored to be? Could it possibly be worse than Fant4stic? Or maybe, just maybe, despite its shockingly low budget ($1 million) might it be … better?
For the sake of journalism — and a fair amount of my own morbid curiosity — I decided to find out. Here’s why the 1994 movie might just be the best version of the Fantastic Four ever made for the big screen — not that it’s a very high bar.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, the cinematography is not impressive. It looks less like a ‘90s film and more like a ‘70s B-movie. Notice that vaguely porny-like quality? We can thank Fantastic Four director and B-movie legend Roger Corman for that.
When the movie begins, Reed and his college pal, Victor Von Doom, are students at Harvard and working on an experiment together. Yes, we’re back to that tired old plotline where Reed and Dr. Doom start out as friends and colleagues. Even though this film came long before the 2005 and 2015 movies, this trope still feels tedious.
And yes, it’s very obvious that this guy will be the villain.
That bloodless appearance, the slightly sinister Eastern European accent, plus the last name Doom? Yeah, this guy doesn’t stand a chance. There’s no other occupation besides super-villain that he can take on. I mean, would you feel comfortable taking your dog to a vet named Dr. Von Doom?
At first, it’s hard to understand what Reed and Victor are working on. It could be a rocket, but for all we know, it could be a vessel to bring the death god Cthulhu to Earth. It looks like it could go either way.
It becomes clear later on that the project is meant to be a machine to harness the energy of a powerful comet cruising their way. Reed insists that their project needs more testing because things are still a little wonky. The experiment could actually blow up in their faces and straight up kill them. Then they enjoy a hearty laugh because what are the odds of that happening?
Oh yeah, and these menacing, Eastern European-looking guys are stalking them.
At this point, the college-aged Reed is already acquainted with his future wife and brother-in-law, Susan and Johnny Storm. Susan is about 12-years-old right now. He lives in her mother’s boarding house. While this is similar to how Sue and Reed’s initial introduction played out in the comics, it doesn’t feel any less creepy to see the adult Reed give a playful kiss to the swooning child Susan. While technically innocent, there’s still something incredibly icky about it.
Soon, Reed and Victor perform their experiment, and guess what? It doesn’t go well.
It’s implied that this was due to Reed’s miscalculations and Victor rushing the experiment. Reed stands by uselessly while Victor gets repeatedly fried by cosmic energy until their friend, Ben Grimm, comes to save their sorry asses at the last minute. Victor is severely disfigured, Ben gets injured, and everyone has to go to the hospital. Reed, of course, is absolutely fine.
The Eastern European stalker guys from earlier suddenly appear in the hospital as doctors. They steal the barely alive Victor from the hospital to “save him,” and refer to him as “His Highness.” I guess these guys are Victor’s Latverian Secret Service. Well, now we know how someone as incompetent as Victor got into Harvard in the first place. It’s probably safe to assume the State Department received some diplomatic threats from the Latverian government to let their spoiled monarch into a top American school.
The fake doctors tell Reed that Victor is dead. And the incredibly lax hospital security notices nothing. Maybe the Latverian government paid them off. For a supposedly small country, Latveria seems to have a hefty amount of influence in this world.
The movie jumps to ten years later.
Reed has continued working on the project that he and Victor started. This time, his plan is to go into outer space to harness the energy of that very same comet. But Reed needs someone to pilot the rocket ship, so he turns to his old friend, Ben, who’s reluctant due to the unpredictable dangers of such a mission. However, he agrees once Reed applies the right combination of browbeating and guilt-tripping.
Reed and Ben need a crew so who do they choose? Susan and Johnny Storm! “Remember those little kids we lived with ten years ago?”
Reed is concerned because neither Susan nor Johnny has any kind of appropriate expertise, but Ben says they have to come. They know all about the project and that’s obviously just as relevant as a scientific education and space exploration training! Bear in mind that Susan is now in her early 20s and Johnny is still a teenager.
They go to Mrs. Storm’s house where Ben eagerly asks the kids’ mother, “Mrs. Storm, can Johnny and Susan go to outer space with us!?” I think Mama Storm’s expression says it all.
