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The Curious Case of Marvel's Characters' Rights

In this week's FinMail we take a look at the interesting but spoiler-free story of SpiderMan, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, how they are not part of the MCU and why doesn't Marvel have a right on them.

The Story

Have you watched the latest Spider-Man movie yet?

Some of us (including us) have already watched the movie and some have even watched it twice, while some are going to watch it this week maybe. But, don't worry, there are no spoilers here, so just relax. We are not here to discuss the movie but we are more interested in discussing the pre-movie credits.

If you haven't noticed already, Spider-Man movies (the ones with Tom Holland in them) have the Sony Pictures & Columbia Pictures Intro even before Marvel's Intro but that is not the case with the other movies in MCU. Even with the other Spider-Man movies, with Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield, the Marvel logo is that of the Marvel Comics and not of the Marvel Studios in it.

The same thing goes with Wolverine or Deadpool or X-Men movies, there we have the 20th Century Fox intro along with the Marvel Comics intro. So have you ever wondered that why these movies have the Sony or 20th Century Fox logo along with Marvel? The question might seem a rather silly question to ask but after you get to know the real reason behind them, it is a damn interesting story or a case to learn.

So we thought that while the hype of SpiderMan is up, let's cover the curious story of Marvel's (Shared) Characters in a simple straightforward manner, let's start right away.

The Curious Case of Marvel's Characters

Spiderman, a character created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,once called the worst idea for a hero before it was released to the world, is now probably one of the most profitable and also probably the most loved character worldwide. Spiderman earns more than $1.3 billion every year for Marvel in licensing products like Spidey Merch (Toys & Accessories) & Spidey Video Games. And this is much higher than any other character from Marvel or DC. The number that we mentioned here is based on the data from 2014, so you can just imagine how much Marvel has earned from Spidey. And FYI, these numbers do not include Spider-Man movies' box office collections!

Woah! That is because Sony owns Spiderman's movie rights on Silver Screen, so does that mean that whatever the Spider-Man movies' earn goes to Sony? Yes, you got this right. This doesn't end at Spiderman. Sony even has the rights to all the characters that are related to Spiderman like Venom, Vulture, Green Goblin, etc. And that is the reason why we didn't have Green Goblin into the MCU before Spiderman NWH.

If we talk about the X-Men, the cinematic rights are owned by 20th Century Fox. And that is why we haven't seen Deadpool and Spiderman teaming up or maybe Wolverine with the Avengers in their movies which is a pretty common thing in Comics. But that shall not be a problem now as you might know that Disney bought Fox Studios in 2019, and along with that came the rights to X-Men and the team. More on that later.

We know your head might be spinning right now after reading all of this so we better get to the part where we simplify all of this. And for that, we will need to jump back in time and see how did it happen.


It's the 1980s and Marvel, the giant that we know today is just a comic (books) publisher. The characters that we know today like Iron Man, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Wolverine were present but in comics. Marvel had, in fact, tons and tons of characters, enough to create a universe of its own, except that they were short on cash and were on the verge of bankruptcy, again!

And to save the company from going out of business, Marvel decided to sell their characters' cinematic/filming rights to various studios. Spider-Man was popular even back then and thus Marvel had auctioned Spider-Man to various studios from the 1970s all the way till the 1990s. But the rights kept returning back to Marvel as Studios didn't make any film during the allotted time. And why would they be interested even?

Superheroes were not so much of a popular thing in live-action movies back in the 1980s or even before that. But taking the plunge, Marvel started selling the cinematic rights of its Comic Characters in the early 1990s.

The Character Sell-Offs

20th Century Fox - Fantastic Four, X-Men & Others

In the early 1990s, Marvel licensed the movie rights of X-Men characters including Wolverine and Deadpool, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil to the 20th Century Fox Studio (ha wahi, dh-dha..dh-dha..drrrrrrrr....dhta wala). The deal was simple, for a certain amount, Fox would make movies on X-Men every certain period of time (every 2, 3, or 4 years) and if the studio missed the period by not making any movies, the character rights would return back to Marvel. Fox Studios went on to make movies on X-Men (a total of 13 movies) and have grossed $6.08 Bn with 13 movies against a combined budget of $1.74 Bn. While the Fantastic Four has earned $333.5 Mn

Apart from this Marvel also sold the rights of Hulk to Universal, Blade to New Line Cinema (which is btw a WB company that also makes DC movies), Ghost Rider to Columbia (now a Sony Company), & Punisher to Lionsgate.

