Marvel characters tied up in numerous movie, TV, theme park and video game deals


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Just because Walt Disney buying Marvel Entertainment doesn’t mean that Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America will be showing at the studio’s human resources office to fill out their W-4s anytime soon.

Many of Marvel’s best-known characters are already signed to long-term deals, some of which last into perpetuity, with a number of rival movie studios, cable networks and video game publishers, as well as a theme park company. In some cases, Disney will have to wait awhile to get its hands on them. In others, it will never have the rights unless it reaches a new agreement with the studios that currently own them.


Here’s a rundown of Marvel’s existing deals for movies, television shows and video games:

-Paramount Pictures has the rights to distribute five movies produced by Marvel Entertainment, including next year’s ‘Iron Man 2’ and 2011’s ‘Captain America’ and ‘Thor.’ In 2012, Paramount will distribute ‘The Avengers’ and in 2013 most likely ‘Iron Man 3.’

Marvel currently finances production of its movies through a $525-million debt facility set up by Merrill Lynch in 2005. Disney will likely take over financing of Marvel movies once that deal expires in 2012.

Until the deal expires, Disney will benefit substantially from the movies distributed by Viacom’s Paramount, as that studio keeps only an 8% distribution fee for its services after recouping costs. Once the Paramount deal expires, Disney will be able to receive all of the potential profits, and losses, from Marvel movies not already set up at other studios.

-Sony Pictures has the rights in perpetuity to keep making ‘Spider-Man’ movies. The first three garnered a total of $2.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales and are key to Sony Corp. ‘Spider-Man 4’ is set to come out in May 2011, and fifth and sixth installments are currently being written.

-News Corp.’s Twentieth Century Fox has rights in perpetuity to make movies based on the X-Men team and individual characters, Fantastic Four and Daredevil. There have been three hit ‘X-Men’ movies, as well as this past May’s spinoff ‘Wolverine.’ Movies based on characters Deadpool and Magneto are in development.

The two ‘Fantastic Four’ movies were solid hits as well, selling $330.6 million and $289 million worth of tickets worldwide, respectively. ‘Daredevil’ (2003) took in $179.2 million and was something of a disappointment, while 2005 spinoff ‘Elektra’ was a flop, grossing just $56.7 million.


-Universal Studios has the rights in perpetuity for its Marvel Super Hero Island attraction at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., which includes rides based on Marvel characters Spider-Man, Dr. Doom, the Hulk and Storm, and features a number of other characters from the X-Men. The company, which is part of General Electric Co.’s NBC Universal, also has a 10-year-plus deal for its Spider-Man attraction at Universal Studios Japan.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether Universal’s deal is exclusive or if Disney can, at some point, produce attractions based on those same characters at its theme parks.

-Lions Gate Entertainment has two projects remaining in its eight-picture deal with Marvel to create direct-to-DVD animated movies based its superhero characters.

-Viacom’s Nickelodeon kids cable network has multi-year deals to air animated series based on Iron Man and the X-Men. Time Warner’s Cartoon Network has a similar multi-year deal for ‘Super Hero Squad,’ a series aimed at young children that features the entire Marvel universe.

-Activision Blizzard Inc. controls the rights to publish video games based on Spider-Man and the X-Men characters through 2017.

-Sega has a multi-year deal to make video games based on all of Marvel’s movies currently being produced internally, including Iron Man, Thor and Captain America.


-Start-up publisher Gazillion Entertainment has a 10-year deal ending in 2019 to produce massively multi-player online games, similar to World of Warcraft, based on Marvel characters.

On the plus side, Ant Man is available and ready for his close-up.

--Ben Fritz