Ever since the idea of a movie based on Marvel Comics' The Avengers became a reality, an idea that became a box office record-setting success, superhero movie team-ups and universe building became the new norm, and everyone wants in. Why focus strictly on an individual comic book character (or even one small team) with traditional sequels when you can boost the appeal (and merchandise sales) by putting characters together?
Team-ups allow for bigger marketing, bigger "event" status and that highly sought after word-of-mouth viral effect to push moviegoers to theaters on that crucial opening weekend. It's an annual thing to see crossover events and long-form storytelling spanning multiple character arcs and stories to boost comics sales, so it's only natural to see this system translated by Hollywood. Unfortunately, when it comes to multi-million dollar blockbuster films, it's not quite as easy.
Movies based on Marvel Comics form the perfect example of how difficult it is to adapt popular stories from the books, where the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine team up with The Avengers on the regular. In the movie business, it's all very restrictive since different studios own the rights to different properties and talent have different, conflicting schedules and contracts. Sony owns Spider-Man for instance (and previously, Ghost Rider). Fox owns the Fantastic Four and the X-Men (and previously, Daredevil). Universal owns Namor (and previously, Hulk). Marvel owns the rest in-house.
Superhero films have become a genre in their own right and year after year dominate the top slots at the box office. It's no surprise then to see each studio rushing to form their own annualized interconnected franchises ever since Marvel Studios proved that it can work and that fans love it.
Beginning next year, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. will be building off the success of Man of Steel and releasing at least two films per year all the way to 2020. Twentieth Century Fox is investing heavily in their Marvel properties by pushing out an extra two X-Men spinoffs to accompany X-Men: Apocalypse, making for three Marvel movies from them in 2016 and again, at least two every year going forward. Marvel Studios already outlined their Phase 3 plans, revealing what comes after this summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man and they are quickly moving to three films per year.
So, as we've discussed a great many of times before - here on the site and the Screen Rant Underground podcast - the most interesting topic is about what comes next. As each studio builds their own universes and teams up their heroes against their greatest villains, what comes next? Crossovers. And it's already beginning.
After rumors and reports were confirmed by leaked emails from within Sony, pointing towards the possibility that Sony and Marvel could team up to reboot Spider-Man and have the character join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it actually happened this week. Sony has abandoned their Amazing Spider-Man universe and its star Andrew Garfield and director Marc Webb in favor of recasting and rebooting. This time, they're doing it with the help of Marvel Studios by first introducing a new Peter Parker in a Marvel movie (likely Captain America: Civil War) and then working with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige on a new standalone Spider-Man for 2017.
We won't get into deep into the details here but Sony maintains their ownership of the character, while this new Spider-Man, and all of the spinoffs and followups, are now set within the same cinematic space as Marvel Studios' films and television projects. It's a genius move and a precedent setting one. Spider-Man will continue to make money for Sony, now bolstered by Marvel's help (and you can bet Marvel characters will show up in Spidey movies going forward), and Marvel can acknowledge that there exists Spider-Man in their fictional version of New York and use him where necessary as well (think future Avengers movies).
Sony and Marvel have come together to build the first multi-studio superhero crossover. It's a monumental achievement when you think of what it took to get to this point, especially when considering how many key people at these studios and working on these films have spoken about their desire for this sort of agreement to come to pass.
One such figure is Hugh Jackman, the star of Fox's X-Men franchise and current record-holder for playing a superhero in the most movies. It's not quite official yet, but Hugh Jackman is returning to screens next summer in X-Men: Apocalypse and the following year in a third Wolverine movie. He hints (fittingly) that these two movies will very much be connected.
As a producer on some of these movies, a veteran talent, and an outspoken, fan-friendly proponent of Fox's X-Men, Jackman very much loves the idea of crossovers. When I had the opportunity to speak with him on the set of The Wolverine in late 2012, I asked him about The Avengers (which was just finishing its run in theaters at the time) and what it could lead to.
"I actually just asked the other day, I said, ‘I don’t know what the legal situation is, but why don’t these companies come together? Why isn’t it possible?’ Because personally, I would love to mix it up with Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man and kick his ass. It’d be great."
