Bound By Contract

The confusion about Marvel characters being owned by other production companies, as well as the workings of their contracts is explained.

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By CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011


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.

http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-2nd-circuit/1136021.html

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

Sony Pictures
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.

~CDB
Source: Screenrant.com
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30 Comments
Paulley - 8/1/2011, 9:11 AM
well Elektra came out in 2005 so that extends it abit.. and i guess they have one in early stage of production so im guessing their license is on a longer years than Lionsgate's.
CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011, 9:11 AM
@ yossarian

yeah, the length of the contracts is different for each property though, and thats one of the things that i couldn't find online. I would love for someone to find those things.

i know some are only like 3-4 years, while others are upwards to 8 years. it just all depends on the agreement they made.
CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011, 9:13 AM
if i remember, there was a article a few months ago when they first started talking about a Daredevil reboot. I think the person said it was 7 years on DD and the DD movie was in 2003. But like Paulley said, the Elektra movie would have extended the contract.
CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011, 9:21 AM
@ yossarian

i don't understand how people are confused either, but just go read the comments in Josh's Spider-Man article. the amount of people who have no idea whats really going on is ridiculous.

its why i wrote this, lol.
Destroyer14 - 8/1/2011, 9:39 AM
Very informative editorial, a great read.
Paulley - 8/1/2011, 10:03 AM
As for the Amazing Spider-Man (obviously appearing in Avengers cannot and will not happen), but i think what people are asking is whether Marvel has struck a deal to allow Sony to incorporate ASM into their shared movie universe.

Though personally i cant see why Marvel would want to add a continuity into their universe that they didnt completely control, it seem like all the advantages would go to Sony in such a deal...
HaroldOfGalactus - 8/1/2011, 10:16 AM
the lionsgate contract for punisher reverted back because they failed to make X amount of money on the property rights. It's not just a time involved thing.

There is currenbtly a Daredevil movie in production, currently being helmed by David Slade
CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011, 10:44 AM
@ harold

right, but if they didn't make Elektra, then DD would have reverted back to Marvel in 2010. Elektra is what kept DD in Fox's hands.
Destroyer14 - 8/1/2011, 10:48 AM
Heh heh, no wonder Electra was so bad, they just wanted to keep the rights, so they threw that film at us.
Paulley - 8/1/2011, 11:01 AM
Fox said the same about making a shitty FF direct-to-DVD just to do the same... evil evil gits!!

Give Marvel/Disney the first family so they can make the MCU extra awesome!

--

Columbia and Marvel Studios are ASM producers. That's where the rumor started as in all the other Spider-Man film its been between Columbia and
Marvel Entertainment
and people thought that the name change was more significant
Shadow11 - 8/1/2011, 11:39 AM
Why can't Marvel do their movies with other studios like Universal Studios, or even Warner Bros
BrotherStarkofMABMindz - 8/1/2011, 12:22 PM
Hey Fox, why don't you have a connected universe with the X-Men and The Fantastic Four, or hows about this all of you GIVE MARVEL THEIR GODDAMN RIGHTS BACK
ThreeBigTacos - 8/1/2011, 12:36 PM
@CornDog: great article man! I still can't believe people are confused about these things, when it's literally in BOLD in front of them sometimes ya know.

In a perfect world, Marvel would have all the rights back, but until then, we must deal with it. However, I think it would be a HUGE marketing boost if Sony and Marvel could make a deal, to have him just make a small cameo in the Avengers or future properties. I think kids (amongst ourselves of course) would love to see Spidey next to the likes of Hulk or Iron Man, even if it's just a 5 second clip of Peter walking on the street taking pictures of Iron Man flying. Something small like that would bridge together a bigger world. Alas, Sony and Marvel aren't the two cool uncles everyone wants, and for that, we don't get what we want.
CorndogBurglar - 8/1/2011, 1:02 PM
@ threebigtacos

thanks, man!
Orphix - 8/1/2011, 1:07 PM
@Yossarian

I think Lionsgate threw in the towel with Punisher. I would imagine there is an option that allows who ever owns the rights to cancel the deal with immediate effect if they want to.