Turns out Mrs. Storm is totally okay with sending her inexperienced, untrained offspring into space, especially the underaged one — as long as Reed brings her daughter back un-impregnated.
And here we have Johnny.
This Johnny Storm in no way resembles the supposed badass that the future movies tried to make him into. Johnny is that spastic 10th grader who stays up every night blasting techno, chugging Mountain Dew, and snorting entire lines of pixie stix. No wonder his mom wants to send him to outer space. Most parents of teenagers would jump on that golden opportunity.
Just as Reed is about to tell Johnny that he and his sister can’t come on the mission, the 22-year-old Susan comes downstairs. The sight of Sue’s sundress and perky bosoms is enough to get Reed Richards’s bunsen burning and he instantly changes his mind.
Not sure why he’s staring at her as if this is the first time he’s seen her in the last ten years. He must have seen her before today if she was busy learning about all the details of his project. Was there a boob job that just became final?
In Fantastic Four movies, it’s always Susan who gets shafted as a character. Nobody seems to know what to do with her, even when the future movies try to give her a scientific background. In the comics, Sue goes through the most development and arguably becomes the most powerful member of the team. On film, she’s reduced to being a pair of tits to lengthen Reed’s vector, and this movie is no exception. For most of the story, Sue is just there to look pretty and do womanly things like make the superhero costumes later on.
But before they can blast into outer space, we need to assign Ben a love interest! This is Alicia Masters, a blind artist who Ben quite literally runs into.
They exchange roughly five sentences between them and despite knowing each other for two minutes, they both decide they’re completely in love with each other. They didn’t even exchange first names! C’mon, Fantastic Four, you’re a superhero flick, not a Disney Princess movie. Stay in your lane.
Poor Alicia. You will be feeling very sorry for this girl, and not because she’s blind. It’s because almost every ugly guy in this movie wants to do her, kidnap her, or both. This is every incel’s greatest wet dream. A hot, blind girl who will never know how horrible he really is.
Which leads us to our secondary villain of the movie. Meet the Jeweler.
Okay, this guy was clearly supposed to be the Fantastic Four villain, Mole Man, but the studio probably couldn’t get permission for the licensing to use the actual character. Or they just couldn’t afford to create giant underground mole monsters for him to ride through New York.
So, we’ve got this character who is short, ugly, has a hooked nose, and whose name begins with J-E-W. Oh dear, this just got uncomfortable. Okay, there really isn’t anything more that can be said about it, except hope to God this wasn’t deliberate on the writers’ end.
Moving right along, the Jeweler and his team of meth addicts and sex offenders want to steal a giant diamond from Reed’s lab. The diamond is supposed to go into Reed’s machine and diffuse the cosmic energy so nobody will get turned into beef jerky this time around, but the Jeweler steals the diamond and replaces it with a fake.
And what do you know? It turns out the Jeweler is in cahoots with a not-dead Victor Von Doom! Doom wants that diamond so Reed and his crew will blow up in space. All in retaliation for the whole “letting a comet melt my face” incident ten years ago. Doom really isn’t a forgive and forget kind of guy.
The team goes into space and is hit by the cosmic ray which sends them crashing down to earth. Luckily, they all survive unharmed. Well, for a while, it looks like only Reed, Johnny, and Ben survive. Susan is nowhere to be seen, and the guys are so busy congratulating themselves on being alive, that no one even notices that she isn’t there and could possibly be dead.
They only remember that Sue is unaccounted for when she invisibly reacts to Johnny sneezing up a fireball. When Susan trips and almost falls onto some debris, Reed reaches out to grab her with his newly discovered elastic limbs. You can almost see the slinky that’s encased in his puppet arm.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Alicia is kidnapped by the Jeweler’s team of sexual deviants who take her to become the Jeweler’s sex slave, I mean, “queen.”
The Fantastic Four are finally rescued, but during that time Ben has transformed into one of Garfield’s hacked-up hairballs. His anguished screams are somehow both melodramatic and strangely apathetic at the same time.
