Of all the Marvel properties, The Fantastic Four have had arguably the worst run of luck in terms of being brought to the big screen. From the shocking "ashcan" movie made in 1994 by Roger Corman, purely to hold onto the rights to the fun but ultimately flawed noughties iteration with Ioan Gruffud, Jessica Alba and Steve Rogers? Huh? All the way to last years debacle from Fox & Josh Trank. The flagship characters of the Marvel Comic world have frankly had a mare at the box office.
Part of it is down to the characters themselves, they do lend themselves to more fun, knockabout romps rather than the darker tone Trank tried to take. In the comics they were very much a "celebrity team" and pop culture in their own universe, with even The Beatles being seen at Reed Richard's and Sue Storms wedding.
The team/family dynamic has been hard for studios to get right and while Chris Evans, Ioan Gruffud and Michael Chiklis were VERY good in their roles, you never bought them as a team or Jessica Alba as Sue Storm.
Another issue has been the shocking use of their villains. Toby Kebbell was horribly miscast, to a poor concept of Doom, while Julian McMahon was not the right choice when guys like Mads Mikkelsen were waiting to be discovered by Hollyood, just one year later in Casino Royale. The horrible concept of Galactus as a cloud also ruined the sequel to Tim Story's version and while it was cool to see the Silver Surfer, no way should he sound like Laurence Fishburne in a million years.
Add to this a wholly dickish way of doing things at Fox at the time. Not only do they know they have the rights but Tom Rothman in his tenure was adamant there was no way would a deal ever be done to get properties back to Marvel.
Ironically he joined Sony right when the Spiderman deal WAS done with Marvel... funny that...
Their track record on the X-Men franchise notwithstanding, their record on Daredevil, Fantastic Four and even solo efforts for Wolverine have been poor to average, all served with a "F*** you, this is what WE want to give you" attitude.
However, a while back, Fox started to think about X-Men TV shows... something they didn't own rights for. They finally had to start talking to Marvel for them, and thus Marvel Studios would be involved in that conversation... however with the internal wranglings between Perlmutter and Feige we really shouldn't be getting our hopes up for a Phase 4 launch of The Fantastic Four.
Not only because internal politics might prevent it but let's face it, we've had 2 bad movie adaptions now and 3 if you count the "unseen" one. The Four are not necessarily a successful proposition for movies.
But there IS a way Marvel could use them and Marvel Studios benefit if the right deal can be done.
One thing the Fantastic Four and thus Fox have are some A-List villains. Even if the X-Men side were discounted, Marvel Studios could really use some "proper" villains, guys like Doctor Doom, Galactus & Kang The Conqueror for example.
Any of those 3 could form a major basis of Phase 4, without the Fantastic Four being involved. Forget the marketing tie ins about "Phase Fantastic Four" and think of the great interactions Doom could have with Spiderman, Iron Man, Cap, Strange or other heroes already in the MCU if cast correctly. I mean, what if...and it's a BIG what if... the villain Mads Mikkelsen is playing is actually Victor Von Doom? Would that not rock your world? It would be a great way to introduce the Latverian sorcerer without needing The Fantastic Four to be there immediately, just a few easter eggs would be needed.
If they could do a deal for ALL Fox Villains, for example getting Fassbender in as Magneto or Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth it could also do wonders, without needing to show any of the X-Men.
The Fantastic Four lend themselves to being part of history. Their original run in the 60's would make a great tale and the modern world would easily forget them or SHIELD/Hydra could have spun them out of existence as a "fad". There could be a lot of fun in a "Fantastic Four" being rivalling the Beatles etc. as the pop culture icons of the 60's and when they vanished, their legend was dismissed by Hydra.
Marvel's TV arm would be a perfect place to tell the Fantastic Four's tale, perhaps as a replacement for Agent Carter. Keep Peggy around and Howard for the odd crossover but a 60's set show would allow the best parts of the FF to be shown, while giving them the time to tell that story properly.
Add in cameos from a younger Hank Pym, a way that Dr. Doom could return to the modern MCU and perhaps even have it as a short run series, ending with them trapped in the Negative Zone so that when they return to the modern MCU as part of Infinity War, there is already some story there for them.
Netflix could make it work, but it just seems ABC would be the place to try the Fantastic Four, either as an event mini series like the X-Files recently or Carter or as a one or two full season show with "big cast", knowing that they will then move on to the movies.
Who Can Make This Work?
Clearly for a cast to work on TV AND Film, there needs to be some money spent on talent. The regular idea Fox and indeed Marvel's TV arm have is to go cheap... they shouldn't here. Get some big hitters in as the Four or at least recognizable and popular talent.
If anything could tempt Andrew Lincoln away from The Walking Dead, this role could be it but it's a very long shot. My first choice would actually be... Patrick Wilson.
He would fit the tone required, able to do dorky but humorous but also go serious and be suitably earnest when tough calls have to be made.
I always saw Reed in his portrayal of Dan Dreiburg in Watchmen, that he was building all this stuff and clearly a genius but was more interested in battering people.
He could bring that kind of complexity to Reed Richards and be convincing as an addition to the MCU, bearing in mind he was originally cast in Ant-Man - either as a young Hank Pym or in Bobby Canavale's role. He's the right age at 42 to play Reed as late 30's or early 40's which is his original age with Sue being younger.
Here is where they needed Margot Robbie, but that option is now gone (and that's not a bad thing) Naomi Watts could still just about play Sue although she might be a little bit dare I say old now.. but Alice Eve is pretty much perfect for the role. Indeed, you could say her role as Carol Marcus in Star Trek: Into Darkness was Sue Storm in Star Trek. She has the acting ability, the beauty and could easily work in a couple with Wilson and having a slightly younger, hot headed sibling and having to juggle that. She'd also be convincing as a 60's pin-up which in effect Sue Storm was.
Here's where you need perhaps the top billed actor. You need someone convincing as a hot-head and who can carry the humor and sense of fun. I always wonder what would have happened if they'd gotten James Franco instead of Chris Evans all those years ago but as with Watts, about 5 years to old to make it work now. Likewise, Scott Caan would have once upon a time been a perfect fit, but is now too old.
One name and face keeps sticking in my head, and it's random...
Daniel Radcliffe as The Human Torch...
Sounds crazy but it works... Horns kind of showed it. He'd be convincing as a douche who tortures Ben Grimm, a guy who would love his powers and he'd be young enough to convincingly be Alice Eve's lil bro. There's just one problem... He's too short right? Some Hollywood magic and time in the gym could probably solve that problem and lets face it, a lot of the time he'd be a CG ball of flame anyway. His name attached would sell the show, be it on Netflix or ABC and build a big buzz for their eventual movie debut. If you can't get Radcliffe, Zac Effron fits the bill.
Again, another chance to go big on casting and my pick would be...
Again, you won't see much of him as Ben, except in flashbacks but he has the right demeanour to be a convincing "Thing", I can just hear his voice yelling "It's Clobbering Time". He's a similar age if not slightly older than Wilson, so you could buy the "protective brother" vibe between Ben and Reed and again, his name alone would guarantee a movie crossover - but allow him to dabble in TV first.
Let's face it, a cast like this would easily get ratings, it would be VERY expensive to make, so you might make it a one off... but it would almost certainly prevent another flop at the box office... if it's popular enough, transplant them over, if they're not... keep them on TV once every couple of years as an event show.. but we get a proper Fantastic Four.