I think the same thing happened with The Hulk.
Ghostfire - 8/1/2011, 2:20 PM
@Corndogburglar
First of all, great editorial, my friend. I think its funny how ppl are so naive when it comes to who owns who. But on another note, I remember reading about two years ago that Fox had extended their contract w/Marvel. Their contract was up last year and they used their extention clause for 5 years. So with that said, if they are making a trilogy off of FC then by 2015 they are done, but who knows. I do recall they have to put out an Xmen as well as a F4 flick every 2-3 years.. so they have to figure out a game plan.

Now the question is what are they gonna do? They have to pick between F4, Xmen or Daredevil. The last F4 movie was in 2007 I believe and they haven't done anything with that property and if they don't want to lose those rights they gotta have something going. According to them, DD is development but that doesn't mean it could die before it even sees the light of day. And if that does happen then the rights should revert back to Marvel. As for Xmen FC, critically acclaimed but under Fox's expectations it bombed money wise. People, let me rephrase that, the general audience seem to be getting tired of Fox's Xmen, so we just have to wait and see what happens.

Furthermore, Sony is the lesser of both evils. They seem to be more open when it comes to working with Marvel, unlike Fox who just throw the comics out the window. Sony is losing money and most likely are gonna have to sell Colombia pictures, so we may see Spidey and GR under Marvel/Disney sooner than we think.

Lastly, contracts do expire so never say never. Most importantly, Marvel is now backed by Disney and you don't [frick] with Disney especially if they want something under their control.
jaysin420 - 8/1/2011, 4:47 PM
Nice work, but I'm still hoping for a Spiderman cameo in the Avengers.

How about a guy that kind of looks like Tobey? lol that's got to be legal.
Cerebro - 8/1/2011, 5:37 PM
It would be nice to know how many years is on each contract. Cool article man.
thunderforce - 8/1/2011, 6:19 PM
There are more than 1 form of each super hero too take Spiderman for instance there is 3 forms of spiderman . 1 real life human spiderman , 2 cartoon Spiderman and 3 computer animation Spiderman . I would like to know which forms each studio has the rights too . Like if Sony only has the rights for a real life Spiderman could Marvel have a computer animated Spiderman appear in the MCU ? Because inquiring minds want to know .
CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 5:12 AM
@ Jaysin

"Nice work, but I'm still hoping for a Spiderman cameo in the Avengers.

How about a guy that kind of looks like Tobey? lol that's got to be legal."

If the person is recognizable as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in any way shape or form, then they are breaching their contract. If even one person sees him and says, "hey, thats supposed to be Parker", then they will be sued. And if the character ISN'T recognizable to anyone, then whats the point? its just another guy, y'know? :)

CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 5:17 AM
@ thunderforce

The "forms" of Spider-Man don't matter. Sony owns the MOVIE RIGHTS to Spider-Man. It doesn't matter what kind of effects they use for him. There are plenty of moments in all 3 spidey films where he's completely CGI. None of that matters. Its the character in general. Its Spider-Man's LIKENESS that matters.

The reason Marvel is able to make television shows about Spider-Man is because they are just that, TV shows, not movies.

A good example would be the animated Planet Hulk movie. In the comic, Hulk fights Silver Surfer. But because they made a movie, and Fox owns the movie rights to Silver Surfer, Marvel had to swap out SS for Beta Ray Bill. Now, that was an animated movie, yet they still could not use Silver Surfer, because its the character that matters, not what "form" of the character they're using.
CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 5:20 AM
@ jazzywazzy

It really doesn't matter how powerful Disney is, and how much money they have, or how strong their lawyers are. These contracts are supposedly air tight. There are very specific stipulations put in place, and unless those stipulations are broken, then there isn't really anything that even Disney can do about it.
CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 5:36 AM
@ ghostfire

yeah, DD was VERY close to reverting back to Marvel, so they started saying that they were rebooting it. Fortunately, DD doesn't have a huge list of side characters to make spinoffs, aside from Elektra (Elektra is the ONLY reason DD is still with Fox).

