Opening Salvo? A Look Back At Fox And Marvel Right Negotiations
May 23, 2013. Remember that date comicbookmovie.com faithful. A new wrinkle in the superhero adaptation game has just reared its ugly head as the opening salvo was just launched between Fox and Marvel Studios over character rights. Make no mistake, inserting Quicksilver into X-Men: Days of Future Past at such a late stage in the film's production is a calculated move on 20th Century Fox's part with a clear message aimed at Marvel Studios. In real estate, this would be called possessory interest - the intent and right of an individual to occupy and/or exercise control over a particular plot of land (or in this case "a particular character"). By utilizing Quicksilver first, Fox is establishing first claim to the character in a move that could potentially lead to legal action if Marvel is foolish enough to use the same character in The Avengers 2.
By establishing claim to Quicksilver first, could 20th Century Fox sue Marvel Studios if they forge ahead with plans to use the character in The Avengers 2?
Think about it, what does Days of Future Past gain by shoehorning Quicksilver into the story? Absolutely nothing, the character doesn't appear in the original Chris Claremont story and he's certainly not popular enough to elicit any meaningful response from the fan base. So why do it? This isn't a practical joke or prank between siblings, these are billion dollar, RIVAL film studios that have been known to play hardball with one another. While the two studios' various executives have previously gone on record to say they have a good working relationship with one another, reports are starting to leak out to the contrary. At this juncture, Marvel can either (A.)one-up Fox and insert Quicksilver into one of their upcoming films via a stinger or end-credit scene (B.)tell Joss to revise his script and replace Pietro and Wanda with some other characters or (C.) forge ahead and call Fox's bluff. If they choose (C.) look for Fox to sue Marvel right before the release of The Avengers 2 in an effort to get a slice of the film's profits. Such an action would put Fox in a position of power with the fate of the film's release date hanging in the balance.
But where does this story begin? It probably starts with S.H.I.E.L.D.? In a 2012 interview with C.H.U.D. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige reveals that over the years, both Sony and Fox have asked to use S.H.I.E.L.D. in their Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and X-Men films and he's turned them down. That's Marvel establishing an early precedence that "No, you can't use our characters." Looking at the situation now, that early stance may come back to haunt them. What's also a bit glaring is the fact that, according to Avi Arad, Sony let Fox borrow the rights to Kingpin for their Daredevil movie. If you're Fox, maybe you're a little annoyed at the fact that Sony can play nice but Marvel can't? It's a safe bet that no lasting friendships were made last Fall when Fox had their backs against the wall, needing an extension on their Daredevil rights, to which Marvel made a counter proposal for Silver Surfer and Galactus. If that's not strong-arm negotiations, I don't know what is! But this situation really got interesting when Feige made the statement that certain characters are shared between studios. Talking to HeyUGuys back in April 2012 (about none other than Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), Feige stated, "It's a little complicated but if [Fox] wants to use them in an X-Men move they could, if we wanted to use them in an Avengers movie, we could. They're not very many characters [in that gray area], they're unique and the Skrulls have a little bit of that too. Mainly it's very cut and dry." In looking at this statement, it's easy to infer that A-list characters are explicitly named in contracts but the tertiary characters (i.e. Skrulls, Quicksilver) are not, meaning that the relevant aspects of such characters can be used by either studio. That's how Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver can be in an Avengers movie, you simply can't mention Magneto or the fact that they're mutants. Who else would fall into this so-called gray area? The Kree? That could certainly impact a Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers film. Are such tertiary characters and concepts like Adam Warlock, Annihilus, The Badoon, or the Negative Zone specifically listed in the contract between Marvel and Fox? These names probably mean nothing to the larger populace but the knowledgeable fans around these parts definitely know these are prized possessions. If they fall into the "gray area" there could potentially be a similar situation brewing with Fantastic Four and Guardians of the Galaxy, two Marvel concepts steeped in cosmic lore.
The other side to Feige's "gray area" comment is that we've never heard anyone at Fox or Sony corroborate that notion. By all accounts, Fox is gearing up to create their own shared Marvel Universe but they're at a numerical disadvantage when it comes to characters. Limited to just the X-Men and Fantastic Four catalogs, business logic dictates that Fox secure and control as many characters as possible, not standby and watch Marvel lay first claim to intellectual properties that are (apparently) loosely defined by the terms of their contractual agreement. X-Men: First Class director Bryan Singer has already deleted and modified yesterday's casting tweet which was a perceived dig at Marvel's Avengers 2 plans but it would be foolish to lay any blame at the directors feet. This is a game above his head, being played by executives, lawyers and shareholders.
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