Can Comcast Cash in on the Superhero Craze With a Sub-Mariner Movie?

As mentioned in a previous article, the Marvel film rights are a rather complicated mess. More than a decade ago, Marvel Comics sold the film rights to a number of its comic book franchises to a host of major Hollywood studios. Walt Disney  (NYSE: DIS  ) currently owns the majority of these film rights, after it acquired the entirety of Marvel Comics in 2009. But Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) (owners of the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Silver Surfer film rights) and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) (Spider-Man) still possess the rights to several of Marvel's most popular franchises. Less known is the fact that Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA  )  owns the film rights to one of Marvel Comics' oldest comic book characters.

Namor vs. Wolverine. Source: Marvel.com.

Namor the Sub-Mariner
Long before the "stab first, ask questions later" antics of everyone's favorite antihero Wolverine, there was the hostile, violent, and vengeful Namor the Sub-Mariner. The half-human, half-Atlantean prince of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Namor's origins trace back to the very early days of Marvel. If you were to open the first issue of Marvel Comics from 1939, you would see Namor printed on the pages.

Namor the Sub-Mariner has had a colorful and complicated comic book history. As a hero, Namor battled alongside Captain America against Nazi Germany. As a villain, he has fought against the Fantastic Four and all of humanity during the Atlantean invasion of New York City -- one of many such invasions of the surface world.

As neither a hero nor a villain, Namor was most recently on the side of the X-Men during the team's war with the Avengers in 2012. Whether he's a hero, a villain, or something in between, a comic book story featuring Namor is never boring.

Time is of the essence
Despite Namor the Sub-Mariner's rich comic book history spanning 75 years, he has yet to make the transition to the big screen. That has not been for a lack of trying, though.

In 2006, Universal Studios (now owned by Comcast) got as far as writing a screenplay, announcing a director, and choosing a production company for the officially titled The Sub-Mariner. As of today, however, that is as far as Comcast has gotten with the film. Until fairly recently, it was thought that it was as far as Comcast would ever get with the film.

Until a few years ago, Comcast's Universal Studios owned the film rights to the Hulk, another Marvel Comics franchise. Universal's 2003 Hulk film is perhaps best known in the business world for its massive second weekend box office drop. Hulk pulled in an impressive $62.1 million domestically during its opening weekend (which in 2003 was the 16th best opening weekend of all time), but fell an astonishing 70% to $18.8 million its second weekend. Because of the film's performance, Universal Studios chose not to make a sequel.

As is typical of these types of film agreements, if Universal Studios failed to make a film based on the Hulk after a specified amount of time, then the film rights would automatically revert back to Marvel Studios. That is exactly what happened with the Hulk.

It was thought that Comcast's Sub-Mariner film rights met with a similar fate. With the 2006 announced film unofficially dead, the common belief was that the film rights were now the property of Marvel and Disney. Even Marvel Comics' chief operating officer assumed as much during a 2012 interview.

It was not until August 2013 that Marvel Studios' president confirmed that Comcast did indeed still have the film rights to Namor. In the very confusing world of Marvel film rights, even top Marvel executives can be mistaken at times. If Marvel Comics' COO thought that the Sub-Mariner rights had already been returned to Marvel and Disney, it seems likely that the rights will be returned fairly soon, if Comcast doesn't get moving.

Foolish bottom line
Walt Disney and Twenty-First Century Fox have successfully built elaborate story universes around their respective Marvel film rights, while Sony is in the process of doing the same with its Spider-Man film franchise reboot and potential spinoffs of characters related to Spider-Man. This has allowed Disney, Fox, and Sony to turn their comic book characters into multibillion-dollar film franchises.

Comcast's Universal Studios failed at its attempt with the Hulk, though, and if Comcast doesn't hurry, then it will miss its opportunity again with Namor the Sub-Mariner. If Comcast is not up to the challenge, I am sure Disney will be happy to incorporate Namor into its Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ball is in your court, Comcast. What will you do with it?

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Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 11:41 AM, slothropT wrote:

    WHY ARE YOU CLOWNS, MOTLEY OR OTHERWISE, SO BLOODY OBSESSED WITH MARVEL??? You've only got one correspondent who knows squat about the company or their crash-and-burn history, and I'll bet he's being very cautious about investing in them. My prediction: by 2015 people will be SO SICK AND TIRED of superhero CGI cartoons that they'll be turning away in droves. DC's JLA movie will probably be a victim, which is exactly what Marvel is aiming for. Like they did with their comics, they're pumping the market to grab for all the gusto they can before getting out again. This is assuming they know what they're doing of course, which may be granting them more savvy than they deserve.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 4:54 PM, hmsthehood wrote:

    I agree with SlothropT. Wonder Woman is all we've heard about for months. Or Guardians of The Galaxy. Now is going to be Namor? I understand this is a big market. Big money is being spent. But big money is also being lost. Let's see if Guardians is holds it's own before we start saturating the market with more hero's. Personally I think GTG is going to bomb. I'm a fan of most of these movies GTG I can't get excited about. Namor would have to be a big budget movie and right now the banks and movie production companies have paid out huge for John Carter, The Lone Ranger and 47 Ronin. All were in my eyes good movies. Of all the sure bets someone can take Namor would not be in my list of top five. Deadpool, Doctor Strange, a reboot of the Punisher series, maybe a reboot of Dare Devil, and finally a branch off the Averages series with the Hulk. But I don't think Namor has a chance. Water World keeps coming to mind.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2014, at 7:06 PM, SuntanIronMan wrote:

    @hmsthehood

    The problem with that wait and see approach is that Comcast does not have the luxury of time. If Comcast does not make a film about Namor, the rights will eventually revert back to Disney's Marvel Studios. This is one of they reasons why Sony rebooted the Spider-Man franchise so soon after Sam Raimi's trilogy ended and why there is always an X-Men film every few years.

    Comcast does not have the film rights to Deadpool (he last appeared in Fox's "Origins: Wolverine" and will be Fox's upcoming "X-Force" film) or the Punisher (which the rights have now reverted from Lions Gate back to Disney's Marvel). Comcast don't have the rights to Hulk anymore. What they do still have the rights to is Namor. And if Comcast wishes to keep those rights, the company will have to make a film about the character sometime in the near future.

    Also, it is confirmed that Daredevil will be rebooted. Now that the Daredevil rights have reverted from Fox back to Disney's Marvel, he will be the first of four characters (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage) to receive a 13-episode Netflix TV series plus a Defenders mini-series featuring all four characters.

    http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2013/12/07/marvels-man...

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