This just goes to show why no one should EVER collaborate with Reed Richards. When things go wrong, Reed always escapes unscathed while the other guy is detrimentally disfigured for life. And right now, Reed is two for two. He also seems like the type of guy who hogs all the credit when things go right. What else would you expect from a guy who adopts “Mr. Fantastic” as his superhero moniker?
All four of them are taken to a secret medical facility for observation, but it soon becomes obvious that they’re actually Dr. Doom’s prisoners. Doom now wants to drain the four of them of the cosmic energy in their bodies and channel it all into himself. Because obviously his first encounter with this comet went so well. Dude, how do you foresee a second try going any better for you?
It must be said, despite the Party City costume and the mask that muffles his voice, this Dr. Doom looks the most authentic out of all the other live-action versions. Also, the more screen time he gets, the more delightful he is to watch. Doom does try to compensate for his impaired speech with the most over-the-top hand gestures. It’s like watching the love child of Jeremy Irons from Dungeons and Dragons and a drunk Darth Vader.
The Fantastic Four escape Doom’s lair and return home. Reed comes up with possibly the most asshole-ish theory as to why the comet altered them the way it did. To paraphrase: “Susan, you turn invisible because you’re too shy! Johnny, you’re on fire because you’re a hot-headed dick! Ben, you’re permanently a giant orange turd because you’re a dumbass who doesn’t use his brain enough! And poor me, I just stretch myself too thin because I care too much! Sorry, Ben, guess that comet hated you the most!”
Ben’s had enough of this emotional abuse from Reed and leaves. He manages to discover the Jeweler’s lair and the imprisoned Alicia. But before Ben can save her, Dr. Doom shows up to take back that diamond from earlier and use it for a new laser. The henchmen try to shoot Doom, but the bullets have no effect on him. Make a note of this for later.
Then Doom takes Alicia as a hostage. This poor girl has just been having a really rough day. All she wanted to do was sculpt and paint in the privacy of her own home. Instead, she has to deal with being snatched by multiple guys who all threaten rape and/or kill her.
Now that he has the diamond, Doom tells the Fantastic Four that they need to surrender or he’ll use his giant laser to wipe out New York. He swears that it’s totally going to work this time.
Doom captures the four heroes and is about to drain them of their cosmic energy, killing them in the process. Again, Doom, why? Are you forgetting what happened the last time you tangoed with this comet? If we’re going with Reed’s “the comet sees into your soul!” theory, then the comet has already made it very clear that it doesn’t have a high opinion of you.
Luckily, Reed manages to stretch out of his prison enough to dismantle Doom’s machine. And Johnny manages to stop Doom’s city-killing laser by going full torch and punching it into outer space.
In the final showdown, Reed manages to defeat Doom by … knocking him off the roof. With this scathing insult: “That’s for trying to kill me [punch]! That’s for trying to kill my friends [punch]! And this if for being a real jerk [punches off the roof]!” Sick burn there, Reed.
And yes, bullets can’t hurt Doom, but punching him off a ledge will totally do the trick.
We cut to the last scene, where Reed and Susan are getting married. Sue’s wearing a wedding dress, but for some reason, Reed, Johnny, and Ben are all wearing their superhero uniforms.
I’m going to assume that Reed forgot to pick up the tuxes, and they had to use the uniforms as the last-minute substitute. It just sounds like something the thoughtless and inconsiderate Reed Richards would do. You’re a real class act, Reed.
So, how did this Fantastic Four measure up to the modern-day ones? It’s definitely not worse than the other films, but it’s not a good movie either. It’s cheap, the lack of special effects are laughable, and the story is disjointed and confusing. But it didn’t make the characters it had to work with any worse. Dr. Doom was actually much more entertaining! All in all, it’s cheap and ridiculous, and if you go into it knowing that from the beginning, you’ll probably end up laughing at the corniness. Plus, it’s only an hour and a half, and I’ve got to give it this much: even after uncovering this movie, Fant4stic can still safely reign supreme as the worst Fantastic Four movie ever created.