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Marvel’s Movie Opportunity May Be Bigger Than Any of Us Knows

When Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) spent $4 billion to acquire Marvel in 2009, it did so knowing that new Marvel movies would operate in a limited universe. Four years later, the boundaries are shifting. Fool contributor Tim Beyers explains the changes in the following video.

Originally, Marvel was barred from using characters considered part of the "Fantastic Four," "Spider-Man," and "X-Men" families of heroes and villains. Thus, if a character originated in "Fantastic Four" or a related comic book, Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA  ) would own the movie rights to said character. Fox had similar control over the X-Men, while Sony had rights to the Spider-Man universe. Or at least that's how it seemed.

Now, thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy,  we're finding that the lines are blurred. Lee Pace's Ronan the Accuser first appeared in "Fantastic Four," yet apparently had enough tussles with The Avengers to quality as partially owned by Marvel and Disney. He'll appear as the primary antagonist in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Conversely,  the Badoon -- a well-known antagonist for the Guardians in the comics -- isn't Marvel property. Director James Gunn confirmed as much earlier this week in an interview with Kevin Pereira of the Pointless Podcast. He also confirmed that Disney has partial rights to the Skrulls, while the Guardians will spend time facing off against the insectoid aliens known as the Sakaaran.

Why not the Badoon? Tim theorizes that their first appearance, in 1968's "Silver Surfer" #1, makes them too closely aligned with the "Fantastic Four" family of characters. So be it. Even if the Badoon are off-limits it's become increasingly clear that Marvel Studios' access to Marvel Comics characters isn't nearly so limited as we once might have believed.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. What character do you want to see in a Marvel movie? Please watch the video to get Tim's full take and then leave a comment to let us know where you stand, and whether you would buy, sell, or short Disney stock at current prices.

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Read/Post Comments (15) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 8:39 AM, TheFume wrote:

    So could this be the reason that a Black Panther movie seems to be mired in red taped? His first appearance was in FF and it would make sense as to why we haven't seen him on the big screen yet.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:02 AM, Droppo wrote:

    Debating who is available for what movie is ridiculous. Everyone exists in the same universe. To settle things, I would suggest that Disney just purchase back the rights from Fox so the movies can all belong to Marvel where they belong. It might take a bazillion dollars, but Disney's got the money and would make it back and then some over time. Heck, just one Star Wars movie would probably make them enough money to get back the rights to entire Marvel franchises with billion dollar potential. Marvel has made the movies much better then Fox anyway, so they definitely would have potential to see the return on the investment.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:40 AM, tw170 wrote:

    Droppo, Fox and Sony aren't willing to sell the rights back to Disney so it's not that easy. Sony's made billions off of Spider-man with billions yet to be made (more than it makes sense for Disney to pay). That's why they rushed into a new Spiderman series. There might be a chance that the studios will work together at one point but, right now, it doesn't make financial sense for anyone.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 10:14 AM, vocal75 wrote:

    This sounds like good news for all the studios. A bit of cooperation among them - a willingness to share - would be beneficial all around. Hopefully no one gets sue-happy over minor character rights and allows some of the questionable gray-area characters to slide around between studios (like Magneto's kids, Wanda and Pietro).

    And, while I know most people want Disney to own the rights to everything (and I agree it would be fun to see Spidey and Wolverine in an Avengers mash-up), I actually think that having this competition among the studios is a good thing. We get more and higher quality movies this way (well, we do if the studio in question gets their act together). The variety helps the movies have completely different tones too (If Disney owned everything, it would probably all start feeling like 'we've seen this before'!).

