Late last week, director Jon Watts exited Marvel Studios’ first official film starring the Fantastic Four. Both Watts and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige issued statements making it clear that the split was amicable. It seems that after helming three blockbuster Spider-Man movies for Marvel, Watts simply wants time off and perhaps a change of pace and material.
It’s hard to say exactly what Watts’ personal contribution was to the Spider-Man trilogy he just completed with Spider-Man: No Way Home; while all three movies are a blast (and easily the best screen iteration of the character yet), his directing style is fairly transparent. One could argue that he was in some ways a perfect Marvel “house” director, specializing in teen comedy yet coloring well within the lines of the established MCU templates.
Marvel might want someone just like that for Fantastic Four. This will be the third live-action iteration of Marvel’s First Family and arguably the most crucial, since it needs to properly introduce the foursome of bickering superheroes into the MCU proper and hopefully set them up as one of the anchors of the franchise’s future. For that, Marvel needs a director who will work closely and collaboratively with Feige and the rest of the Marvel Studios brain trust.
So who will that person be? We’ve gone through some possibilities and listed who we feel are the most viable candidates below. Fantastic Four remains undated for now – aside from the initial announcement of Watts as director in December 2020, nothing else, including a writer and a cast, has been confirmed. Watch for that to change once a new director jumps in.
It’s said that Brad Bird already made the definitive Fantastic Four movie when he made The Incredibles, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that his vision of a family of superheroes came closer to the original Marvel Comics property than any of the live-action movies based on the title. While Bird’s status as a brilliant filmmaker was cemented long ago by The Iron Giant and Ratatouille in addition to The Incredibles, his more recent output leave something to be desired.
His first live-action outing, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, revitalized the franchise, but his second, 2015’s Tomorrowland, was a dull, incoherent disaster and massive box office flop. While he returned to audiences’ good graces with the long-awaited The Incredibles 2 in 2018, the sequel didn’t feel quite as fresh as the original. He’s currently developing an original animated project called Ray Gunn; would he give that up to work on another Disney-owned IP and regain his footing in the live-action realm?
Steven Caple Jr.
Steven Caple Jr.’s second feature film, Creed II, solidly put him on the map as he proved more than up to the challenge of making a credible sequel to Ryan Coogler’s outstanding Creed. The Rocky franchise is not known for a glittering array of effective sequels, but Creed II continued the story of Adonis Creed in emotionally intense fashion and even got a possible career-best performance out of Dolph Lundgren.
Off that, Caple was handed the keys to the Transformers franchise and is now in post-production on Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. Michael Bay’s five-film run on the series certainly set an extremely low bar, but if Caple can mesh his character instincts with spectacular visuals, then not only might he revive the Transformers IP, but that could well give a shot at the title – helming Marvel’s Fantastic Four.
Deborah Chow is already an established director in the Disney system, having helmed episodes of Jessica Jones and Iron Fist for Marvel and The Mandalorian for Lucasfilm. Her vast array of TV credits also includes episodes of Fear the Walking Dead, Lost in Space, Better Call Saul, The Man in the High Castle, and many others. But her highest-profile project to date is due out soon, with Chow selected by Lucasfilm to direct all six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Although she’s only got one theatrical film under her belt (2010’s The High Cost of Living), Disney and Lucasfilm certainly seem confident enough in her by handing her the entire premiere season of Kenobi. A signature of her work seems to be a focus on character, which might be key to the development of a successful Fantastic Four. It might be Chow’s time to return to the big screen with their story.
Like Joss Whedon and Edgar Wright, Jon Favreau left the Marvel fold as a director after experiencing creative clashes on Iron Man 2, struggling with a movie that was being literally written as it was shot and forced to lay the groundwork for future Marvel properties. Yet Favreau has stayed on good working terms with the studio as well, showing up as Happy Hogan in Iron Man 3, Avengers: Endgame, and Watts’ three Spider-Man entries.
Although he seems to have found a niche as one of the main creators behind The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, bringing Favreau back to direct the introduction of one of Marvel’s most famous teams would certainly indicate its importance. The fast-paced, witty style of the first Iron Man would also serve Fantastic Four well if he could recapture that for this bunch. Maybe he should let Dave Filoni run the Star Wars shop by himself for a minute and help open a new era for Marvel, as he did in 2008.
If there’s anyone who knows how to direct a dysfunctional family of superheroes, it’s James Gunn. He’s done it with Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad, although it’s safe to say that Gunn would have to submerge his raunchier, more adult-skewing instincts – but not his often madcap directing style — for the decidedly more wholesome First Family of Marvel.
Gunn is currently shooting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, with a second season of Peacemaker on deck, so it’s tough to say whether he’d want to dive into another Marvel property right away. He might also be over the studio on a personal level; his initial firing from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 may have left a lingering bad taste even if he was eventually brought back to land the plane. Still, the introduction of major characters like Adam Warlock and the High Evolutionary in the latter film means he’ll have a lasting impact on the MCU going forward, and it might be too tempting for him to resist keeping his run going with Fantastic Four.
Julia Hart made one of the most offbeat superhero films of recent vintage with 2018’s Fast Color, which featured an outstanding character-driven script and excellent lead performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Lorraine Toussaint. She hasn’t done anything else yet in the sci-fi or fantasy realms, but her 2020 crime drama I’m Your Woman also showed a willingness to explore new genres and even subvert them a bit.