You can bet there are conversations happening over at Fox about this very idea now that Sony and Marvel have come to an agreement. And it wouldn't be the first time. X-Men franchise producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Fox's Marvel Comics consultant Mark Millar have been very vocal about expressing interest in seeing Fox's Marvel characters crossing over with The Avengers; or at the very least, acknowledging each other studio's universe in a way that their stories do not contradict or conflict.
In the meantime, Fox is gearing up for their own crossover. This summer will see the reboot of Fantastic Four release in theaters and a sequel is already scheduled for 2017. It's all but confirmed that this new take on the Marvel Comics founding family will share the same space as the X-Men. This Fantastic Four, directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle) introduces inter-dimensional transportation so they even have the ultimate plot device to merge universes if need be when the time comes...
Needless to say, it's becoming a lot easier to imagine that after Fox has their own team-up and after Marvel Studios puts all of their puzzle pieces together for the two-part Avengers: Infinity War in 2018-19, they could feasibly join forces with the Fantastic Four and X-Men in some sort of similar deal. A lot of actor contracts and character stories will be coming to their end around that time on both sides, and the idea of seeing every Marvel movie universe folded into one Marvel Cinematic Universe will help keep things fresh and keep the movie superhero momentum rolling.
When Hugh Jackman first learned of the Spider-Man news this morning during the Chappie press junket while chatting with ScreenCrush, he lit up and said "wow" as he looked around the room.
"I think that's really exciting news. I've always loved the very basic idea of the comic book world where on a Friday night you can have a couple of beers with a mate and you go 'wouldn't it be great to see Wolverine face off with Iron Man?" and bang, Monday morning someone's drawing it.
I always thought that was cool. I mean, it's a very complicated world of rights, who buys what at what price, when, and I think it's great they're kind of melding in. I'm sure by the time all that is resolved it'll be past my day, but you never know."
Our own Kofi Outlaw spoke with Jackman today as well to get more of his thoughts.
I think Marvel has been a great model of how to really invest in story and a long-term view of it, and I think with the X-Men I've always thought 'oh my god, there are so many characters.' I mean, you see an X-Men movie and there are 15 characters. That's just a drop in the ocean of the characters that have been created in the 50-60 years of the comic book, so it's not for a lack of resources. It's just a matter of committing to it and finding different ways to go."
It'll be interesting to see as time goes on how much appetite is there from an audience for these types of movies, but I've always believed people see good movies. They don't see bad ones. They might see one or two bad ones but they don't continually go and see bad ones, and at the moment, comic book movies in general have been good.
When we joked that he could be the face of that next big potential crossover and suggested that the walls are coming down between the studios when it comes to these projects, Jackman responded, "I think so too. I hope so, actually."
So, if Marvel can keep thinking big, and plan long-term, there might be room eventually for them to work together with Fox. Neither studio needs this at the moment like Sony needed it for Spider-Man, so the pressure isn't there. Fox has so many Marvel movies in the works and X-Men: Days of Future Past offered them a fresh start to go alongside an entirely new series in the Fantastic Four. They have many characters and story arcs from the comics to draw upon for decades, many of which Marvel wants to use but can't because of how certain characters, alien species, etc. are owned or co-owned by Fox.
It's also important to note that the Fox-Marvel relationship is unfortunately not very strong. Marvel has strict policies against certain forms of X-Men and Fantastic Four merchandising (no Mondo posters for FF and no toy lines for Days of Future Past are just two recent examples) and they've canceled the Fantastic Four comics, despite the film coming out. So that's not a good sign. Although merchandising these movie franchises going forward in conjunction with Marvel crossovers and giving a cut to Fox could be a good bargaining tool should Marvel desire to work something out. Again, they don't need to anytime soon, unless they decide they want some of what Fox owns to show up in the MCU (a lot of the space-based characters come to mind).
That's not shattering the optimism of Hugh Jackman, though. And if anyone can spearhead change, it's going to be him. The question then becomes, if it does eventually happen and Fox can work with Marvel, will it still be Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine? Such a deal would certainly help make it more appealing for the franchise poster boys like him and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) to stick around for a few more films.
Sources: Marvel, ScreenCrush, Screen Rant