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What's next for Marvel characters at Disney theme parks

The brief announcement that Disney plans to add a Marvel-themed land to Hong Kong Disneyland in 2017 raises a host of questions:

Will Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men be getting their own rides?

When will the Marvel characters be coming to Anaheim, Paris, Tokyo or Shanghai?

And why, of all places, Hong Kong?

Many of the most basic questions remain unanswered, in part because the announcement was made by a Hong Kong government official rather than Disney. But that hasn't stopped theme park observers from surmising and speculating.

So let's take a look at what's known and unknown about Marvel characters coming to Hong Kong Disneyland and other Disney theme parks.

Acquired by Disney in 2009 for $4 billion, Marvel has found increasing success in China with "The Avengers" and "Spider-Man" among the country's highest-grossing international films of 2012. The forthcoming "Iron Man 3" was partly shot in Beijing featuring Chinese actors.

Marvel's upcoming slate includes superhero movies and sequels featuring the characters Thor and Wolverine in 2013, Captain America, Spider-Man and the X-Men in 2014 and the Avengers and Fantastic Four in 2015.

Hong Kong Disneyland is currently in the midst of a multiyear expansion that has seen the addition of Toy Story Playland (starring Buzz and Woody) and Grizzly Gulch (think Frontierland meets Critter Country), with Mystic Point (a rain forest-themed Haunted Mansion) scheduled to open this summer.

Co-owned by the Hong Kong government, the smallest of Disney's theme parks recently reported its first annual profit since opening in 2005.

The Marvel-themed land would give Hong Kong Disneyland a one-of-a-kind attraction to brag about shortly after the $4.4-billion Shanghai Disneyland opens in late 2015 or early 2016. One possible location for the new Marvel land in Hong Kong: a 17-acre site behind Tomorrowland.

Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger has promised to introduce Marvel rides and lands at multiple Disney parks around the world -- without going into detail about specific rides or locations.

Marvel President Kevin Feige has said he dreams of a day when he can walk into Asgard's Hall of Heroes or the X-Mansion at a Disney theme park.

Disneyland Paris executives have publicly suggested that a Marvel superhero theme park is part of the long-term vision for the French resort.

At the original Disneyland in Anaheim, speculation has centered on the possibility of an Iron Man attraction in the woeful Innoventions pavilion.

In the United States, Marvel characters would likely be restricted to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure on the West Coast. Universal's Islands of Adventure has exclusive rights to use Marvel characters in Florida, prohibiting the superheroes from appearing at any of the four parks in the Walt Disney World resort.

In the United Arab Emirates, the Marvel Adventure family entertainment center is expected to open in late 2013 with superhero-themed attractions, restaurants and shops. The eight-acre indoor miniature theme park will use the Marvel characters as part of a licensing agreement not involving Disney theme parks or Walt Disney Imagineering, the creative arm of the company.  

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