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 10:41 AM, hjames wrote:

    How about these other studios work with Marvel and join up in the universe because these characters belong or just give the rights back to Marvel and make your own damn superheroes damnit. This is like me buying a Ms. Smith pie, baking it and selling it by the piece trying to pass it off as mine own simply because I bought it and you cant do that! There should be a law that Marvel should be able to use there damn superheroes any way they want! They made them up damnit. Fox and Sony did not and even though Sony is doing an okay job with Spidey and Fox is ok (they have put some bad Xmen movies out tho) Marvel would do better than both of these properties because...well they made them up damnit. The studios really need to get together and make it one universe already!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 11:01 AM, 3dpenguin wrote:

    It's not as simple as just "giving" or "taking" the franchises back. Both Fox and Sony sees too much money in the Marvel franchises which they are maintaining. The only way Marvel will get them back is if (a) Fox and Sony let them go unused for a given period of time at which point they expire and revert back to Marvel, (b) Marvel/Disney chooses to offer an amount which Fox and Sony feels is compensation worth for buying out of the license or (c) Fox and/or Sony screws up so badly that Marvel/Disney has the rights to claim that they are being detrimental to the franchises they control and forces them to sell them back. I think Fox may be pulling a (c) option with Fantastic 4 which has been nothing but a money pit for them, but Marvel just hasn't felt the need to purchase the rights back, they saw how it worked out for Universal and the Hulk, and now want to cash in on Disney lassoing in the Marvel characters.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 11:44 AM, Ekkis25 wrote:

    Adam Warlock-you can use him in variuos areas because of his creation as an eathbound being all the way up to a galactic champion. He is popular and flexible .

    If not him then the Nth Man that is a great story full of twisted humor and emotionally moving at the same time.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 12:25 PM, jormunguard wrote:

    It's simple, if you want the X-men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four properties to revert back to Marvel/Disney then simply stop going to the movies that Fox and Sony put out staring those characters. It'll make the characters unprofitable for them and thus they will stop making movies for them. Then after a certain number of years without a new movie staring those characters the rights revert back to Marvel/Disney.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 3:04 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:


    >>So could this be the reason that a Black Panther movie seems to be mired in red taped?

    Unlikely. Stan Lee has already confirmed that Marvel Studios is working on a Black Panther film. (Though, to be fair, Disney hasn't announced this publicly.)


    Thanks for writing and Foolish best,



    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 4:29 PM, unclechubby wrote:

    Here is a cross studio example Aaron Taylor-Johnson will play will play Quicksilver in Avengers: Age of Ultron. While Even Peters will play Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 6:07 PM, msorrentino wrote:

    @unclechubby the problem though is that they will be completely separate characters apart from their name.

    As for Disney getting the rights back, I think they just have to take the wait and see approach. Eventually, Fox and Sony will mess up and Disney will be there to claim the spoils.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 6:16 PM, Sharkey1983 wrote:

    It is honestly obsurd that the silver surfer is stuck alongside the fantastic four and not in the avengers/ guardians movies. Seriously havin thanks in a movie with an infinity guantlet storyline without the silver surfer? Really ?

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 6:17 PM, Sharkey1983 wrote:

    Thanos* damn autocheck lol

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 6:28 PM, cynicalbuddha wrote:

    After the X-men was a big success Marvel stopped just selling the rights to its characters off. Instead the contracts included a piece of the pie for Marvel, ticket sales, merchandising, ect. It's one of the reasons Marvel as a company did a big turnaround in the early 2000's. So Disney still gets a slice of pie no matter who puts the movie out. So while as fans we would love the whole Marvel universe to be under one umbrella, Disney really doesn't have much incentive other than it would get all the pie. And making movies is expensive and risky.

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:42 PM, Bpaxson002 wrote:

    I used to have a treatment for a Heroes 4 Hire movie. Iron Fist, Wonder Man (this was when someone else owned the rights to Luke Cage) The Shroud and Spider Woman. Do it as a hero comedy, of sorts. Use Baron Zemo as the villain.

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Tim Beyers

Tim Beyers first began writing for the Fool in 2003. Today, he's an analyst for Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Motley Fool Supernova. At, he covers disruptive ideas in technology and entertainment, though you'll most often find him writing and talking about the business of comics. Find him online at or send email to For more insights, follow Tim on Google+ and Twitter.

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