Seemingly against all odds, Marvel Studios managed to get shared control of Spider-Man’s film rights in a deal with Sony that sounds far smoother than the fine print probably suggests. For a few brief weeks, all of geekdom was consumed with joy. Now that we’ve had a couple months to let the dust settle and start getting angry over casting rumors all over again, it’s time to turn our attention to Marvel’s other cinematic properties that they don’t own the rights to. X-Men and all of the hundreds of characters that come along with that side of the Marvel Universe, and the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics first comic book of the Silver Age, and all the cosmic properties introduced in that book remain out of Marvel’s grasp and in the hands of 20th Century Fox. There are all sort of weird stipulations attached to the deal between the two companies. For example Marvel Studios and Fox can use Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch who debuted in Uncanny X-men but later became Avengers. Only Marvel can use the Inhumans, the Black Panther, and the alien race the Kree, despite the fact that they debuted in the Fantastic Four. And some of Marvel’s most popular comic characters, the Silver Surfer, Annihilus, and Galactus all remain with Fox, whether they are willing to use them or not. To answer the question of whether Marvel Studios could ever work out an arrangement with Fox like they did with Sony, we need to look at the respective franchises at stake.
The deal between Marvel and Sony was realized only because The Amazing Spider-Man 2 performed so disappointingly domestically. Make no mistake, if the film had made bank here in the States, we’d be hearing casting announcements for the Sinister Six and The Amazing Spider-Man 3 right about now. X-Men, while never a huge performer like Raimi’s Spider-Man or Nolan’s Dark Knight series, has always drawn solid numbers. Even the critically panned X-Men: The Last Stand was the highest grossing film of the franchise until last summer’s Days of the Future Past. A few years ago, after the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fox was facing trouble with the X-men franchise, but by revitalizing the property with First Class they ensured their ability to hold on to the franchise. With the reception to DotFP being the most positive for an X-film in years, you can bank on 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse making just as much, if not more.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear plan for the X-Men franchise after the next film, and with several stars including the most bankable ones, Hugh Jackman and Jennifer Lawrence, bowing out after Wolverine 3 and Apocalypse, there’s no telling what will happen to the First Class-era X-Men and the Wolverine franchise. But Fox getting X-Men is the best deal they ever made. Since they no longer have distribution rights to Star Wars, Marvel’s merry mutants are their most bankable property. They will find a way to hold on to it, hence the spinoffs we’re getting over the next few years. With Deadpool, and for some reason Gambit, hitting screens in the next couple years, Fox isn’t loosening their grip. Apocalypse could serve as a perfect ending to Singer’s X-Men franchise (it’s one of the longest running single- continuity franchises of the millennial age, tied with Fast and Furious and the Middle-Earth Saga). Fox may decide to reboot given that most of the cast from the original film are getting a little old to revisit and most have moved on to other projects. If Fox does reboot the X-Men they could strike up a deal with Marvel Studios, depending on how the Spider-Man reboot pans out for Sony. But as much as we’d like to see Wolverine taking down WWII-era tanks with Cap or see an Avengers vs X-Men level event, neither studio needs the other. Marvel has solved its mutant problem by introducing the Inhumans, which will have the same effect in terms of introducing new characters with powers. And for now Fox, no longer operating under Tom Rothman, has made enough good business decisions over the past few years to earn trust and security with the X-Men. Barring some massive mismanagement of the property or a huge buyout on Disney’s part, I think the X-Men and every character attached to them are going to be on the 20th Century Fox lot for a long time to come.
I’m not exactly torn up about the X-Men, with the exception of Wolverine and a few others, most of the characters remain pretty self-contained from most of the Marvel Universe’s goings on. But what really tears me up is the Fantastic Four. The central four characters and all their villains (including the greatest Marvel villain, Doctor Doom) have played large roles in the lives of the Avengers in the comics over the years. There was a point that Marvel Studios almost got the Silver Surfer, Galactus, and a few other cosmic characters back after proposing a deal to let Fox hang onto Daredevil, but Fox didn’t agree, claiming they had plans for the characters. And while that Silver Surfer movie never came to pass, Fox did decide to reboot the Fantastic Four which is coming out later this summer. Ever since its announcement, every detail of the film has been scrutinized. Personally, I like the director and the casting decisions a lot, but a fair amount of what I’ve seen and heard about the film so far just doesn’t look like the Fantastic Four to me, though it does look like a good sci-fi movie. Trying to fit the Fantastic Four into a world of realism and darkness doesn’t mesh with the core concepts of the characters and a lot of comic fans agree. But comic fans only make up a miniscule portion of the movie-going population. It’ll be up the general population to decide whether they can rinse the Jessica Alba-Ian Gruffad version of the characters from their minds.
It’s too early to tell yet, but I think Fox would be happy if the pulled in First Class size box office numbers. Fox has already announced a sequel but we’ve learned from Sony how announcing sequels ahead of time can go. Since the film’s announcement, there have been rumors of a cross-over between the FF and the X-Men. I think for now, Fox would be smart not to write themselves into a corner since neither franchise has a clear direction for its future. If the Fantastic Four bombs, then there’s a good chance for Marvel Studios to get their hands back on the characters, or at least some of them. There are some who are hoping for this outcome. Marvel Comics isn’t helping the relationship between Fox and comic fans by canceling the Fantastic Four title and displacing the characters across other teams. This summer’s big comic event, Secret Wars is also promising a radically different X-Men by the end of the summer. While Marvel Comics have refuted claims that the decisions made for their books are somehow impacted with their studios relationship with Fox, I don’t believe them. Marvel no longer makes any X-Men or Fantastic Four merchandise, instead placing their focus on characters they have full ownership over, and Spider-Man because he’s too profitable among kids to ignore. It’s a messy situation that I don’t expect to get a clear, honest response out of. As much as I’d love to see the FF among the Avengers, I don’t want the movie to fail. There are too many jobs at stake and I think, despite some of my reservations, the cast and crew have the best of intentions. I may draw ire for this, but I hope it’s great and I hope it’s the surprise hit of the summer.
So could we see a completely united MCU in another decade or so? Well, who knows what the Marvel Studios will look like by then. For now, I think we’ll just have to be happy with the Spider-Man victory and learn to appreciate Marvel’s properties for their quality and not the studio they fall under.