You Gotta Fight, For Your Right, To Moooovie
By Pete Rogers
This summer, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier have absolutely crushed box office totals and made fans jump for joy, even after multiple viewings. So the natural question after you have seen a superhero film like these, once the initial buzz wears off of course, is where will the company take the characters, franchise and properties next? Well if you were hoping to see Captain American and Namor the Sub-Mariner in action together, or The Silver Surfer soar into combat with the Guardians Of The Galaxy, you may have to wait quite a while to do so. Here we will discuss the various property rights issues that keep Spidey from swinging through the streets of New York to help the Avengers fight the Chitauri and what we hope to see in the future. Before we get too far into the history of this topic, I do have to note that we are only addressing film rights here, because rights for the characters in printed comics, theme parks, television shows, Thor brand jet skis, Rocket Raccoon fuzzy PJs or My First Red Skull make-up kit are not as complicated as an issue and/or are made up products.
So how did we find ourselves in this situation where the company who created the character in the comic no longer has the right to make the movies about them? Well simply put, it happened as a way to make money at a time where superhero films just weren’t the sexy, multi-million dollar jackpot they are today. Don’t remember those dark times, known as the 1990’s? Well, let an old man take you back to yester year when a super hero movie meant Batman and Robin, Judge Dredd and Steel. Now admittedly, there were some critically successful movies like The Crow, but its lifetime gross of $50 million is just a pittance of what movies are capable of making. And yes I used the word pittance in reference to $50 million dollars, but it’s a relative scale, plus I like the word “pittance.”
Unsure if a superhero film could make serious money from a box office standpoint, Marvel optioned off the rights to characters like the X-Men, Spider-man, The Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Blade and a few others. Studios like Sony, Universal and 20th Century Fox were able to cherry pick which movies they wanted to make and the results were mixed. The X-Men, Spider-man and Blade really hit home with fans and proved that a new generation of fans were ready for big screen heroes again. More importantly, if given serious consideration by the studios, these movies could make a boatload of money. That’s the part that all the suits really care about. Am I right, average American person?!
However, Ang Lee’s Hulk and the Fantastic Four films gave a warning as well that studios needed to do a little more than just put the characters on the screen and wait for a Scrooge McDuck-esque swimming pool full of gold coins to magically appear. Seeing the triumphs and pitfalls laid out before them, Marvel Studios decided to use the characters that had not been optioned as the foundation of their new film empire.
Over the last six years, Marvel Studios has crafted a sandbox in which their characters can go crazy, have amazing adventures together and make the company quite a large sum of moolah. Captain America can play war in one corner, the Hulk can get mad and kick sand in people’s faces and after everyone has had their “me time” they can all play together to beat up the foreign kids who showed up to knock over their sandcastle. The only problem is as fans we don’t want Spider-man sulking over on the swings by himself because Uncle Sony won’t let him play in the sandbox. The poor Fantastic Four were sent down the slide on the jungle gym, and since that trip was short, uneventful and at times kinda boring, Fox decided to send another Fantastic Four down the slide to see if this time it is any more fun for the viewers. Here’s a spoiler alert, I don’t think it will be.
As a fan of all of the comics, I just wish that the companies owning the rights to these beloved properties could see that all the characters are playing on the same playground. I’m sure there are ways to make the financial incentives work out where all parties could make the $70 quadzillion dollars they are so desperate to earn. In my opinion, the real reason that Marvel has been able to make every movie a smash hit both in the box office and in the eyes of its harshest critics, is because every time you go to see a new film in their catalogue, in your mind you have the knowledge that it all fits together. While Groot is throwing aliens into walls, Ironman is making a new suit or Black Widow is sneaking into some HYDRA base. It’s just a shame that I can’t imagine Spidey is fighting Electro in the same New York that the Avengers saved from Loki.
At the end of the day, this is probably just nit picking. After all, there has been a huge flood of new movies with characters I never would have dreamt as a little kid would make the big screen. But just like pizza before we jammed cheese in the crust, we realized what is good can always be made better. Some of the characters that were once optioned off and thought to be gone forever (I’m looking at you Daredevil, even if you can’t look back) are back to their home at Marvel. So hopefully someday my expectations will once again be exceeded, but until then I will enjoy the hell out of all the super hero movies that are out there and the ones that are on the horizon.