Bound By Contract
The confusion about Marvel characters being owned by other production companies, as well as the workings of their contracts is explained.
Resident editor Josh Wilding did a recent article on whether or not "The Amazing Spider-Man" film would be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After reading the user comments, its clear for anyone to see that there are a lot of people who are outright confused about how the contracts work between Marvel and other production studios such as Fox and Sony work. After doing tons of research on this topic, admittedly, there is not a lot of information out there. Even after everything I was able to uncover online (which is surprisingly substantial), the questions far outweigh the answers. Questions concerning which characters are owned by whom may seem like a simple thing to discern, however, there are always those exceptions that leave people confused. This article is an attempt to both educate, and possibly make some sense out of these outstanding film contracts.
First and foremost, it is important to understand the history of this situation. Way back in 1993, Marvel Entertainment was suffering serious financial woes. This was a time when comic book movies were few and far between, and comic book sales for the entire industry were plummeting. Unlike DC, who is owned by WB and never truly in trouble of going out of business, Marvel was on the verge of going under. In order to save their company, Marvel began selling movie rights to as many of their characters as they possibly could. Marvel sold the rights for Blade to New Line Cinema. New Line made the now legendary Blade film which jump started the trend of comic book movies. Blade did so well, that it opened the eyes of every major production company under the sun. X-Men soon followed, which then showed that not only could comic based movies be successful, but that super hero movies, a genre previously believed to be hokey and unsuccessful, could also make money.
The contracts are different depending on the agreement made with each production company, however the stipulations are the same. The contracts state that each production company that has a property leased to them has to have begun production on a film for said property within a certain amount of years. This is why we see films in the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises constantly having movies made about them. The contracts state that each property gives the production company free reign to make movies about each franchise and includes all related characters. This also means that a production company can do spin-offs about a character related to a franchise, and this would also extend the contract for the overall franchise. The perfect example of this would be the Wolverine: Origins film. That was a spinoff of the X-Men films, and therefore extended the life of the contract for all things X-Men. Now, if a production company fails to start production on their respective property in the time agreed upon, then the rights will then revert back to Marvel. The ONLY other way Marvel would be able to gain these rights back is if they bought them back. However, with financially successful titles like X-Men and Spider-Man that consistently make truck loads of money, its easy to see that as long as they continue to make these high dollar amounts, the production companies would be unwilling to sell them back.
As an example, here are a few of the franchises that Marvel sold to other companies. These production companies failed to begin making films based on these characters, so the rights reverted back to Marvel.
Iron Man and Blade from New Line Cinema
Hulk from Universal
Luke Cage from Sony
Black Widow and Iron Fist from Artisan
Punisher from Lionsgate
For whatever reasons, these companies did not have enough faith that these properties could make money, so they never began production on a film for them. Consequently, the rights returned to Marvel after the time limit on their respective contracts ran out.
People have also been asking why Marvel does not just do small cameos of characters owned by other companies, and just not name the character. People have commented that they should have had a small cameo of Wolverine in the Captain America film. They have suggested that they just show a guy smoking a cigar and say "Bub" in one sentence, without saying who he actually is. This is also something that would not work, and would be considered a breach of contract. After doing a little research, I was able to find this legal docket for a case back in 2001, where Fox sued Marvel over their television show "Mutant X". I will provide a link to the docket, but in summary, it states that the show was almost identical to properties owned by Fox, and attempted to cash in on the recent success of the X-Men film due to making a cheap copy of the actual source. This just goes to show that Fox, or any other company that owns the film rights leased by Marvel, is not afraid to defend their properties to the fullest if they feel Marvel is breaking their contract agreement. If they were willing to sue over characters that only resembled their property, then imagine what they would do if they saw Marvel try to put Wolverine, or any other character in one of their movies.
For those not in the know, this is the list of franchises and characters that are owned by other production companies. Keep in mind that this list is not entirely complete, as we have seen characters or names of characters appear in films that are not here, simply because it would be impossible to list every single character that is affiliated with the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and any other franchise's respective universe.
20th Century Fox
Daredevil: Daredevil/Matt Murdock , Elektra (Natchios), The Kingpin/Wilson Fisk , Bullseye, Jack Murdock , Karen Page, Ben Urich
Elektra: Christine Cord/Tatoo, Typhoid Mary/Marry Alice Walker, Kirigi, Stick, Stone
Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom/Victor von Doom, Human Torch /Johnny Storm , Invisible Woman /Susan Storm , Mr. Fantastic /Dr. Reed Richards, The Thing/Ben Grimm , Nova/Frankie Raye, Alicia Masters , Willie Lumpkin
X-Men Mutants: [Agent Zero /Maverick/David North], Angel/Warren Worthington III, Arclight/Phillippa Sontag, Beast/Dr. Henry Phillip “Hank” McCoy, [Blob/Frederick J. Dukes], [Bolt/Christopher Bradley], Callisto, Colossus/Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin, Cyclops/Scott Summers , [Deadpool/Wade Wilson], Emma (Grace) Frost, Jean Grey /Phoenix, Juggernaut/Cain Marko, Gambit/Remy LeBeau , Glob Herman/Herman Gardner, Iceman/Bobby Drake, Jubilee/Jubilation Lee , Katherine “Kitty” Anne Pryde, [Kestrel/John Wraith ], Lady Deathstrike /Yuriko Oyama, Leech, Magneto/Erik Magnus Lehnsherr , Mastermind/Jason (Wyngarde), Multiple Man/James Arthur Madrox, Mystique/Raven Darkholme, Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner, Phat/William Robert “Billy-Bob” Reilly, Professor Charles Xavier , Psylocke/Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock, Pyro/St. John Allerdyce, Quill/Max Jordan, Rogue/(Anna) Marie, Sabretooth/Victor Creed , Sebastian Hiram Shaw, [Silver Fox], Siryn/Theresa Rourke Cassidy, (The) Spike, Storm/Ororo Munroe , Wolverine/Logan
X-Men Non-Mutants: Drake Family (Steven, Madeline, Ronny), Grey Family (Dr. John , Elaine), Henry Peter Gyrich, Robert Edward Kelly, Dr. Moira Kinross MacTaggert, Dr. Kavita Rao, William Stryker , Bolivar Trask, Warren Worthington II
Ghost Rider: Ghost Rider/Johnny Blaze, Blackheart/Legion, Phantom Rider /Carter Slade, Abigor, Gressil, Mephistopheles, Wallow, Barton Blaze , Roxanne Simpson
Spider-Man: Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius, Green Goblin /Norman Osborn, (New) Green Goblin/Harry Osborn, [The Lizard]/Dr. Curt Connors , Sandman/Flint Marko, Venom/Eddie Brock Jr., Betty Brant, Dennis Carradine (Buglar), J. Jonah Jameson , Ben Parker, May Parker , John Jameson, Joseph “Robbie” Robertson, Gwen Stacy , Mendel Stromm, Flash Thompson
So, I hope this has helped clear up some of the contract confusion with anyone that had questions, which are clearly numerous. I know this does not help with some exceptions, like where exactly would characters like Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver fit in? They're both mutants and got their start in X-Men comics, so they are clearly X-Men related. However, they have had a much longer history, and are better recognized as Avengers. So where exactly do they fall in this contract fiasco? Questions like that will probably never be answered until we actually see the character in a movie. So, until then, thanks for reading, and again, I hope this helped clear up any confusion.
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