These are grim days for Marvel's First Family, otherwise known as The Fantastic Four.
Walt Disney-owned Marvel Studios has clawed back the film rights to a handful of heroes in recent years. After a spectacular flop at the box office last weekend, speculation is rampant that the Fantastic Four could return to its Marvel roots.
Industry watchers and fans alike are questioning whether 20th Century Fox can salvage its Fantastic Four franchise after an attempt to reboot the series drew scathing reviews, and opening weekend earnings that fell well short of its $40 million estimate—and its reportedly $120 million production budget.
The outcome could shake up the lucrative superhero film business, giving Disney control of virtually every Marvel character and leaving Fox with only the X-Men.
In the mid 1990s, Marvel sold the rights to a number of its hottest properties at a time when it was in the throes of bankruptcy. Among the spoils, Fox got the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and Sony picked up Spider-Man.
Licensing deals also led to films starring lower-tier characters like Daredevil, the Punisher and Ghost Rider, but the rights have reverted to Marvel after those projects failed to break out.
Now, some are expecting the same for "Fantastic Four." It opened to just $26.2 million at the U.S. box office, the worst debut for a film featuring a Marvel Comics character in the last 10 years, after the Nicolas Cage sequel "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance."
The brutal reception led more than 29,000 fans to sign a Change.org petition calling on Fox to sell the rights to the Fantastic Four to Marvel.