Why Marvel Prioritized a Fantastic Four Reboot Over X-Men

Current Spider-Man director Jon Watts will helm the return of the Fantastic Four.

Marvel's Fantastic Four and the X-Men
Photo: Marvel

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige made it official at Thursday’s (December 10) four-hour Disney investors call and presentation: the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s First Family, are being rebooted as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jon Watts, director of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far from Home, will helm the Four’s new movie, which Feige says is “being developed.”

Feige didn’t say anything else about the Fantastic Four reboot, but as usual at these kinds of events, it was also about what he didn’t say: that the Four will take precedence over the X-Men in terms of joining the MCU.

To be clear, the X-Men will become part of the MCU at some point. Feige hinted as much at Comic-Con 2019 when he randomly blurted out the word “mutants” toward the end of Marvel’s big Hall H presentation. But the X-Men were not mentioned at today’s rapid-fire, news-stuffed Marvel presentation, making it clear that — barring any unannounced surprises — we won’t see a new iteration of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine and the gang for at least four or five years, if not more.

This makes sense for any number of reasons, but we would wager that the main one is this: the 20th Century Fox version of the X-Men, which stumbled into its 20th anniversary this year with the barely-released The New Mutants as its final offering, is still too fresh on fans’ minds and very much still ingrained in fan and pop culture in general.

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We’re only three years removed from Logan, which was not just a towering send-off for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, but a sizable $614 million hit worldwide. Before that we had X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), which earned $748 million and $543 million respectively. DOFP is still the highest grossing film in the series with the exception of the X-Men-adjacent Deadpool films.

Yes, 2019’s Dark Phoenix limped to a measly $246 million and the worst reviews of any entry in the series, but the fact is that the Fox X-films, for the most part, were a tremendous (more than $6 billion), reliable cash cow for Fox for nearly two decades. Even though the series continuity resembled something you might find at the bottom of an industrial blender, there was a certain amount of cast consistency: Jackman and Stewart hung in there for 17 years, Ian McKellen and Halle Berry popped in and out over that same amount of time, and even most of the First Class cast made it intact through four films.

In other words, there is an established X-Men franchise and universe that is not necessarily disappearing from the public consciousness any time soon. Several of the films — at least seven of the 13 produced — are still loved or well-liked by fans.

On the other hand, there have been just three Fantastic Four movies released: two in 2005 and 2007, and one in 2015. The first two featured the same actors and were moderate, if unexceptional successes, while the 2015 edition was a troubled disaster with a new cast that no one went to see. Neither cast is associated much in the public eye with the franchise at this point (nor do many of them want to be). So there is plenty of room in the pop culture cloud for Marvel to reboot this property and give it a fresh, expert treatment that won’t live in the shadow of what came before.

So there is much more repair work to be done with the Fantastic Four than the X-Men, and probably the sooner the better. There are other considerations as well: even in the comics, the X-Men have always kind of existed in their own bubble, while the Four have always been an integral part of the bigger picture.

There are Fantastic Four characters like the Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom that you can bet Feige is eager to deploy. Confirming that another major Four nemesis, Kang the Conqueror (to be played by Jonathan Majors), will be the villain of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a sign that the groundwork for Marvel’s First Family to come back is already being laid down.

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And besides, even if we don’t see most of the X-Men in the MCU anytime soon, there is always the Merc with a Mouth. Although it was not officially announced on the investors’ call, Deadpool 3 is also finally said to be in development, and we’re willing to bet that a mutant or two will pop up in that film just as they have in the previous two.

That should keep X-fans happy until the mutants can properly join the MCU — in Phase 5 at the earliest.