Marvel and Fox are having a huge show down right now over the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic 4 film series’, which has gone so far as having Marvel cancel the Fantastic 4 comic book series and disallowing the creation of any new X-Men character. It’s petty on Marvel’s end, and doesn’t make fiscal sense. Marvel refused to license any action figures or produce any tie-in comics for Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past film last summer. This was the first big hint that Marvel and Fox might be coming to blows over their shared properties.
How did it all Begin?
Bryan Singer really wanted to have the X-Man character Quicksilver in his X-Men: Days of Future Past film. It makes sense: the film stars Magneto, and Magneto is Quicksilver’s father. He’s also a mutant and a former member of the X-Men so the character is fair game. The problem is, Quicksilver is also a former avenger, and is brother to one of the previous leaders of the Avengers, Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch’s storyline is in fact so pivotal to the future of the Avengers and I can’t see Marvel keeping her out of the Avengers.
Joss Whedon knew this, and he had been pretty open about plans to involve both Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron this summer. The issue, of course, is that Bryan Singer go the first crack at Quicksilver.
Days of Future Past has only a handful of scenes involving Quicksilver, and honestly that scene could have been rewritten to keep Quicksilver out of the film altogether. That being said, the Quicksilver scene is one of the best in the film.
Whedon’s plans for Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch appear to be more than just a handful of scenes. Judging from the latest trailer they are going to act as secondary antagonists for a bit before ostensibly joining the Avengers. Remove either character and the entire film would have to be re-written.
This creates a few problems for both studios. Fox’s films cannot mention the Avengers as that property is owned by Marvel. Marvel, on the other hand, can’t reference Mutants or Magneto. This means that, if Marvel wants to explore the origins of these characters they’re either going to have to retcon their origins or strike a deal with Fox.
As a side note, I’ve written before
on the possibility of Marvel explaining the characters’ origins as being Inhumans rather than Mutants. I don’t think Marvel will actually go this route, and it doesn’t answer the Magneto problem, but it’s a possibility.
Marvel and Fox used to Work Together
It’s interesting that Marvel is reviving the 1992 Fox Animated Series in their upcoming Secret Wars event this May. I don’t actually know who owns the property but I can imagine that DVD sales or downloads of the original episodes of that series will increase after the comic gets published.
Before Marvel entered the movie business they, like DC and every other comic book company, leased out or sold the rights to their properties. Of course the film rights and animation rights are sold separately (typically).
Marvel appears to have had an amicable working relationship until 2001. At this point Marvel Studios produced a show (it was terrible) called Mutant-X
. Fox viewed this show as being too similar to the X-Men property they owned and sued
X-Men to Enter the TV Realm
There are some rumors that Fox is developing a television spin-off of the X-Men feature film franchise based off of X-Factor. According to rumors, the final film in the current X-Men franchise, X-Men: Apocalypse will also include Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters. This may lead to an opening for the television show, with Quicksilver as a character. Obviously, this would not sit well with Marvel, as the studio obviously plans to involve Quicksilver and his sister heavily in future films.
Marvel Cashed the Checks
In the 1990’s Marvel was nearing bankruptcy. So they sold the rights to some of their properties. Most of which reverted back to Marvel either when Marvel was purchased by Disney, or because the owners did not utilize the rights to these characters in a timely manner. Marvel now owns the rights to everything from its comic book universe except X-Men, any and all mutants, Spiderman and the Fantastic 4. Which is unfortunate because those three properties are Marvel’s best.
Marvel did what it had to do to stay afloat. And to be honest, it made good sense at the time. The Fantastic 4 films, while not being particularly good, were box office hits. The Sam Rami Spiderman trilogy was fantastic, and the X-Men films were generally good. Marvel sold the properties and made money off of the deal. Now that they want their properties back (understandably so) they have no one to blame to but themselves.
Fox is not entirely blameless in all of this. Setting aside my complete lack of faith in the Fantastic 4 reboot, Fox could easily have come to an amicable agreement over the Quicksilver issue. Not that they had to, but they could have.
Really at issue is Fox being (presumably) unwilling to lease to Marvel the right to the word “mutant”. I haven’t read anything to back this up, but my suspicion is that Fox is unwilling to allow Marvel to even use the word.
Finally, Fox is still invested in the X-Men franchise. I rather doubt that Marvel would want to re-use the current versions of the X-Men we’ve see on screen. Continuity errors aside (and there are many) Marvel will want to make those characters their own. Sony’s deal with Marvel involves an all new Spiderman, not the Andrew Garfield version. And although I can’t think of anyone other than Hugh Jackman playing Wolverine, if marvel has their way that’s the way it would have to go.
Control of Continuity is what’s t heart here. Marvel would never want to engulf the X-Men‘s muddled continuity into their relatively clean MCU. In addition, Marvel has a very specific plan for the MCU and allowing the Fox to have any kind of creative control over their titles is definitely not in their plans.
What it all Means
Of course this is all just conjecture. No one knows if the reason behind Marvel’s canceling of Fantastic Four and disallowing the creation of any new X-Men is a calculated effort to damage Fox or if there is some unrelated creative reason driving those decisions. The balance of probability, however, points to Marvel being petty. We can presume that, like the response we saw from Marvel when Fox released Days of Futre Past, there will be no tie-in comic books or toys (Marvel retains the rights to toys) released to promote either the Fantastic 4 film or X-Men: Apocalypse. Which doesn’t make much sense financially: Marvel is probably going to lose money on that. Not that they’re strapped for cash at the moment (Avengers did earn $1.5 Billion). Marvel, to put it bluntly, can afford to be petty. They have no plans to use the X-Men or The Fantastic 4 in their films (although I’m sure they’d want to) so it doesn’t hurt them very much to be petty.