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Will 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' Kick-Start Fox's Superhero Movie Universe?

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Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) hasn't had the best luck when it comes to translating comic characters to the big screen. While some of its films such as the original X-Men and the recent The Wolverine have their share of fans, others like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Daredevil, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer have been heavily panned. While Fox is hoping for more of the former and less of the latter moving forward, can it pull it off?

At present, Fox holds the license for two major properties from Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Marvel Comics: the "X-Men" universe and the "Fantastic Four" universe. It formerly held the "Daredevil" rights as well, but those lapsed due to the company not making a new film within the term specified by the contract between Fox and Marvel. That's a key limitation to Fox's Marvel films -- it only has so long to get them into production, so it can't rest on its laurels if it has trouble bringing a film together.

An ambitious new universe
Fox is currently preparing for the release of its next "X-Men" film, Days of Future Past, on May 23. That hasn't stopped it from teasing the follow-up, currently known as "X-Men: Apocalypse," or moving forward with announcements concerning its upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot. The new "Fantastic Four" film is supposedly set to share a universe with the existing "X-Men" franchise, though no crossover between the two franchises has been announced and Mark Millar (who was hired by Fox as an "overseer" to the universe) has actively denied that one is being planned.

Even without a crossover in the works, it's likely that one will happen eventually if the shared universe concept is maintained. Consider Marvel's "Avengers" universe -- aside from an appearance by Robert Downey Jr. at the end of The Incredible Hulk, much of the crossover between the films leading up to The Avengers involved supporting characters. The crossover between the main characters didn't happen until the seventh film in the series, meaning that Fox might be planning a similar slow buildup to establish the cinematic universe and its inhabitants before throwing the two teams together.

Facing the competition
The superhero movie genre is fairly saturated, and the majority of the movies in the genre are released during the summer blockbuster season. This means that Fox is facing a lot of competition, not only from Marvel Studios but also from Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Bros. and Sony's (NYSE: SNE  ) Columbia Pictures. Warner Bros. is currently developing a sequel to last year's Superman feature Man of Steel, while Columbia is preparing to release The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

This competition puts additional pressure on Fox since there will inevitably be comparisons between its films and those of the other studios. The worst of these comparisons will be between Fox and Marvel Studios, since there are a number of fans who would rather see Fox's Marvel rights go back to Disney so that the X-Men and Fantastic Four could share screen time with the Avengers in the future. Comparisons to Columbia's "Spider-Man" franchise might also crop up as fans debate which studio is handling the licensed properties better.

The road ahead
In addition to its main "X-Men" franchise, there is buzz about other films that would explore the X-universe that Fox has licensed. It was confirmed last summer that Fox was working on a script for a film based on Rob Liefeld's "X-Force," and it was recently revealed that franchise producer Lauren Shuler Donner not only wants to make a "Gambit" solo film with Channing Tatum, but that the actor would be very interested in taking on the role of the Cajun mutant.

Before these films get made, though, Fox needs to get the rest of its universe in order. Marketing for Days of Future Past has gotten mixed reactions so far, especially in regard to the character of Quicksilver; given that Avengers: Age of Ultron will have a different take on the character, the Fox film's departure from the character's classic look may open things up for a lot of potentially unwanted comparisons between the two franchises.

Casting rumors also have fans stirred up about the "Fantastic Four" reboot, with some not liking the younger route that the studio is taking (which may be similar to the group's appearance in Marvel's "Ultimate Fantastic Four" comics) and potential changes to the fundamental backstory of the group that have been hinted at by a casting agency's call for auditions.

A shared Fox universe could be a very interesting thing indeed, but unless the studio can find a way to build its own universe while respecting the source material, a lot of die-hard comic fans aren't going to buy it. Sooner or later, that will lead to either more reboots or the loss of at least the "Fantastic Four" rights back to Marvel.

