I think you’ll enjoy this, I’m going to perfectly cast a movie or TV show based on some prior work or historical event for absolutely no reason. First up, what if that Roger Corman thing never happened and a major studio wound up releasing a Fantastic Four movie in the mid-to-late 90s?
Gary Sinise as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic
Sinise is maybe too creepy to be a big screen leading man for some, but the truth is Reed Richards shouldn’t quite measure up to those standards either. You’d believe him as a workhorse scientist in his 40s who married a younger woman and that’s all you need. Reed Richards as the leader is sort of a red-herring. He’s just the smart one, and he got everyone into this mess, but they all signed on and it’s really about the team. Reed is the guy who thinks he can do it all until he’s shown that he can’t, he needs help.
Heather Graham as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman
I chose Graham in hopes of eschewing the trope of the token female in a team. The one who carries the burden of keeping the boys from ripping each other’s heads off. Her teammates are her brother, her husband, and their mutual friend who has a crush on her, just let her have it out with them. Heather Graham could make a superhero argument feel like one from the real world, or at least The Real World (which a 90s FF movie should draw a little inspiration from). The Fantastic Four’s powers say something about each of them but it’s the least obvious with Sue Storm (invisibility, force fields, flight). Normally you get some garbage about her being shy but that makes for an awful hero and also how are you the shy one when Ben is made of rocks now? She’s the defensive one, and that’s a result of her being the only woman on the team and being regularly undermined.
James Van Der Beek as Johnny Storm/Human Torch
There’s Varsity Blues, and then there’s Angus, there’s Dawson’s Creek, and then there’s The Rules of Attraction. Van Der Beek was typecast as an all-American “nice young man”, but he could also be a complete asshole. Johnny Storm was already a jerk and then he got the power to fly and create flames. He’s the teams id, maybe he’s just having a little fun or maybe the people around him are the only thing keeping him from being a complete sociopath. Obviously he has to be more “likable but arrogant young person” than “loose cannon/pyromaniac”, that’s why I picked Van Der Beek.
Bruce Willis as Ben Grimm/The Thing
One thing the mid-2000s Fantastic Four movies were missing outside of a decent script and a sense of urgency was a bankable star in one of the lead roles. Even If everything else went wrong here, you’d still have Bruce Willis as The Thing. That’s good, because Ben Grimm is the real heart of the team. Now that he’s a walking pile of orange rocks he very much needs this Fantastic Four thing to work out, he needs this support system, these people with this shared experience. But again, most importantly, Bruce Willis covered in rocks would put butts in seats.
Giancarlo Esposito as Doctor Victor von Doom
He wasn’t Gustavo Fring yet, but had alread been Julian (A.K.A. Dean Big Brother Almighty) in School Daze, and that’s still his most Doom-like role to date. Both are charismatic leaders, too blinded by power to see all the wrong they do. What I like about Doom (and where he and Julian differ) is that usually the good guy and the bad guy are friends in the early going, but he disliked Reed Richards even when they were colleagues. They both want to help the world but they have radically different ideas about how to do that. He’s disfigured after a crazy experiment, and then he sees these people he already despises turn into gods after their even crazier experiment. So instead of feeling sorry for himself he becomes an opposing force.
Salma Hayek as Kristof̶f̶ Vernard
She was pretty busy in those days, but what if she had done this instead of Fled? Just typing that makes me feel like whatever universe this movie exists in is more balanced than ours. Kristoff Vernard is a sort of neat FF character who no one knows about so who cares if it isn’t a white dude? Just change it to Kristo, that’s vaguely feminine enough. Kristof̶f̶ is Doom’s heir, that weaselly ”power behind the throne” character who has the king’s ear and his trust, all the while biding her time, planning her coup in secret. You know, like Cassius from Julius Caesar or Starscream from Transformers.
As for directors, I can think of three guys who make the kinds of movies that you drop what you’re doing and watch when they’re on basic cable. Also, interestingly enough, none of them directed much in the mid-to-late 90s: Joe Johnston, Robert Zemeckis, and John Carpenter. Johnston and Zemeckis are the safe bets, but Carpenter on his best day is better than either of them. I just worry that by that point in his career he had already lost it. All three have used to old pulp sci-fi imagery in their work and all three made good action movies. I want to say Peter Jackson too, but that could stop Lord of the Rings from happening and I have respect for the fantasy nerds, so I’m keeping that unofficial.
So that’s my first installment, I’ll admit, I’m sort of pitching underhand here with six characters. As long as you admit that this is not only a thing that could’ve feasibly happened before the year 2000, but that you would have seen it. I thought about trying to add some more color since Michael B. Jordan is the Human Torch now and Kerry Washington played The Thing’s blind artist girlfriend in the 2000s, but making us the bad guys was how they did us in the 90s anyway (not that much has changed but if I added more leads for minorities this thing damn sure wouldn’t have gotten made in the 90s). Next time I’ll be sure to do a much bigger cast. How big you ask? About the size of a small Colorado town.