After Thanos’ invasion of Earth in Avengers: Infinity War, the U.S. Air Force is charged with figuring out how he got here and if the cosmic radiation he left behind is dangerous. Luckily, Colonel Ben Grimm (Bruce Willis) was college roommates with the world’s foremost expert on cosmic radiation–Columbia professor Reed Richards (George Clooney). Together with Richards’ student teacher Sue Storm (Amanda Seyfried) and her tagalong brother Johnny (Ross Lynch), the quartet investigate the places Thanos and his forces appeared. At one such site, they are bathed in cosmic radiation in an accidental explosion. The radiation changes them and turns them into the Fantastic Four.
Okay, that might not be the best way to introduce the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it might be the best we are going to get. Many fans are expecting that when Disney buys out Fox’s film division, we’ll finally get an FF film done right by Marvel Studios. However, that might not be the case.
Screen Rant points out that while most of the world assumes that Fox owns the film rights to the Fantastic Four, they really don’t. The film rights to the FF belong to Constantin Films. They’ve been there from the aborted Roger Corman Fantastic Four from the 1990s, the Tim Story films from the 2000’s, the Josh Trank reboot of 2015, and, judging by the type of deals Marvel made back then, will be with them in perpetuity.
But, you might say, Fox made the Story and Trank versions listed above. True. They have an agreement with Constantin to co-produce and distribute the films. This is what Disney would be buying, the right to distribute (an possibly help make) a film for these characters.
This leads to a Freaky Friday version of the Hulk’s rights issues. Marvel Studios owns the rights to the Hulk character, but Universal would have the right of first refusal to distribute the movie. Constantin owns the rights to make an FF film, but, if Disney buys Fox, they’d have to go through Disney to distribute it.
So, what’s the problem? Well, let’s say that Constantin want to do a sequel to the abysmal Trank Fantastic Four movie. Marvel, being sane, could say that they will never distribute that film. Or, Marvel could want to make a film like the one in the first paragraph, but Constantin won’t make it unless Bradley Cooper plays Reed and Dwayne Johnson plays Ben.
You wouldn’t think that two reasonable companies would go down this route, that Marvel/Disney would be glad to have access to the FF back and Constantin would love the money attached to having the FF in the MCU and there would be no problem with the companies working out any differences to get a film made. But, don’t forget, Marvel’s publishing and licensing arm went all scorched Earth over the rights to the FF (and X-Men), cancelling their comic book series and removing all the characters from any and all merchandise because they weren’t getting enough money from the characters’ successes. So there is a precedent for Marvel shooting off its nose to spite its face.
Hopefully if the buyout goes through, we might get a good Fantastic Four film out of this. But just don’t get your hopes up too high.