Understanding Marvel And The Movie Studios
Recently Stan Lee hinted at “Marvel Studios trying to merge the Superhero franchises.” Why do they (we) even have this problem?
Back when super hero films were not mainstream fare, and everyone cared about what Madonna was going to do next Marvel Studios (originally know as Marvel Films) decided to make some money and sold the rights to many Marvel characters to various movie studios. These competing studios would have the option to produce films based on the comic characters.
Spider-Man was the first to be “optioned” back in the late 1970s, but that didn’t work out and the rights reverted back to Marvel because a film was never produced within the allotted timeframe. (Spidy was later sent to live with Sony in 1999.)
Nothing really significant happened until twenty years later. The big breakout was Blade, it was licensed by Marvel Studios in 1998 and the film made about 70 million dollars in the US alone. This success lead Marvel to further open it’s vault of characters. By the end of 1998, most of Marvel’s major characters had been optioned to other movie studios. The list of optioned A-List characters included the Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil, Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Iron Man.
These characters ended up at various homes with the majority landing at 20th Century Fox. It created a rats nest of contracts and agreements with two characters even being shared. (Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch) But recently Marvel Studios has been slowly regaining the rights to some characters – bringing the family home.
The distribution of the characters makes crossover films difficult for some IPs. For example Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Iron Man all live at different studios so they won’t appear together on-screen in the up coming Avengers: Age Of Ultron film – they won’t join forces like they do in the comic.
So if you are confused as to who owns what, here is a breakdown of Marvel Character and Studios. For the most part characters include character variations, for example: Storm and Ororo Munroe.
20th Century Fox
Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom, Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Mr. Fantastic, The Thing, Nova, Alicia Masters, Willie Lumpkin
X-Men Mutants: Agent Zero, Angel, ArclightSontag, Beast, Blob, Bolt, Callisto, Colossus, Cyclops, Deadpool, Emma Frost, Jean Grey, Juggernaut, Gambit, Galactus, Glob, Iceman, Jubilee, Katherine “Kitty” Pryde, Kestrel, Lady Deathstrike, Leech, Magneto, Mastermind, Multiple Man, Mystique, Nightcrawler, Phat/William, Professor Charles Xavier, Psylocke, Pyro, Quill, Rogue, Sabretooth, Sebastian Hiram Shaw, Silver Fox, Silver Surfer, Siryn, Spike, Storm, Wolverine/Logan
X-Men Non-Mutants: Drake Family, Grey Family, Henry Peter Gyrich, Robert Edward Kelly, Dr. Moira MacTaggert, Dr. Kavita Rao, William Stryker, Bolivar Trask, Warren Worthington II
Spider-Man: Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, (New) Green Goblin, The Lizard, Sandman, Venom, Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Electro, Rhino, Carnage, Sinister Six, Shocker, Chameleon, The Gentleman, Dr. Ashley Kafka, Beetle, Betty Brant, Dennis Carradine (Buglar), J. Jonah Jameson, Ben Parker, May Parker, John Jameson, Joseph “Robbie” Robertson, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Mendel Stromm, Flash Thompson, Allistair Smythe, Spider-Slayers, Miles Warren
Everyone else not listed above
edit: added Silver Surfer, Galactus – thanks for pointing that out!