The Worst Superhero Movie You Never Saw

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  • Roger Corman
    Roger Corman
    American film director, producer, and actor

There's a new "Fantastic Four" trailer, but, no, it's not about that "Fantastic Four," Fox's planned reboot that's been penciled in for a 2015 release. The trailer is about the other "Fantastic Four," the Roger Corman-produced version from the 1990s — the one you've never seen. Or, rather, as film professor Marty Langford notes, the one you've never seen legally.

"Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four" is a documentary by Langford that aims to solve the mystery of the oft-bootlegged, but never-released comic-book movie. Its trailer went online over the weekend.

Watch the New 'Doomed' Trailer:

"I was into this project to learn new stuff. To learn everything," Langford told Yahoo Movies via email. "We found out stuff that was pretty nuts."

The backstory of Corman's "Fantastic Four," which had been assigned a 1994 release year by IMDb, even though, no, it never was released, goes something like this: In 1992, German writer-producer Bernd Eichinger was on the clock for the rights to Marvel Comics' famed hero quartet. With his dibs on the characters about to expire, Eichinger teamed with Corman, the legendary and prolific filmmaker who gave early breaks to everyone from Jack Nicholson to Ron Howard to James Cameron. Together, they made a movie.

In Corman style, the shoot was fast (just 21 days, per "Doomed"), the budget was tight (a reputed $1.5 million), and the product was a B-movie. "Something very low budget, very tacky and openly campy," Clint Morris wrote of "The Fantastic Four" for Film Threat, adding, "...The script isn't actually all that bad and some of the actors... are actually quite good." The character of the design of The Thing was another matter: "Imagine Kevin Sorbo coated in orange cement and you're halfway there," Scott Weinberg noted for "...On one hand, the suit and mask are a nifty little piece of effects design. On the other, it still looks ridiculous."

Such was the way things usually went for Marvel screen adaptations of the era; such was the way things usually went for Corman movies. Unlike every other Corman movie, however, "The Fantastic Four" never formally hit theaters or video. (Reviewers have relied on the ubiquitous bootlegs; Langford himself as eight VHS and DVD copies.)

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In 2005, Marvel icon Stan Lee told the Los Angeles Times that the film was "never supposed to be shown to anybody," that it was, in essence, doomed from the start. One popular conspiracy theory goes that Eichinger used the Corman "Fantastic Four" movie to buy time — i.e., he made a quick, cheap movie to satisfy his rights deal with an eye on making the real movie later.

In the end, Eichinger, who died in 2011, went on to produce the "Resident Evil" franchise, the Oscar-nominated Hitler drama "Downfall," which he also wrote — and, notably, 2005's big-budget "Fantastic Four" and its 2007 sequel, "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer."

Left out of the spotlight were the players from the 1990s movie, including stars Alex Hyde-White (Mr. Fantastic), Rebecca Staub (Invisible Girl), Jay Underwood (Human Torch) and Michael Bailey Smith (Thing), all of whom are interviewed in the Langford movie. Director Oley Sassone, also featured in the documentary, went to "pretty extreme extremes to try and hold onto the film," Langford said.

Going into the making of "Doomed," Langford said he didn't subscribe to the made-to-be-shelved theory. (Corman himself is on the record as denying the story, as was Eichinger.) Langford said his project, undertaken with Mark Sikes, a casting assistant on Corman's "Fantastic Four," changed his mind, although he wasn't ready to reveal exactly how.

"Doomed" is an indie film that's currently sans a distributor. Langford, however, says he's not worried that his film will meet an unreleased fate. "I was thinking of self-distributing," he said, "so in a worst case, I'm still OK."

Unlike a certain Corman movie.