Fast Color remains the calling card, we suspect, for any Marvel work, and her unusual approach to that genre’s tropes may serve her well when it comes to parsing the family dynamics of the Richards/Storm/Grimm quartet. Even if Fantastic Four eludes her, she should be in the running for something in the MCU soon.
Bryce Dallas Howard
Howard has been a fan favorite for a long time and her name has reportedly popped up in various chats and social media exchanges as a popular contender for the Fantastic Four gig. Of course most people know her as an actor, a career she continues this summer with her third appearance as Claire Dearing in Jurassic World Dominion. But Howard has also been quietly building a resume as a director as well, starting with the feature documentary Dads.
That’s not what has won her the attention of geeks, however; she has been lauded for her direction of two episodes of The Mandalorian as well as an episode of The Book of Boba Fett, with some fans praising her entry in the latter series as its best segment. Fans even called for her to direct a trilogy of Star Wars films, not a seal of approval to be taken lightly. It seems certain that Howard – making the same jump as her actor-turned-director dad, Ron – has a bright future ahead behind the camera, and Fantastic Four could be the next step.
We all know that John Krasinski and his wife, Emily Blunt, are fan favorite choices to play Reed Richards and Sue Storm in Marvel’s Fantastic Four, and we also know that Krasinski has quickly established both his directing chops and his genre credentials by directing and starring in A Quiet Place and its sequel, both tremendous hits and also starring Blunt.
If Marvel wants to go the Krasinski route, the studio is definitely getting a filmmaker who has proven he can act and direct at the same time (not everyone can), knows how to handle action and visual effects, and can also wring some emotion and family drama from extreme situations. But can he channel his comedic chops – so well-honed on The Office – and lighten up in both his acting and directing after spending the last few years transforming into a sort of alpha male anti-Jim Halpert? And can he coax his wife into a genre she’s publicly been resistant to?
It’s all about family…until it’s not. In a shocking move, Justin Lin quit as director of Fast X just days into production on the latest Fast and Furious entry, seemingly leaving behind for good a franchise that he played a major role in revitalizing and expanding into the box office juggernaut it is today. But Vin Diesel’s loss may end up being Kevin Feige’s gain.
What are the Fast and Furious movies about? Family and action – the latter getting more outlandish with each film. What is Fantastic Four about? Family and action – the latter getting pretty cosmic and outlandish at times. There’s also a subtle self-deprecating humor in Lin’s Fast movies that might work well for the Four. With Lin’s schedule for the next couple of years suddenly clear, we wouldn’t be surprised if Feige is calling his agent as we write this.
Peyton Reed has the distinction of being the one director on this list who actively tried to make a Fantastic Four movie once before: around 2002/2003 (via Comicbook.com), he was developing a Fantastic Four film that would have been set in the 1960s, which is when the Four originated in Marvel Comics. His pitch was ultimately rejected by then-Fox head Tom Rothman (well-known for his dislike of superhero movies, even though they bring his studios billions of dollars) and the property was eventually handed off to director Tim Story.
But Reed says that Kevin Feige “knows of my passion and love for Fantastic Four,” and the director has done a reliable and better-than-average job directing the quirky, family-oriented and fairly self-contained Ant-Man movies. His upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is starting to look like it may be bigger and more important to the overall MCU (with the introduction of Kang the Conqueror) than its predecessors, which might well pave the way for Reed to take over the Fantastic Four movie. Plus Reed is a genuinely nice guy, so we’re kind of rooting for him to get his dream assignment at last.
Yes, it’s a big swing and probably unlikely, but couldn’t you just envision a Fantastic Four movie done in the style of peak Amblin? Sure, Spielberg himself hasn’t really done anything with that sensibility in a long time, but if any director is still capable of bringing a sense of wonder and family-geared spectacle to the screen, it’s the Beard.
West Side Story showed in abundance that Spielberg still has full command of all his filmmaking chops at the age of 75, and no one is better than him at extraordinary visuals, big emotional moments and pure cinematic sweep. It’s also reasonable to assume that, as a fan and creator of sci-fi and imaginative tales, he’s more inclined to enjoy the Marvel films than contemporaries Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. But would he work essentially as a director for hire? That might be a first in itself.
Matthew Vaughn certainly knows his way around comic book movies, having helmed Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and the Kingsman movies with varying degrees of success. But when he nails it, as he did with X-Men: First Class – still one of the top movies of that troubled franchise – he shows that he can accurately capture the tone, style and visual sense of the books the movies are based on.
Vaughn also genuinely loves the genre and has been vocal about his desire to throw his hat in the ring for Marvel’s Fantastic Four relaunch before. He’s got a light-hearted approach that would suit the material well too. Now that the position is open, Feige and company might consider bringing him into the fold – and perhaps having him stick around for some help with the X-Men.
We were quite impressed with Olivia Wilde’s 2019 feature directorial debut, Booksmart, but literally as we’re writing this, we’ve stopped to watch the trailer for her new movie, Don’t Worry, Darling, and have been blown away. The movie certainly leans into genre – some of it reads like an updated version of The Stepford Wives – and it shows that Wilde is aiming for bigger, more expansive fare as she continues to grow as a filmmaker.
That might place her in a perfect position to be considered for Fantastic Four, but there’s a caveat: it was announced back in 2020 that Wilde would direct an untitled picture for Sony based on its universe of Spider-Man-related Marvel characters (allegedly it’s Spider-Woman). Little has been heard about the project since, and with the failure of Morbius, we might see Sony recalibrate its Marvel-based pictures going forward. If she’s no longer attached to that, Marvel Studios should set up a meeting soon.