For years, Marvel Studios has scrambled to reclaim the rights to all of its cinematic properties. With the Spider-Verse scattered across Marvel and Sony Pictures (mostly Sony), Namor and Hulk sort of smashing over at Universal Pictures, Man-Thing at Lionsgate, and X-Men and Fantastic Four at 20th Century Fox, it hasn’t been easy. However, most of their major characters now live under Disney’s umbrella. In addition, their deal with Sony allowed Spider-Man to be reborn through Tom Holland and Spider-Man: Homecoming, one of the best entries in the twice-rebooted movie property.
Recently, news of fresh talks between Disney and Fox came to light. A deal to sell off parts and/or parcels of their comic book properties was purportedly in the works, one which might even bring the studio-maligned Fantastic Four and the tonally uneven mutants back to Marvel Studios. Fans longing for a unified Marvel Cinematic Universe, though, had their hopes dashed once again, when it was revealed that the talks had fallen apart… or have they?
A Familiar Street
Comic book movie devotees are probably tired of reading all the speculation detailing possible ventures between Disney and other Marvel comic book rights-holders. At the same time, the recent Fox-Marvel discussion is the most significant piece of proof that a legitimate deal between the studio giants – something production head Kevin Feige has routinely dismissed or played coy about over the years – is attainable. His efforts to wheel and deal for different properties demonstrates a determined interest in securing as many comic book characters for the House of Ideas’ film wing as possible.
For instance, both studios share joint custody of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (although the former died off quickly and the latter has yet to appear in a Fox film – and probably won’t). To obtain Ego the Living Planet for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (during which the Watchers also appeared), Marvel brokered an exchange that allowed FOX to tweak Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s power set to director Tim Miller’s needs. Captain Marvel’s solo flick also confirmed the use of the shape-shifting Skrulls – once assumed floating in usage limbo – and indicating further shared attributes between studios.
Clearly, the door is open: Fox and Marvel’s television wings already hashed out accords, which allowed their collaboration on The Gifted and Legion, two wildly different but extremely successful mutant series. Well-received ventures between the studios will only sweeten their relationship in the long run. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee both companies will reach a mutually beneficial shared usage agreement (a la Sony) or wholesale selloff of FOX's Marvel personalities. The most recent meetings, while ending inconclusively, still offer hope for future collaborations and perhaps even a world-rending shift in cinematic property rights.
A Lesser Magnitude
Speaking at Wizard World Nashville in September, comics book legend Stan Lee seemed to think a Marvel-Fox deal was inevitable. Lee might not be in the thick of things anymore, but he’s noted for his insight, tenacity, and prescience in the entertainment world – especially when it comes to the comic book house he once ran. After all, many believed the Sony-Disney agreement was a pie in the sky before Homecoming was announced. This leg of negotiations may have fallen flat but, assuming Marvel or FOX isn’t merely pulling back as a bargaining move, the two studios may yet come to a consensus.
Much like the Sony set-up, FOX could hand over joint custody of certain properties, perhaps even the thorn-in-their-side Fantastic Four franchise while keeping access to key X-Men properties. Similarly, Marvel might reach a shared-usage accord that allows them access to certain characters, including members of the X-Men like Wolverine, Storm, or Beast, villains like Galactus or Doctor Doom, or even the Shi’ar, while sharing profits with FOX. Even if the two comic book movie titans can’t meet in the middle, it’s unlikely their haggling at loggerheads.
Marvel put a lot of creative effort into Homecoming, but they didn’t put up the capital for the production or reap any of the profit from it, aside from the undoubted hefty spike in Spider-Man man merchandise. At the same time, they didn't take as much of a risk and were allowed to pull Spidey into the MCU. If FOX, like Sony, is interested in pulling down some serious Marvel bank – especially since some of their X-Men recent efforts, Deadpool and Logan aside, have been hit-or-miss as of late – they may negotiate a similar arrangement.
At this point, it’s unclear the extent of Marvel and FOX’s negotiations. All we know for sure is that things didn’t work out… for now. The reclamation of Namor and Scarlet Witch, for example, didn’t happen overnight, not to mention the likely arduous process that landed Spider-Man back in the MCU, at least provisionally.
The talks might be over for now, but Kevin Feige’s plan to reassemble Marvel’s wayward heroes under Disney’s roof will continue as an aspect of his oversight of the MCU. One way or another, the chapter may have closed on Marvel’s mission to nab the X-Men and Fantastic Four but the book is still unwritten. Whether or not that would damage the manifold worlds created by each different studio or joyously unite the company’s character pool remains to be seen.