Given the recent glory of the MCU, it is hard to imagine a time where Marvel ever found itself down on its luck. However, that's exactly what happened 1980s. The comic book powerhouse was in severe financial decline, and, in order to save what it had left, Marvel began selling off some of its assets, particularly the movie rights for certain characters. This meant that the rights to some of its characters became a free-for-all, with the pie being sliced in a number of creative ways, ultimately sending the rights for various properties to different movie studios. After the brand was acquired by Disney, resulting in the formation of Marvel Studios, led by Kevin Feige, it's been a scavenger hunt to bring them home ever since.
Even recently, the Disney-owned movie studio hasn't made it easy for laymen to understand which character is where and why, splitting off the characters Marvel does own into various TV and Netflix sub-universes, giving us the likes of Daredevil and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. While all Maarvel's properties purport to fit into a singlular all MCU canon, it is highly unlikely that the big and small screen will cross over with characters like Charlie Cox popping up as Matt Murdoch in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, for example. So, if you have your pen and paper ready and fancy giving yourself a headache, here's tho "Who's Who" of the complicated game of Marvel character rights.
1) X-Men and Deadpool (This Page)
Starting off with the many mutants of the X-Men, there is a fairly straightforward explanation here. With ownership going almost exclusively to Fox, we have enjoyed 17 years of the X-Men since Bryan Singer kicked things off in 2000. That's seven films of Professor Xavier vs. Magneto, the Westchester school for gifted youngsters, and some nine films with Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. In fact, Fox seemingly owns the word "mutants" in the Marvel universe meaning the MCU even has been extra careful about the way it phrases things.
However, it does get a little complicated when it comes to those pesky Magneto offspring. Comic book fans will know that both Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are the children of Magneto, but both still manage to appear in the MCU. Strange contractual loopholes mean that Marvel still retains the rights to anyone who features as a majority in a superhero team. With the Avengers definitely belonging to Marvel, and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being lead members, it means the duo joined the MCU in a post-credits scene for Captain America: The Winter Solider before getting a proper debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The loss of the word "mutant," however, meant that Feige and co. skirted around the pair's father and origin story to make them the result of Hydra experimentation instead.
Tim Millers's Deadpool, while mostly separate from the X-Men movies, still included Xavier's mansion, Colossus, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, but with the sequel teasing a crossover with some of Josh Boone's New Mutants cast or the X-Force movie, expect Fox to continue establishing some of their lesser known mutants now. In the "main" series of films, Simon Kinberg's Dark Phoenix will reunite franchise alumni like James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence with a returning Sophie Turner for a second try at the "Phoenix Saga" - we all know how Brett Ratner's last attempt went!
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