The merge of this week between Disney-Fox is a very big and impact one for many reasons. One big reason is that big media companies merge is a hot topic for macroeconomic debate about the whole consolidation thing.

This new Disney - Fox is also a new challenge for the amazing turnaround of Marvel Studio. You might think of Marvel as big and mighty with nothing but major hit title. It also had a dark history back when it just came out of bankruptcy and have had to sell all of the characters in its library to gather just a small sum to keep the company afloat. Then it grows and grows to its major status as dominant in the industry, then it has to face the difficulty of working with just a small library of character.

Avengers Ip Marvel Studios Path Of Reclaiming Its
Visual guide to Marvel character rights

Ever since 1998, there were about 50 films released base on characters from Marvel comic, ranging from recent Captain Marvel to Blade. Only 21 in those 50 films we could consider as canonical to the MCU, and all but six distributed and produced only by Marvel Studios. The others were distributed and produced by other companies: 20th Century Fox, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Columbia/Sony Pictures, New Line, Universal, Paramount.

But with its major status of right now and with more than $18 billion under its belt. Marvel is in the process of reclaiming its characters cast. What did they get back already and what's left to collect.


Back when Marvel Entertainment Group first built up Marvel Films in 1993, the original target wasn't to produce films by themselves. Their first target was to license out their characters while maintaining some part of the creative oversight.

There were many successful licensed franchises in that period around the 20th. The list includes X-Men, Spider-Man, Blade - all were the box-office hit. Despite that Marvel Films have seen little grosses with this licensing model, so I chose to stay focus on its toys and comics businesses.

Everything changed with the appearance of David Maisel, joined in 2003 with the position of head operating officer. He has managed to pursued  Avi Arad and Ike Perlmutter ( heads of Marvel) to stop the licensing and start making their own films. The Maisel raised $525 million for 10 films (mostly from Merrill Lynch, then also from Paramount and Universal with contracts for rights of distribution. So each film will have a budget of $165 million with PG-13 requirement.

From that budget, they went on to make the first two films - The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2008. Both of them together bring back an amount of $848 million. With that start, they continue to make films under the leadership of president Kevin Feige and never look back to their licensing model. After went home with Disney in 2009, they moved on to be an in-house distributor.

But that also means other studios had Marvel IP will start to hold on their licenses tightly - for example, Fox and Sony.

Avengers Ip Marvel Studios Path Of Reclaiming Its
Spider Man


There were many attempts to make Spider-Man track back to even the 1980s. That also includes the thorough and wild “scriptment” - just like dialogue treatment of James Cameron. After all those development years, finally has to lead to a battle in court between Sony and MGM. Sony was the winner in that case. However, in a parallel universe,   Marvel has offered all almost all of its character ( Black Panther, Ant-Man, Thor, Iron Man for the price of $25 million)  to Sony. Finally, Sony only bought Spider-Man and related characters.

With this deal, if the Spider-Man trilogy of Sam Raimi. They were a commercial smash, which has earned a total of $2.5 billion globally. But then Raimi left the franchise so the fourth one was never be made.

After that Sony decided to restart the franchise with Marc Webb as director and Andrew Garfield in Spider-Man role. With this Sony targeted to build up a whole Amazing Spider franchise which it Sony answer to MCU. However, they received poor performance for this sequel - so Sony shifted gears.

These recent years, Sony and Marvel have been talking about the idea of bringing Raimi back to direct a reboot of Spider-related. Those talks didn't end up well as there were some quarrels between Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal. Then in 2015, Marvel announced to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. So they have come up with a deal with very specific terms - like streaming and TV right still belong to Sony.

Avengers Ip Marvel Studios Path Of Reclaiming Its


The previous licensing strategy of Marvel has put many big properties of the company into Fox's hand. This list includes: The X-Men sold in 1994 by Lauren Shuler Donner,  The Fantastic Four sold through Constantin Film.

With Fox, the two first Fantastic Four films were successful in term of money but they are really panned. Chris Evans ( who was the Human Torch in this franchise) moved on to take on the role of Steve Rogers, Captain America. Then Fox tried again with Fantastic Four 2015 but it was a failure. Coincidentally, the Human Torch in that film - Michael B. Jordan then also moved on and become  Black Panther's Killmonger. After 10 years of existence,  the Fantastic Four franchise has grossed about $788 million globally. In the same year, Marvel Studios has made  $2 billion with Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

With the X-Men franchise, sure it has had its highs and lows throughout the years, but overall it fared much better. From copyrights standpoint, Donner and Fox's deal is an amazing treasure. Not just the obvious X-Mens but also all the mutant in Marvel Comics. That is why Marvel heroes never mention the word "mutant".

The details of the contract were never released but executives of two sides have pointed out many gray areas. Take Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch for example.

But the relationship between Marvel and Fox was quite flexible. They have had many crossovers and trades in Deadpool (2016) and  Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). For Deadpool, the screenwriters of the film Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick really want to use Negasonic Teenage Warhead mutant but replace her abilities and powers. So they need permission from Marvel Studio to do that. At that time Marvel needed the rights for Ego the Living Planet which tied to Fantastic Four. A swap was made between two sides.

Then this week, Disney purchased 20th Century Fox, Fox and Marvel are under the same root now.

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Marvel Comics


There are still some characters for Marvel to reclaim from other studios like:

  • Spider-man's Friends (Sony)
  • The Hulk and She-Hulk (Universal)
  • Kick-ass and Man in Black (Sony)
  • The sub-mariner, Namor (Universal)