Marvel's Cold War with 20th Century Fox
Ron Seifried | On 03, Jun 2014
Despite being the intellectual property owners of an expansive array of characters, Marvel Entertainment and their corporate warlords at Walt Disney have leased several profitable series for visual distribution with other companies. At the present moment Sony controls the Spider-Man web of Peter Parker and all his villains, while Fox has exclusive distribution of the X-Men and Fantastic Four film franchises. Marvel/Disney have a 100% stake in The Avengers (IE Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor), Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.
Which leads to the current celebration of Marvel’s 75th Anniversary all the more strange. Featured on 75th poster are most of Marvel’s biggest names EXCEPT anyone from the X-Men or Fantastic Four. Sony’s Spider-Man makes the cut, but the Fox-owned Marvel characters do not.
The past few days have seen a flurry of online rumors of Marvel postponing the both main Fantastic Four comics, one of which is a huge seller in comic book stores. Inside leaks have also reported that Marvel artists have ceased working on all Fantastic Four properties on the orders of management, including Silver Surfer and Doctor Doom, a vast fictional universe controlled by Fox.
This is an odd time to postpone/cancel anything to do with The Fantastic Four, as Fox is currently working on a film reboot with Josh Trank directing. The Fantastic Four reboot will be hitting theaters in the summer of 2015, one month before the troubled production of Marvel’s Ant-Man, currently without a director and a production start date looming after one delay.
Marvel’s move looks to be an indication of playing down any marketing for Fox’s Fantastic Four, which has already seen a critically-savaged prior movies a few years ago, while creating buzz for their own Ant-Man. If Fantastic Four tanks at the box office, it is conceivable that Fox may surrender the rights back to Marvel, expanding upon their already vast cinematic universe.
Despite not owning the cinematic rights, Marvel does control the merchandising right of both Sony’s Spider-Man and Fox’s Fantastic Four and X-Men properties. Marvel certainly can’t cancel the very profitable X-Men comics, but they have not approved of any toys from the current X-Men: Days of Future Past. A movie based on colorful action figure characters does not have any actual action figures in the local toy store! On top of that, there are no official comic tie-ins with the latest X-Men film. If new fans want to experience the expanded universe of the mutants, they would have to start with a clean slate of stories.
What is important to Marvel is the future of all their intellectual properties, and they will stop at nothing to regain control of everything ever created by them. By shutting out the X-Men and subsequently Fantastic Four merchandising, kids for the foreseeable future will not become familiar with Wolverine, The Thing and their other Fox-cohorts. In Marvel’s mind, why flood the stores with X-Men merchandise with the upcoming release of their own Guardians of the Galaxy and their toy potential?
A generation of kids loving Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk, and not too familiar with X-Men and Fantastic Four is already taking place. My own daughter loves superheroes and one of her favorites is Captain America; she couldn’t be bothered with the X-Men.
This is a gutsy power-play by the corporate heads at Marvel: starve some of their children for a time before the foster parents can’t afford the upkeep and send them packing back to their natural parents.
Fox will continue to make X-Men for the foreseeable future. X-Men: Apocalypse is scheduled for 2016 with Bryan Singer helming his fourth mutant film and a third standalone Wolverine film is slated for 2017. Fox is also developing an X-Force spinoff film with writer Jeff Wadlow, but a potential Deadpool movie has been lingering in development hell for several years.
Fox obtained the rights to the X-Men characters in 1994 and after seven films, has grossed over $2.8 billion. In December 2013, Simon Kinberg and Genre Films signed a three year first look deal with Fox with the goal to create a movie universe similar to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Despite the lack of merchandising, 20th Century Fox will not be relinquishing control of the X-Men anytime soon and by returning to the world of The Fantastic Four, you can bet there will be crossover films between the two worlds. As long as people line up to buy tickets, the two franchises will remain with Fox despite Marvel’s attempt to damage the franchises.