With Spider-Man: No Way Home, Disney finally acknowledged that Marvel films didn’t begin and end with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The recent reshoots of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are rumored to have added even more crossovers and cameos, meaning the media giant may be digging further into Marvel’s film and television past.
But there are a few lesser-known Marvel-based films that will almost certainly remain off-limits, including one that was seemingly never intended for the general public. Let’s just say that Marvel didn’t always have the same sweeping vision or grip on their characters as tightly.
You may be familiar with 1979’s Captain America, or 1989’s Dolph Lungdren vehicle The Punisher. You may even have watched them, amazed at how little they have in common with the characters and comic books they are said to be based on. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Neither of these films would have made our list of the best Marvel films, but they are interesting artifacts in their own right.
So, grab your Hela Got Robbed mug and allow us to introduce you to five Marvel-based movies you’ve probably never seen. And if you’d rather check out the Marvel movies made for human consumption, our guide to the Marvel movies takes you through the entire MCU in chronological order.
1. The Incredible Hulk returns
(Image credit: Bixby-Brandon Productions)
- Release date: May 22, 1988
- Pour: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Jack Colvin
Previous What if…? introduced us to Party Thor, there was… the incredible Party Thor. Confused? I’ll explain. The Incredible Hulk Returns was rumored to be a TV movie continuing the story of the 1978 series The Incredible Hulk, but it was also intended to serve as a backdoor pilot for a Thor series, hence the introduction of Eric Kramer as Thor.
Kramer’s Thor is just as ridiculous as What If’s Party Thor, maybe even more so. He laughs himself silly as he hurls his hammer at a car, drunkenly starts a bar fight and, as Steve Levitt’s Donald Blake puts it, “lives for every second, the hell with tomorrow… the worries he leaves to me.”
The Thor series didn’t materialize, although it didn’t stop NBC from trying again with The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, which starred Rex Smith as Matt Murdoch/Daredevil and John Rhys-Davies (yes, Gimli from The Lord of the… Rings) performed by Wilson Fisk/The Kingpin. You can probably guess what happened to that.
You can Rent or buy The Incredible Hulk Returns on Amazon or view What if… Thor was an only child? on Disney Plus.
2nd Generation X
(Image credit: MT2 Services)
- Release date: February 20, 1996
- Pour: Matt Frewer, Finola Hughes, Jeremy Ratchford
Another made-for-television movie that was meant to be a pilot (but didn’t get made), Generation X, is an entertainingly stupid low-budget take on the X-Men. It’s set in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, although there’s no trace of the professor; Instead, Emma Frost (The White Queen) and Sean Cassidy (Banshee) are in charge.
Her students include a clearly non-Asian anniversary, and Matt “Max Headroom” Frewer chews up the setting as the play’s villain. It’s notable that it uses Hatley Castle, the same mansion featured in several later X-Men films, although its lack of money is really apparent, more so than in The Fantastic Four; The scene where Jubilee enters Buff is so absurd it has to be seen to be believed, and the Dream Machine is actually a multi-axis trainer.
Generation X is only available on VHS, but you can Rent or buy X-Men: First Class from Amazon.
(Image credit: Lions Gate Films)
- Release date: April 30, 2005
- Pour: Jack Thompson, Matthew LeNevez, Steve Bastoni
Marvel’s Man-Thing and DC’s Swamp Thing are both humanoid swamp monsters, but Man-Thing is usually portrayed as a barely sane beast. It’s fitting, then, that the 2005 Man Thing film made him the villain in this environmental horror story about a greedy corporation acquiring a Native American tribe’s lands.
Man-Thing definitely needs to look like HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, although fortunately there are plenty of practical effects. However, Man-Thing doesn’t use his most famous ability to burn people who are afraid of him. “Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the man-thing” is the catchphrase the producers could have at least slapped on a t-shirt.
You can Buy or rent Man-Thing on Amazon.
4. The Fantastic Four
(Image credit: New Horizons)
- Release date: May 31, 1994
- Pour: Alex Hyde-White, Jay Underwood, Rebecca Staab
The 1994 Fantastic Four is an amazing story and I’m not talking about the premise of the film. Sure, its story does the job, telling the origin of the Fantastic Four and setting them up to fight Doctor Doom, much like the 2005 film. It was co-executive produced by Roger Corman, who, famed for its low-budget -Productions, agreed to do it for a measly $1 million.
Though the actors put in some decent performances, the film’s budget constraint is evident, from the Lego on a stick-esque stretching effects to The Thing’s subpar special effects makeup. If it weren’t for some very shoddy, lawnmower man-level CGI, you’d think it was done in the 80’s.
However, what really stands out about The Fantastic Four is that it was an “ashtray project” and was never, ever released. There is an absolutely amazing documentary about the debacle called Doomed! that you can rent or buy on Amazon. The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, but the short version states that German producer Bernd Eichinger had the rights to a Fantastic Four film.
The rights expired in late 1992 and it was claimed he produced the film in order to keep those rights a little longer. In truth, it’s unclear who really knew 1994’s The Fantastic Four wouldn’t see the light of day, but it’s one of cinema’s weirdest stories.
The Fantastic Four of 1994 is not (officially) available for obvious reasons. However, you can stream them Fantastic Four (2005) on Disney Plus or peacock, or Rent or Buy The Fantastic Four (2005) from Amazon. There is also the reboot Fantastic Four (2015) on Disney Plus and be available Rent or buy from Amazon.
5. Dr. Strange (1978)
(Image credit: Universal Television)
- Release date: September 6, 1978
- Pour: Peter Hooten, Clyde Kusatsu, and Jessica Walter
Speaking of weird, Dr. 1978’s Strange stars Peter Hooten as Strange, drawing on Arthurian legends and Marvel’s catalog of villains to pit him against Morgan Le Fay. We suspect this is due to financial considerations, which could also explain why, as ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan pointed out, it feels like a medical procedure.
In fact, nothing reminds us of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, right down to the wacky effects. Strange himself isn’t particularly likable, and unlike Strange from the MCU, he’s basically passed on his power. The film was intended to be a pilot, so his character might have grown over time, but the series was never made.
dr Strange (1978) is available to hunt on DVD or you can check out the MCU version of Doctor Strange (2016) on Disney Plus.
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