Over the last few years, Marvel has become as popular for its high-budget summer blockbusters as it has for its comics – but that wasn’t always the case. As recently as 1998 – two years before the X-Men film brought Superheroes back to the big screen – Marvel was still trying to make it big with the movies. Let’s take a look at a few of the pre-X-Men efforts.Fantastic Four (1994)
Years before Jessica Alba, the bald one from The Shield and the other two brought the Fantastic Four to life (debatably) a film was produced featuring the first live-action appearance of Marvel’s premier family.
Don’t worry, you didn’t miss it – it was never actually released. Produced by low-budget genius Roger Corman for less than $2 million, the film was announced for a theatrical release in 1994. In 1993, it was pulled, and a promised transitioning into a TV pilot itself failed to materialise. Predictably, the film was terrible, but that wasn’t the reason behind its absence from screens. The reality was that the producer and distributor, Constantin Film, would’ve lost its option on the characters if it hadn’t made a film featuring them. According to reports – and unbeknownst to the actors and director – there was never any intention to release the film. A decade on, it’s an oft-bootlegged convention favourite, available online – if you know where to look.
Watch it if: You refuse to believe any F4 film could be worse than Tim Story’s efforts.
Generation X (1996)
Based on the comic which featured the “junior” X-Men team in training, Generation X was a 90-minute TV movie that, if successful, would have lead to a series.
Clearly, that didn’t happen. It’s not hard to see why. Perhaps the biggest insult to X-Men fans was casting All-American Heather McComb as the Chinese-American Jubilee, though the film also badly mischaracterised Monet “M” St. Croix, one of the few characters who actually endured past Generation X’s cancellation.
Although the new character additions, Buff and Refrax, were fair replacements for the too-expensive-to portray characters, Husk and Chamber, the film’s dialogue was excruciating, and the plot failed to address the central themes of being a mutant (the prejudice metaphor) in favour of having Matt Frewer play a cartoonish villain (can he play any other kind?) with a magic chair that let the users invade people’s dreams. The concept could’ve been Buffy-esque in its appeal, but ended up looking like Party of Five with slightly more CGI.
Watch it if: You really like bad comic movies.
Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD (1998)
In this film, Nick Fury was portrayed by David Hasselhoff, who was fortuitously snagged at exactly the point where his popularity from Baywatch had waned, and his ironic nostalgia market had yet to mature. His music wasn’t even popular in Germany anymore (probably.) It’s fitting, then, that Marvel should portray the absolute nadir of their small-screen adventures with an actor in the nadir of his career. The made-for-TV movie was predictably crap, with Hasselhoff sporting some unconvincing stubble and an equally unconvincing attempt at gruffness. The plot saw an evil terrorist organisation committing evil terrorist acts because they are evil terrorists, which was thinner motivation than even Transformers 2 gave to its evil robots. A thoroughly miserable film.
Watch it if: You’ve watched everything else. Literally, everything else. And even then, give it serious thought.
Let that be a lesson to us all. Next time you complain about the quality of Daredevil, just dig one of these out and think yourself lucky, and try to imagine what superhero films would be like without a budget. Then realise that you don’t have to imagine – they’d be exactly like these films.