Anyway, like you said, DD didn't do very well financially OR critically. So hopefully they decide its a lost cause and let it go back to Marvel.

As for F4, there are talks that Fox wants to reboot that as well, however, its kind of been in limbo, and aside from them SAYING they are rebooting, there have been no other announcements of any progress being made. Again, I don't know how many years they have, but I would have to think their time to make an F4 movie is running out as well.

X-Men is the one I can't see coming back to Marvel anytime soon. They have so many characters that are worthy of spinoffs, and aside from that, we just had fanbased/critically acclaimed First Class come out, which basically reset the time limit on their contract. The X-Men movies are too well received with the general public, and make enough money to make Fox not want to give them up. But in all honesty, I don't think the X-Men are as important to the MCU as F4. In the comics, the X-Men have always been off in their own little corner. They are not a necessity.

Spidey is the same. Spidey films will always make tons of money, and there is a new one coming out next year, which again, will reset their time limit. So don't cross your fingers for him going back to Marvel either.

Ghost Rider...the first one sucked and I can't even imagine how they thought it warranted a sequel, but they are. So the success of the sequel will pretty much decide GR's fate.

:)
CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 5:38 AM
@ intruder

yeah, Quicksilver in Origins was very iffy. I mean, it was kid with white hair, who was strapped down and vibrating back and forth real fast. My first impression was that its Quicksilver, but at the same time, the camera is never really focused on him long enough to tell for sure.

But i think he was recognizable enough. It makes me actually think that Scarlet Witch and Quickie are with Fox, but i wouldn't bet on it either.
thunderforce - 8/2/2011, 5:42 AM
ok that cleared up a lot for me thanks .
ROBBEATZZZ - 8/2/2011, 8:21 AM
@CDB NICE EDITORIAL BRO!!..

YA KNO I KNIDA STOPPED WORRING ABOUT THOSE OTHER PROPERIES..IM JUST ENJOYING WHAT MARVEL STUDIOS HAS AND CURRENTLY DOING..

LIFE GOES ON!
CorndogBurglar - 8/2/2011, 10:19 AM
@ intruder

hope you're right man! I don't think the studio has much faith in another F4 movie, and in all honesty, the F4 would have the most to contribute to the MCU if they did revert back.
Jefferys - 8/2/2011, 1:24 PM
The X-Men may not have much that 'attributes' to the possible MCU but Fox has Juggernaut, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler and a lot others who have been in well renown groups or have a special connection to other heroes.

What I'm trying to get at here, is how is it that certain characters are part of certain properties when they've been in others? For instance Storm an X-Men property when she's not only married to Black Panther and has joined a couple of other groups.
ThaMessenger07 - 8/3/2011, 10:52 AM
Great Article CDB!

FF4 are the only ones I feel are necessary in the MCU.

@ Jefferys: Storm was not yet married to Panther and thus is a property that was included in the X-Men purchase. If she was at the time then she would be paid out as an individual property. For example, if they wanted to buy Namor, they would have to pay out for him. Even though he is a member of the current X-Men and is labeled a Mutant. Of course marvel could not Call him a Mutant when/if they use him in a film.

I can see the F4 returning to marvel in a few years. Daredevil would be nice too, but not necessary...
Tymminator - 8/7/2011, 7:06 PM
@ Intruder

I agree, I also came to a simular conclusion.

@Corndogburgular

Good article!
I gotta find the link, but I had read a bit back that both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are with the X-Franchise over at Fox, I think it may be the same article that confirmed Namor is at Marvel and I believe it was an interview with Kevin Feige (a guy who would know the score in that area).

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