6 Superheroes That Marvel Does Not Own the Rights to Anymore
With all the superhero movies coming out nowadays, there’s a lot of money to be made. The Avengers alone made $1.5 billion worldwide according to IMDb, while franchises like Spider-Man have made a habit of breaking box office records. Way back before they were cash cows though, Marvel saw their various superheroes as commodities to be sold off to make a quick buck. Starting as early as 1985, franchises were offered up to studios like Sony, 20th Century Fox, and more, culminating in a whole mess of reasons now why Marvel can’t bring characters they themselves created into the cinematic fold.
Each studio with a Marvel property keeps it jealously guarded, knowing full well the moneymaking potential each respective franchise represents. While it would make sense for the rights to return to their original creators, the current owners have kept an iron grip since they first acquired their various properties.
Owned by: Sony Pictures (and Marvel, sort of)
Eight years before Marvel Studios even existed, the comic book publishing house sold the rights to Spider-Man, and so ensued a series of acquisitions and contracts that eventually landed it at Sony Pictures. They in turn raked in over an estimated $800 million at worldwide box offices with their first movie, spawning two more sequels and an eventual series reboot. However, since the release of The Amazing Spider Man 2, the franchise came to a screeching halt in the wake of sub-par box office returns.
A recent bargain struck between Marvel and Sony though has blurred the lines of ownership. The agreement reached by both studios goes as follows: Marvel can include Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War, and can continue to have him appear in future properties. Sony will reboot and recast Spider-Man themselves, and both studios will keep their own box office returns for the web-slingers respective appearances. [Update, 4/13/16: Per Marvel, the official title of the next solo Spider-Man movie is ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’.]
- The Fantastic Four
Owned by: 20th Century Fox
Back in 2005, 20th Century Fox thought they had the next big movie franchise when they released their Fantastic 4 movie. However, after one flop of a sequel, the franchise remained dormant until this year, when Fox released a similarly reviled reboot. Despite the reboot’s failure, there’s still a planned sequel in the works for 2017, as Fox clearly is reluctant to let go of this one without at least trying to go out in a blaze of glory. The big problem here is that any new character created within this universe by Marvel in the comics automatically becomes the property of Fox. This has all led to speculation the actual comic book for Fantastic Four could come to a permanent end as a result of this strange deal. Marvel even reportedly issued an edict where, according to AV Club, writers are “forbidden to create new characters,” lest they end up in Fox’s pocket in theaters.
In an even stranger turn of events, rumors flew around that Marvel and Fox had apparently come to an accord over the rights, putting the Fantastic Four firmly back in Marvel’s hands. Both studios soon came out and refuted this, but it still makes us wonder: Is something in the works? Perhaps it was a preliminary deal that has yet to be finalized, or maybe even worse, an agreed-upon deal fell through at the last second.
Owned by: 20th Century Fox (Sort of)
Bryan Singer’s X-Men back in 2000 found itself as the first commercial success for a superhero movie, getting the ball rolling for the next decade plus to come of franchises. But 20th Century Fox’s rights for the X-Men contain some strange loopholes. First and foremost, they completely own the right to the term “mutant,” and by extension any characters who are part of the X-Men in the comic universe. On the other end, Marvel owns the rights to the Avengers, and any character who was a primary member of that team in print. Two characters, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, have historically been members of both superhero teams, making it so both Marvel and Fox have the films rights to them.
Is your head spinning yet? Because it’s about to get worse. Fox’s ownership of the word “mutant” makes it so the Avengers lose Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s origin stories as Magneto’s offspring (and by extension mutants), but not the characters themselves. What Marvel’s done instead is claim they were part of experiments by Hydra to create superhumans, integrating them into Age of Ultron. The legal rights to each are incredibly twisted and convoluted, but when this much money is on the line it’s always going to be.