NOTE: The following explanation post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Comic book character rights are tricky – especially when it comes to big (and small) screen adaptations. While DC film rights are relatively straightforward, since Warner Bros. owns DC Entertainment (and its subsidiaries), Marvel characters are spread across a variety of film and TV studios. Prior to to the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe (and Disney’s acquisition), Marvel properties were producer at other studios – relying on everyone from Lionsgate to Universal Pictures to breath live-action into fan-favorite heroes.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Marvel stepped into live-action feature production with the release of Iron Man – laying the foundation for a multi-picture shared universe that, by 2020, will include over 20 films and multiple television series. Despite over $7.5 billion at the global box office to date, Marvel Studios is still beholden to agreements they signed in the ’90s – resulting in a complicated Venn diagram of merchandising, licensing, and copyright ownership. While some characters are clearly aligned at specific studios (Wolverine, Captain America, etc), others are split between owners – including Avengers newcomer Quicksilver.
With a new version of Quicksilver appearing in Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Age of Ultron less than one year after a different version of the character appeared in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, we decided to revisit the complicated history of Marvel movie copyrights – to help explain differences between the two Pietro Maximoffs (aka Quicksilver) and what those differences could mean for future appearances by the character.
Marvel Movie Rights: An Origin Story
The current Marvel and DC movie boom isn’t the first time that Hollywood has invested heavily in the superhero genre. Back in the 1980s, comic book movies may not have been nearly as bankable as they are now; yet, there were still plenty of heroes hitting the big screen. However, revolutionary special effects (the ones that would “Make You Believe a Man Can Fly”) were not cheap – resulting in a relatively small pool of studios willing to bankroll major superhero projects. In the face of high production budgets, coupled with an interest in expanding awareness for their brand and comic characters, Marvel began selling the film rights to some of their biggest stars: Spider-Man (initially licensed to Cannon Films) was one of the first to be acquired – followed by Blade (at New Line Cinema) and X-Men (20th Century Fox) which were quickly developed as tentpole features.
While Spider-Man sat in development hell (until Columbia Pictures finally got the web-slinger onto the big screen in 2002), the X-Men series set a new standard for comic book movie adaptations – and became a staple of Fox’s production line-up. As Marvel Studios (and later Disney) became a powerhouse in the expanding comic book movie genre, the publisher began buying-back, negotiating for, and happily snatching expired rights for characters like Black Panther, Daredevil, Blade, and even Black Widow, whereas other heroes remain unavailable for full re-acquisition.
Nevertheless, not all character rights are as clear-cut – with Namor, and select X-Men, among others, trapped in complicated gray areas – where ownership is not entirely held by a single entity.
Quicksilver’s Complicated Copyright
Every hero, studio, and agreement is different, and some details remain sealed away – so our analysis will be limited to the copyright for X-Men/Avengers hero Quicksilver. Unlike key X-Men personnel, like Wolverine or Cyclops, Quicksilver (and his twin sister Scarlet Witch) are also deeply ingrained in Avengers canon – meaning that both 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios have legitimate right to use the characters in their respective movie universes.
For those unfamiliar with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s comic book backstory, their origins hop back and forth between the X-Men and Avengers (as well as X-Factor) series. Recruited by their father (Magneto), the young mutants join his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants – and fight the X-Men on multiple occasions. Though, when Magneto suddenly disappears, the twins return to Europe and attempt to leave their evil ways behind – leading to recruitment by Tony Stark.
The twins, alongside Hawkeye and Captain America, makeup the second generation Avengers team, dubbed: “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” – until Scarlet Witch is injured in a battle with Magneto. In the fallout, Quicksilver and his sister attempt to make amends with their father – only to realize that he is truly a villain and the pair rejoin The Avengers. In the years since, both characters appear in X-Men and Avengers titles – forging strong relationships with heroes and villains in each book series.
As a result, certain elements of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch belong to individual studios – though the characters are shared between Fox and Marvel.
The lines are subtle but, essentially, the Maximoffs can appear in a Marvel movie (Age of Ultron) – as long as there is no mention of Magneto and the twins are not be referred to as “mutants.” Similarly, Fox is free to include Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in an X-Men film (Days of Future Past) but Singer would not be allowed to mention their connection to The Avengers, The Inhumans, or any other Marvel Studios property.
Quicksilver: Fox vs. Marvel Differences
Following the announcement of Evan Peters’ casting in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but prior to Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s casting in Avengers: Age of Ultron, we explained possibilities for how the Fox and Marvel’s shared control of the character would play-out onscreen (as well as affect future appearances):
- Both studios are offering their own adaptation of the super-fast Quicksilver character and his sister.
