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Three Years Later: A Look at Disney’s Acquisition of Marvel

Nearly three years ago, Disney fans and comic book geeks alike did double takes as they looked at the latest news: Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. While this was less than Disney spent for PIXAR, there were no previous projects between Disney and Marvel, other than Disney having acquired Stan Lee’s POW Entertainment in 2008. After the success of Marvel’s The Avengers (distributed by Walt Disney Pictures), let’s take a look at who owns the characters and a glimpse at the future:

This purchase did come with a lot of tangled red tape, as the rights to many of the most popular Marvel Characters were spread out across the film distribution universe (not to mention theme-park rights). Currently, 20th Century FOX owns rights to the X-Men universe, Daredevil, Elektra, and Fantastic Four; Sony has hold of Ghost Rider and Spider-Man; and New Line Cinema’s hold on the Blade property and Lionsgate’s rights to The Punisher have reverted back to Marvel.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult to get the rights to any in-park Avengers rides, walk-arounds, etc, at Walt Disney World as Universal and Marvel have signed a long-lasting contract for Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, and Captain America at their Universal Orlando park. However, Universal did allow their contract for Universal Hollywood to lapse, so an attraction or meet-and-greet characters in Disneyland Resort, most likely Disney California Adventure (or perhaps that empty strawberry field down Harbor Blvd) is possible.

Should Disney ever buy-out Marvel’s contract with Universal Orlando, I do have a few ideas for the use of Marvel’s hottest property at the moment: 1) Use the empty Wonders of Life Pavilion in EPCOT’s Future World as a new home to the Stark Expo (could also be housed in Innoventions) 2) A new Marvel-themed area in DHS, with one E-ticket and maybe a stage show or side show (a-la Jedi Training Academy). Those Streets of New York are awfully empty these days… 3) I do not foresee an attraction being added to the Magic Kingdom, because, well, it just wouldn’t fit, unless WDI decides to future-ize Tomorrow Land 4) With the addition of Pandora on hold at the Animal Kingdom, Marvel has a few animal-like heroes that could fit the area.

So, three years later, the purchase of Marvel is just beginning to pay off for Disney. The future is bright for the company, especially as rights for the tent-pole characters come back. In the next two years have The Amazing Spider-Man (Columbia Pictures July 3, 2012), Iron Man 3 (Spring 2013), The Wolverine (20th Century FOX: Summer 2013), Thor 2 (Fall 2013), Captain America 2 (Spring 2014) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Columbia Pictures 2014).

Do you think Disney should buy out Universal soon? Where would you place Marvel Characters in the parks? Which characters should have their own movie?

8 thoughts on “Three Years Later: A Look at Disney’s Acquisition of Marvel”

  1. Yes, GET OUT OF UNIVERSAL! I will admit Spider-Man is the BEST thing IOA has, but the land in general is cheep and cheesy. WDI could do WAY better. Yes I vote for Marval at DHS over anywhere as it makes the best fit. New York street needs SERIOUS help. I would be fine with ripping out LMACTION for a ride as well. I would be cool with it in DCA, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the park. Time will tell. Let’s see what happens.

  2. I thought The Avengers was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Does anyone not notice that?

    And as for Universal, I doubt Disney will buy out that company – they’ve been producing more R and PG-13-rated (sometimes irreverent) material for the past 15-20 years.

    If Marvel material is going to be distributed by Disney, the people had better keep it clean like they do in the comic books.

    1. It is distributed by Paramount because they signed a contract before the Disney acquisition of Marvel and Marvel Studios. Disney has a deal that allows Paramount to distribute the film while Disney helps finance and produce the film (As far as I know). There is something mentioning Walt Disney Pictures at the end of the credits.

      Disney wouldn’t buy Universal Pictures, they would buy the rights to use the characters they own in Disney World FROM Universal.

      1. Actually, Disney distributed “The Avengers”. Marvel previously had a 6 movie distribution deal (for both theaters and home video) with Paramount. The first 4 movies of the deal were “Iron Man”, “Iron Man 2”, “Thor” and “Captain America”. The last two were going to be “The Avengers” and “Iron Man 3”. The deal was for Marvel to pay a percentage of the money brought in (I think it was around 10%) to Paramount as a distribution fee. Marvel retained the copyright on the films and all sequel and merchandising rights.

        Last year, Disney bought out the Paramount deal, giving them the right to handle all marketing and distribution on those last two films. As part of the deal, Paramount still has its logo on the films and still receives the same percentage of the box-office take that they would have received had they distributed the films.

        Technically, Disney doesn’t make any more money on the films than they would have if they had just let Paramount handle distribution. The theory here is that Disney wanted this deal so that they could take full control of the marketing and distribution on the films. In effect, they took the gamble that the movies would make more money with Disney’s marketing muscle fully behind them than they would with Paramount handling it.

  3. On the one hand, I think Disney takes a certain perverse pleasure in receiving regular royalty payments from Universal for the use of now-Disney-owned Marvel characters at Island of Adventure. And Disney has to be enjoying the irony of Universal Studios paying them to indirectly promote Disney films in Universal’s theme park.

    But over the long-term, it just makes sense for Disney to work to buy out that rights agreement. From the opening days of Disneyland, part of the purpose of a Disney theme park has been to cross-promote Disney film properties. With at least four more Avengers-centered films slated for release over the next few years – and discussion of more, thanks to the very high success rate for the Paramount/Disney Marvel Universe films – it just makes sense to pull those characters in-house. Perhaps a compromise could be acheived by extending the licenses to X-Men and Spider-Man characters on more favorable terms to Universal, in exchange for Disney recapturing theme park rights to the Avengers characters. (Sort of like when Disney swapped sports broadcaster Al Michaels’ contract for the rights to Oswald).

  4. The Universal contract is ending soon. Look for them to replace Spider-Man with another big themed attraction.

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