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Disney's Purchase of Marvel: What Does It Mean for the Fans?

Existing deals limit Disney's ability to exploit Marvel's far-flung properties

By

Disney's Purchase of Marvel: What Does It Mean for the Fans?
Marvel
Updated May 31, 2014

The Walt Disney Co. $4 billion purchase of Marvel Entertainment has lots of complicated ramifications for Marvel's huge stable of characters and their fans. As Variety points out, this puts Disney in the superhero business for the first time, having previously had no contact with the genre other than distributing Pixar's The Incredibles.

Wall Street execs expressed amazement at the price paid, as reported in THR, though Disney thinks huge value can be "unlocked" in underexploited characters and future rights to film distribution and other uses after existing deals lapse.

Mouse Hats on Marvel Heroes?

Fans, meanwhile, expressed their own concerns. The fear here, of course, is that Disney will try to, well, Disnify the Marvel properties: Disney has a reputation for executive meddling. Disney head Robert Iger denies this: "The goal here is not to rebrand Marvel as Disney," Iger said. Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter and Marvel Studios exec Avi Arad will remain in place.

Any of the previous motion picture deals Marvel made with other studios will remain intact, at least until they expire. (Currently major Marvel franchises are farmed out to several different studios: Spider-Man at Columbia/Sony, Iron Man and other Avengers at Paramount, X-Men at Fox, and so on.) New franchises, and franchises continuing beyond existing deals, will likely be under the Disney/Marvel name.

Some deals will remain intact: Spider-Man's deal at Sony, for example, is open-ended, with three more films on the way under the Columbia name, and Paramount still has a deal to release five more Marvel films, starting with Iron Man 2.

Lots to Exploit

The deal is easily worth billions for Disney, since they'll be able to exploit Marvel's library of more than 5,000 characters into movies, TV shows, Internet properties, theme park attractions, video games, toys, licensed merchandise and, of course, comic books. (Here again there are limitations: for example, certain characters, including Spider-Man, are licensed to Universal Orlando, and will stay there.) And it's good news for Marvel, which can use Disney's muscle to become a bigger presence outside the U.S.

The deal, says Marvel icon Stan Lee, "gives Disney a library of literally hundreds of unique and colorful characters that have the potential to make great, high-concept movies and long-lasting franchises -- and nobody knows how to play in that ballpark better than Disney."

While Disney's immediate interest is increasing its connection with young and teen boys, the appeal of the Marvel deal is that comic book characters transcend gender and age, appealing to vast markets at home and abroad. (The top 25 movie grossers of all time include four Marvel films: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3, and Iron Man.) Many of Marvel's characters are unexploited, opening up huge potentials for new franchises. (Though, in many cases there's a reason some characters are "unexploited" outside their own comics title.)

Meanwhile, Iger talked up Marvel's branded content strength even in the declining DVD market. "They are not bulletproof," he said. "They are not immune from the changes that we're seeing. But they have established a footing that we think is more solid than what you typically see in the non-branded, non-character driven [movie space]."

Superhero Movie Glut

So what happens when the bottom falls out of the superhero market? It's booming now, but we're still part of a wave that ultimately started with Spider-Man, and that received a boost from Iron Man that was pretty much unexpected. With dozens of DC and Marvel projects on the way in solid packs over the next few years, plus related fare like Transformers, it's only a matter of time before moviegoers experience a temporary bout of genre fatigue, and that could spell big trouble for Disney and DC's Time Warner -- though as corporate monoliths maybe they'll be able to absorb the dip better than Marvel standing on its own.

Here's the slate of DC and Marvel superhero films that's already in the chute for the next several years (and bear in mind, these are just the superhero films related to properties from these two houses):

  • Jonah Hex (DC, 2010)
  • Metal Men (DC, 2010)
  • The Losers (DC, 2010)
  • Iron Man 2 (Marvel, 2010)
  • Planet Hulk (video) (Marvel, 2010)
  • Sub-Mariner (Marvel, 2010)
  • Taskmaster (Marvel, 2010)
  • Justice League: Mortal (DC, 2011)
  • Superman: Man of Steel (DC, 2011)
  • The Doom Patrol (DC, 2011)
  • The Flash (DC, 2011)
  • The Green Lantern (DC, 2011)
  • Wonder Woman (DC, 2011)
  • Deadpool (Marvel, 2011)
  • Deathlok (Marvel, 2011)
  • Ghost Rider 2 (Marvel, 2011)
  • Luke Cage (Marvel, 2011)
  • Runaways (Marvel, 2011)
  • Spider-Man 4 (Marvel, 2011)
  • The First Avenger: Captain America (Marvel, 2011)
  • The Hands of Shang-Chi (Marvel, 2011)
  • Thor (Marvel, 2011)
  • X-Men Origins: Magneto (Marvel, 2011)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2 (Marvel, 2011)
  • Constantine 2 (DC, 2012)
  • Suicide Squad (DC, 2012)
  • Ant-Man (Marvel, 2012)
  • Doctor Strange (Marvel, 2012)
  • Iron Fist (Marvel, 2012)
  • Iron Man 3 (Marvel, 2012)
  • Nick Fury (Marvel, 2012)
  • Silver Surfer (Marvel, 2012)
  • Spider-Man 5 (Marvel, 2012)
  • The Avengers (Marvel, 2012)
  • Venom (Marvel, 2012)
  • Adam Strange (DC, 2013)
  • Spider-Man 6 (Marvel, 2013)
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