Sony - The Biggest Winner

And of course, in 1998, Sony bought the cinematic rights to Spider-Man and 900 related characters like Venom, Green Goblin, Spider-woman, Black Cat, and many more for $25 Million. The deal was simple, the character rights to Spider-Man & related characters would "forever" remain with Sony as long as they keep making a Spider-Man movie every 5 years and 9 months. And that led to us witnessing the 3 greatest Spider-Man movies from our childhood starring Tobey Maguire. The trilogy grossed over $2.5 Billion for Sony.

Sony knew that they had hit a jackpot and hence Spider-Man was then rebooted in 2012 with The Amazing Spiderman series (you know because of the deal) which soon ended with just 2 movies due to bad reception with the audience. But even after being not that great, the 2 movies grossed $1.4 Billion at the box office which just proved the fact that the audience loved Spider-Man no matter what.

Then again in 2018, Sony came up with a Spider-Man movie but not a live-action one but with the Animation (which btw was so dope) under Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. The movie was a hit due to its high-level animation and record music album. The movie even won an Oscar for the best-animated film.

Take a look at the summarised version of who owns what character.

But if Sony owns Spidey, then why the heck do we see him in MCU?

Sony-Marvel Deal

After looking at the success of the X-Men Series and Spider-Man movies, Marvel realised that the world is turning to superhero movies and hence started the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) on its own. Marvel used the revenue share received from the movies created by the other studios to fund the first-ever movie of MCU - Iron Man. And the rest is HISTORY! To date, MCU movies have grossed over $24.6 Billion including NWH with the latest movie on the way to gross a Billion on its own.

Sony, on the other hand, was starting to see a downfall in movie collections related to Spider-Man with The Amazing Spider-Man II receiving criticism for its poor script. So in 2015, instead of rebooting the Spidey movies again, Sony went on to make a deal with Marvel that would allow Marvel to bring Spidey into the MCU and share the screen with other MCU characters. The deal terms were that the MCU would be allowed to cast Spider-Man in 5 films:- Captain America: Civil War, Avengers Infinity War & Endgame, and two solo movies, Spider-Man: Homecoming & Far From Home. Marvel would get 5% in the solo movies' box office collection and Sony would take the rest 95% with the share rate of investment also being the same. Sony would own the rights of the character in the movie while MCU would handle the story and creative part.

This deal made us witness Spidey with our favorite MCU characters which would have not been possible with the Tobey's or Andrew's Spidey...

Current Situation with the Character's Rights

As we know, Disney bought Marvel in 2009 which made Disney the owner of all Marvel characters; excluding the characters owned by other Studios. Disney also acquired Fox Studios in 2019, and along with it, came the rights of all the Marvel characters that were owned by Fox. So, this was totally a win for the MCU fans as they would now get the chance to witness characters like Deadpool into the MCU.

As far as the rights of Hulk were concerned, Universal Studios owned the rights but failed to make a solo Hulk movie. But then Marvel signed a deal with Universal Studios which would allow MCU to cast Hulk in any team-up movies but the solo movie rights still remain with Universal. The rights of Punisher, Daredevil, Blade, and Ghost Rider are all back at Marvel Studios.

Coming back to Spidey, Marvel and Sony had their first deal for 5 movies only which ended with Spiderman: Far From Home and then they were slated to sign the new deal. But between finally signing the deal, the deal was off the charts as Marvel and Sony were not able to come down to agreeable terms and that would have meant that the audience would only see Spidey in the Sony Universe and not in the MCU. But Tom Holland, being in Spidey's shoes really became a Spider-Man for the audience and convinced both the studios to make a deal again for the sake of the audience. And they did.

MCU and Sony soon announced that they had reached agreeable terms and Spider-Man would be a shared character in both the Universes for the respective studios. This made Tom Holland's Spidey, the first-ever character to be the same Spidey in 2 different Universes.

And what else do we need as fans? Studios keeping our interests over their interests. We already have a movie, NWH with the new deal, and believe us, it was super, the best ever made. And we can't just wait to see what the future unfolds.

That is it for this year's FinMail. Keep Learning, Keep Sharing and we will see you in the next year.


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