SPOILERS for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Marvel Studios operates under the difficult circumstances where all of their characters are not at their disposal, but Kevin Feige has explained how the Watchers were legally allowed to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Before forming what is now known as Marvel Studios, Marvel proper sold off the film rights to many characters that has seen Spider-Man continue to be seen under Sony's umbrella, while the X-Men and Fantastic Four continue to be used by Fox. Still, even with their "B-list" characters, the Marvel Studios' president has crafted a plan to elevate them to the biggest names in the business.
The legal complications are some of the reasons why it is unlikely that the X-Men and Avengers will ever meet, but Fox owns many other characters besides just the mutants. Even then, Marvel Studios found a way to include prominent mutants Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver - with altered backstories - but they also just introduced the Watchers. It was previously believed they were solely owned by Fox, but Feige has explained how they too can use them.
In an interview with /Film, Feige was asked about their inclusion in Vol. 2 and their interaction with Stan Lee. He was directly asked how these characters that are so closely associated with the Fantastic Four can appear in a non-Fox movie, and Feige simply states the studios have joint custody.
No. There’s joint custody with a number of things. There are certain characters that they have, but races that we share. If that makes sense?
The introduction of the Watchers in Vol. 2 has already set the fan community into a craze as speculation has run wild as to how they could be major factors moving forward. However, it does not appear to be as clear as "Marvel can use the Watchers completely." Feige specifically states that the race of the Watchers is co-owned, but that Fox has the rights to specific characters. This could mean that while Marvel can include these beings, they may not have the ability to introduce Uatu the Watcher, for instance.
This is not the first time the legal structures of these deals have come into question either. Outside of the Scarlet Witch/Quicksilver case, Skrulls have also been a big discussion point. They also operate under a similar deal structure where Marvel Studios has rights to specific types of Skrulls, while Fox has claim to some as well. But, if there is a scenario where either sides needs access beyond the initial deal, the two studios have shown a willingness to cooperate. It was previously revealed they made changes to the deal so Ego could be in Vol. 2 and Fox could alter Negasonic Teenage Warhead's powers in Deadpool. So, if Fox has no plans to include Uatu and Marvel can make them an enticing enough proposal, there are certainly ways to make things work. Either way, it is nice to have a simple explanation as to how this recent scenario played out.
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