There has been plenty of rumor and speculation of late about the possibility of Spider-Man appearing in Marvel Studios’ film adaptation of Civil War. Why it could be a problem is that Sony owns the film rights to Spidey, not Marvel.
Don’t expect any X-Men or Fantastic Four characters in Civil War, either! The film rights to those characters are owned by 20th Century Fox.
Back in the late 1990′s when Marvel was struggling in bankruptcy part of their restructuring strategy was to sell film options for most of their significant properties. This all worked out great and saved the company which eventually was able to reacquire most of the rights to their characters with a few exceptions. Most significantly Spider-Man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four, which have all established successful film franchises for Sony and Fox, and have been unattainable by Marvel.
Marvel has maintained a warm relationship with Sony and in light of Sony’s recent financial difficulties and public humiliation due to the corporate hacking and dissemination of private emails, Marvel may have some leverage to work out at least an addendum to their contract that will allow them to crossover ol’ Web-Head into the MCU.
Things with Fox, however are not so warm and fuzzy! The permafrost is actually developing a glacial quality which may only get more complicated after Quicksilver, who was featured in Fox’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, appears in Marvel’s AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.
Marvel has also tossed the gloves, regarding their relationship with Fox by canceling the Fantastic Four comic book and killing off Wolverine, the most popular character of the X-Men comic books. Marvel has made a conscious decision to not support Fox’s attempts to market these two properties. They have even stopped the marketing and production of toys and other licenses of the characters.
Ironically, Marvel is getting a wee taste of their own bitter medicine. What they are experiencing in not too dissimilar to what comic creators have experienced in the comics industry for decades. Creators develop and cultivate a character then, in order to survive, they sell to a company like Marvel in what appears to be a good deal at the time. Eventually the creator watches helplessly as their character is maligned by reboots while they share little, if any, of the profits from their creative labors.
Spider-Man, X-Men and The Fantastic Four have long been among the crown jewels of the Marvel Universe and, though Marvel must have some say in how the characters are presented, it must fry them to not have complete control creatively and financially, especially now that Marvel has proven they could successfully build film franchises on their own.
Marvel, at least, has some clout and can go toe-to-toe in a fight. Creators usually are not so lucky and have to wait, like the Kirby’s did, for something like availability of copyright revision terms to at least challenge ownership. This , can usually take more than a lifetime and sadly Jack Kirby could not personally enjoy the rewards himself after his family settled a new deal with Marvel twenty years after his death.
Now that Marvel knows what it its like to watch helplessly while someone else stewards their property maybe they could develop a modicum of sympathy for creators. Could this be why Marvel has lately been working out settlements with creators behind closed doors? More likely they are shoring up any other possible contactual cracks that could cost them any amount of control of their valued IP in the future.
This may or may not be the last time that Marvel is burned by a rights dispute but for now it sure is fun watching them squirm like they made most of the creators do for the last seventy-five years.
Watching how this battle between studios plays out may be as entertaining as watching or reading stories about the superheroes involved. At least the fate of the Earth is not at stake. Popcorn anyone?