- Marvel and Joss Whedon’s “brother-sister act” may not be what it seems and rumors of changing origins significantly may prove true – non-mutants of British heritage, unrelated to Magneto, perhaps even with different names.
- The ultimate fanboy outcome: Fox and Disney/Marvel struck a deal to allow crossover between the X-Men and Avengers movie universes.
Unfortunately (for those hoping for the ultimate fanboy outcome), Days of Future Past and Age of Ultron featured a mix of our first two predictions, specifically: different versions with tweaked origin stories – to ensure that neither Quicksilver (or Scarlet Witch) overstepped copyright boundaries.
To that end, here’s what Marvel Studios executive producer Kevin Feige had to say about the competing movie versions of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch:
We both have [Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch]. There’s a specific arrangement with those two characters that would allow us to use them with “Avengers,” but not discuss or reference their mutant or Magneto-related lineage. They can use them as mutants and as Magneto’s relatives, but cannot have anything to do with “The Avengers.”
In Days of Future Past, Quicksilver (played by Evan Peters) is a silver-haired American mutant with super-speed and it is directly implied that he, along with his red-haired (but unnamed) sister, is Magneto’s illegitimate child – a charming but undisciplined teenager that uses his powers primarily for personal gain. In the movie, the X-Men enlist Quicksilver to help break Magneto out of prison – in a complicated slow-motion jailbreak sequence. We do not know, yet, what role the character will have in future X-Men movie events; though, Quicksilver is expected to return for the next installment – X-Men: Apocalypse.
Conversely, the Quicksilver in The Avengers: Age of Ultron is in his early twenties and hails from Easter Europe – and, rather than inherent mutant abilities, this version of the character receives his powers from Hydra experimentation. Based on the Maximoffs’ movie backstory, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were, at one point, seemingly normal humans – meaning their powers are either the product of exposure to the “mind gem” (the extraterrestrial stone inside Loki’s scepter) or were simply waiting to be unlocked. Inhumans have already debuted on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – which has openly showed human to Inhuman “terrigenesis” transformation.
Could the mind gem have simply unlocked Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s inherent Inhuman powers through an alternate process? Time, and future appearances, will likely help clarify what made these “enhanced” siblings so special – especially considering every other test subject of Baron Strucker’s experimentation did not survive.
SECOND WARNING: Haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron? The rest of this post contains MAJOR SPOILERS.
Begin The Avengers: Age of Ultron SPOILERS
Did Marvel Kill Quicksilver to Avoid Future Competition?
Of course, those who have already seen Avengers: Age of Ultron know that, at least in the case of Quicksilver, future appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are not guaranteed – since the hero gives his life to save Hawkeye in the final battle. That said, Marvel movie fans know that on-screen deaths are not always as definitive as they may appear (example: Loki, Bucky, and Coulson, among others) – so it is possible that Quicksilver will find his way back to the MCU. In the source material Quicksilver is a team-hopping hero, one who doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with his fellow Avengers and X-Men, and he’d be a smart bridge for the studio’s upcoming Inhumans movie (bringing a familiar face to a previously unknown team) or a useful asset in the Russo Brothers’ two-part Avengers team-up Infinity War.
That said, if he is dead (a one-off hero that helps introduce his extremely powerful twin sister to The Avengers roster going forward), it’s hard not to wonder if the character was always fated to die in the film – or if Marvel Studios and director Joss Whedon simply decided to avoid cross-studio confusion going forward. After all, Quicksilver is a major player in Marvel comic history – and, as such, his death in Age of Ultron marks a surprisingly brief appearance for one of the publisher’s most well-know support characters.
While audiences have seen a few MCU characters on the big and small screen prior to the creation of their shared universe (Ang Lee’s Hulk), as well as multiple actors in select Marvel Studios roles (Edward Norton/Mark Ruffalo and Don Cheadle/Terrence Howard), the copyright situation with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch marks the first time, in the current MCU, that the same character has appeared in two competing projects. Given that X-Men is set to lean on Quicksilver and The Avengers are priming Scarlet Witch for a main role, it’s possible that Feige put Pietro Maximoff in the grave – simply to avoid further cross-market cannibalization and confusion.
Whether Quicksilver’s demise was always part of the plan or a shrewd business move, with a reworked Avengers roster, along with future members yet to debut, and the planned inclusion of Spider-Man, audiences shouldn’t expect to see Quicksilver back for a Marvel Studios movie in the near-future. For now, the character’s death appears pretty definitive – but less-plausible resurrections have already occurred in the MCU.
SEE ALSO: The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review
The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now playing in theaters, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.
X-Men: Apocalypse opens on May 27th, 2016, Gambit on October 7th, 2016, Wolverine 3 (not the official title) on March 3rd, 2017, and some as-yet unspecified X-Men film on July 13th, 2018.