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Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (4)

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 February 04, 2014, at 11:22 AM, CalvinballPro wrote:

    I am joining the boycott of non-Marvel movies based on Marvel properties. These character rights should be returned to one studio, where they can be developed properly. These individual fiefdoms that Sony and Fox have are severely limited in scope when separated from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 11:57 AM, slowenuff wrote:

    Marvel/Disney needs to get the licenses back from all the other studios to fix them or needs to collaborate with them for crossovers.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 1:03 PM, dankusDLK wrote:

    The Fantastic Four movie is going to be a dud for the same reason that the Warner Justice League stuff stinks: the source material isn't good. There's no rabid following of the Fantastic Four- they're just a holdover from comics first Golden Era. There is no standout character. Ben Grimm, sort of, I guess? They never had a thesis either (X-men was an allegory for race relations, Avengers was US allied forces in WW2)

    X-Force is another thing altogether. X-Force features Cable- who is one of the most compelling characters in all of comics. Also, a true Deadpool and Canonball. Cast someone like Terry O'Quinn from LOST as Cable, and tell his story, and you can't lose.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 1:50 PM, Croaxleigh wrote:

    I think that a Fantastic Four film could be done well, but it's much too easy to do a shoddy film instead. The strength of the Fantastic Four is its character interactions (a family dynamic, as opposed to a more organized team structure) and the fact that they solved problems more with intelligence than raw brute strength. The problem is that it would take time and skill to introduce the characters in a way that was compelling, and the number of "starter" villains that could be used in that first film are limited (honestly, Mole Man would be the best option... but that would be a risk in and of itself.) Once the characters are established, subsequent films could introduce Doom (as Doom, not a preppy corporate type who's turning to metal and has electric powers), Annihilus, Kang the Conqueror, Galactus, and some of the other epic-level threats that the Four have faced. Instead, if the casting call is to be believed, we're getting buddies Ben and Richard who get powers and are drafted by the military as living weapons and who meet Sue and Johnny and decide to escape.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 3:43 PM, hjames wrote:

    Fox's superhero universe??!!!! Its like me going out, buying a Ms Smith pie, selling it by the peace and saying that this is MY pie I'm selling!?!? Marvel already has a universe going on and that is where these characters belong damnit!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 5:32 PM, ThreBoo48 wrote:

    FOX need to give back the rights to any Marvel properties they currently have the rights too back to Disney/Marvel for proper development? just remember how they did Galactus in The Rise of The Silver Surfer a cloud?

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 6:18 PM, LoganX37 wrote:

    1)First no one is going to "give" back rights to potential $Billion dollar franchises that could become tent poles for a studio.

    2) The already made an great Fantastic Four movie it was called The Incredibles so there is no reason it cant happen again.

    3) Spider-man and Xmen Universes have some of the greatest rogues galleries in the Marvel Universe and can sustain themselves solo and independent if a studio does it right. Hiring Mark Millar is a great step in the right direction and you can bet he has strong ties to the people and stories coming out of Marvel/Disney he will respect that.

    The Marvel Universe worked well because of a perfect storm. Ironman came out right on the heels of the Transformer Movie and had Robert Downey Jr. casting was perfect he pulled in so many people. It was a great move.

  • Report this Comment On February 04, 2014, at 7:31 PM, mlprine1 wrote:

    Okay to be honest both of the production companies could make a bundle if either one would sell to the other or they collaborate to make a phenomenal movie. There is so much potential to be had without them pitting against one another. First and foremost you cant have two separate actors playing the same character. The thing that always pisses me off about sequals is when they don't bring back the same people to play the roles. It just throws a kink in everything because you lose the familiarity. Don't get me wrong with 3 different actors for the Hulk I still ended up liking him. The only reason that worked however is they kept everyone else the same. If you have two series going though that contain the same character or characters with different actors you lose the audience and the connection with them. Just my opinion.

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John Casteele

John Casteele is a freelance writer, editor, and occasional web cartoonist. He prefers long-term investments, largely in retail, medical, and tech.

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