This past December, the Walt Disney Corporation announced its purchase of 20th Century Fox, a film studio subdivision of the larger 21st Century Fox corporation. This announcement was made after weeks of rumors and speculation that Disney would acquire Fox’s film studio and what that could mean for the future of Marvel Studios, which is also owned by Disney.
During a period of financial turmoil in the 1990s, Marvel Comics sold the film rights of some of its most popular characters to different studios. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to Spider-Man and 20th Century Fox received the film rights for the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Sony Pictures went on over a twelve year period to produce a total of five Spider-Man movies; the Sam Raimi directed trilogy starring Toby McGuire as the webslinger and the two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies which starred Andrew Garfield. 20th Century Fox used their license to produce ten X-Men movies and three Fantastic Four movies over an almost twenty year period. Two of the most critically acclaimed movies of Fox’s X-Men film series was 2016’s “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds as the titular Merc with a Mouth, and last year’s “Logan,” which followed Hugh Jackman as an aged, battle-worn Wolverine.
In the early 2000s while Fox and Sony’s films were taking off, Marvel aimed to produce their own movies as well. No longer possessing the film rights to its more popular characters, Marvel instead opted to make films around properties they still had. Under the direction of Kevin Feige, who became president of Marvel Studios in 2007, “Iron Man” was released in 2008 starring Robert Downy Jr. as the titular Armored Avenger. Seeing the success of “Iron Man” and the potential of a shared film universe, Disney acquired Marvel Studios in 2009. The release of “Iron Man” kick-started the shared movie continuity which quickly became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To date, Marvel Studios has released a total of seventeen films in a nine year period while its sister company, Marvel Television, has released fifteen tv shows also set in the MCU continuity.
Despite not being able to use the X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Spider-Man; Marvel expertly crafted film franchises around less popular characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange. From 2013 onward, Marvel forged television franchises around characters like the Agents of Shield, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, The Punisher, Iron Fist, the Runaways, and the soon-to-be released Cloak & Dagger show. Many of these characters have since become mainstream and soured in popularity due to their prominence in MCU-related media. The latest MCU film offering is “Black Panther” which is being released in February while “Avengers: Infinity War,” the culmination of every previous movie in the series, is set for a May release.
While fans of all ages have enjoyed the MCU’s installments for the past decade, Marvel purists have maintained that the film universe would never be whole without all Marvel Comics properties coming together under one banner. Comics enthusiasts longed for the day when Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four would join the MCU.
Fans got their wish for Spider-Man with the webslinger’s debut in “Captain America: Civil War,” which released in 2016 and saw the character portrayed by English actor Tom Holland. Despite the Spider-Man film rights still being owned by Sony Pictures, Marvel was able to convince Sony to allow them to use the character in the MCU continuity. “Civil War” was Holland’s first time portraying the character and the served as the arrival of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Holland’s portrayal was so popular with fans that the following summer Marvel released “Spider-Man: Homecoming” to critical acclaim.
After Spider-Man’s introduction to the MCU, the only characters still off the board for Marvel Studios were the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. With the announcement that Disney will purchase 20th Century Fox, this is no longer the case. Not only will the X-Men and FF rights go back, but the film rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four-related villains such as Doctor Doom, Galactus, Silver Surfer, the Skrulls, the Shi’ar will also go back to Marvel. If the deal goes through, which is estimated to take anywhere from one year to eighteen months, Marvel Studios will have essentially regained the film rights to every single character they lost twenty years ago. The Avengers, the X-Men, Deadpool, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Defenders, and every other Marvel Comics character will now be under one roof again. The Marvel Cinematic Universe would become just as whole as the original comics universe from which it drew inspiration.
This opens the door for the MCU to do even more crossovers and adapt comic book storylines like “Avengers vs. X-Men,” “Secret Wars,” or “Secret Invasion” and other stories involving the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and X-Men teaming up to fight a greater threat. The upcoming “Avengers: Infinity War” movie is estimated to have a total of 67 Marvel characters in it. The villain Thanos, in his quest to dominate the universe, clashes with all 67 of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that Marvel currently has the rights to. Now it is conceivable that if the Disney/Fox deal goes through, audiences everywhere could expect to see a Marvel Studios film one day with over 100 Marvel characters. Every Marvel superhero that ever sprang from the minds of creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in one film installment. Let that sink in.
Before the announcement of the Disney/Fox deal, 20th Century Fox was on track to release “Deadpool 2,” “The New Mutants,” and “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” respectively. “Deadpool 2” has since been moved up for an earlier release and the future of Fox’s X-Men films is in flux as Disney and 20th Century Fox determine the ins and outs of the merger. Regardless, this merger will irrevocably change the course of future Marvel Studios films and serve as the end of the long journey by Marvel to reclaim what they lost over two decades ago.