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Disney’s Hollywood Studios Makeover – Following the Breadcrumbs


I’ll admit I’m letting my heart lead my mind in this story, but I’m putting a couple rumors together and seeing something potentially huge on the horizon. So, keep in mind this is speculation of the basest sort and that it’s just for fun. Who knows, I could be on to something, but if not, this is just a bit of harmless speculation.

We all know of the big rumor that the Board of Directors at the Mouse House has agreed to drop $3+ billion to fix Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If true, and I hope it is, $3 billion is a lot of dough, considering it only took $1.2 billion (give or take) to fix Disney’s California Adventure (although I think that number goes up another couple hundred million if you include simultaneous entertainment enhancements that weren’t in the budget).

So what is Disney planning to spend that extra cash on? Some have speculated that they’ll extend the monorail from EPCOT to DHS and use the money to pay for some much needed upgrades to the monorail fleet. As much as I’d like to see the monorails get the love and attention they deserve, I don’t think that would be a good use of money, as it wouldn’t have the sort of excitement level that would make families drop everything and book a WDW vacation.

Then, yesterday evening James Gunn, who directed Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and is currently in pre-production on its sequel, held a periscope chat where he didn’t talk too much about the sequel, but I’m told he did mention how excited he was about an upcoming Disneyworld ride based on Guardians of the Galaxy. Wait? Could that even happen? Gunn has since deleted the periscope, so perhaps he leaked something he wasn’t supposed to?


Disney did get away with hosting a preview of Guardians of the Galaxy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios by removing any mention of the word “Marvel” from the marketing of the film in the park, but could they do that with a whole attraction? I don’t think that would play well with Disney’s rival down the street. We all know that Universal Orlando Resort owns the rights to use of Marvel properties in Orlando area theme parks and attractions. I think they’d have their lawyers on the phone with Disney’s lawyers faster than you could say Star Lord.

The rights to Marvel characters in Orlando is a pretty ironclad contract that was signed long before Disney even dreamed of buying Marvel. Really, the only way Disney could get Universal Orlando to give up the rights to use Marvel characters in the parks would be to buy them out of it. Speculations are Disney could be forced to give Universal somewhere between $500 million and $800 million to buy back the rights. Universal certainly could use the money to help with its capital expansion plans. Plus, I’m sure they’re less attached to Spider-Man now that they have Transformers with the same ride technology.

If a deal was worked out, Disney would have no problem building a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction with the Marvel brand or any number of other Marvel attractions anywhere they wanted at Walt Disney World. If James Gunn really did slip up and spill the beans early, this D23 Expo could be very exciting indeed for Disney theme park fans.

This is the part of the dream where we wake up. I don’t see a company like Disney giving their nearest competitor the type of cash it would take to buy out this contract. Some bean counter somewhere would scream bloody murder about funding your own competitor coming around to bite you.

But daydreaming again, there really is no other way for Disney to get the rights to use Marvel characters in Orlando other than pay Universal for them. If they were going to really capitalize on the popularity of the Avengers and greater Marvel Cinematic Universe movies (which have made the company multi-billions in box office and merchandise revenue), wouldn’t it make wise financial sense to spend a little now to make make even more money at the theme parks forever? The opportunity cost of not having Marvel at the Walt Disney World theme parks is a lot more than it would cost to buy back the rights.

What do you think fellow Disney dreamers? Am I on the right path here?

15 thoughts on “Disney’s Hollywood Studios Makeover – Following the Breadcrumbs”

  1. I notice neither here, nor in your “top 5 attractions Disney should bring to DHS” post, do you mention the most likely –almost guaranteed– addition Disney will make to DHS — MORE STAR WARS. They’re expecting this movie in September to outperform … well, everything since Avatar. They’ve already got the rights, there’s nobody to pay off. You KNOW there’s going to be a star wars expansion here.

    1. Actually, I did mention it in the top 5 attractions post, but this post isn’t meant to be all encompassing, just a potential future based on a few breadcrumbs discovered recently. I wouldn’t even call it a rumor. Just some speculation.

  2. Great post John! At this point we know that DHS is bound to get a huge much deserved makeover. With all the attractions that have closed and are possibly on the chopping block Disneys actions are louder than what they have said yet. I think your onto something by following the breadcrumbs that are out there. I think Disney will be getting the rights to the Marvel characters sooner than later with Universal signing with Nintendo to bring it’s characters into the park. Is this Universals fallback to have when Disney does get the rights? They could easily change say the Hulk rollercoaster to Donkey Kong. And retheme the whole area with those characters. It will be interesting when and if Disney does get the rights to Marvel and how they integrate them into the parks. Very exciting times for us Disney fans!!

  3. Universal swaps our Marvel for Nintendo at IOA. Gives (sells, for a fair price) Marvel rights back to Disney. Most Marvel rides at IOA are starting to show their age anyway and could use a refresh. This would be a clean break for them, everyone wins including all the fans.

  4. As I understand it, the whole of the contract for use with Marvel was structured in such a way that characters already featured, currently or in the past, could also not be featured at WDW. However, other franchises that had not been featured, such as “Big Hero 6” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” could be put in a Disney park because they had not been featured by Universal in their park. This is why Disney is pushing so hard to bring the unexplored and underused francheses to the front… They have a track record and built in audience, but they (Disney) have no usage restrictions. In fact, Baymax and friends have been in parks (and it has been all but confirmed they will be meeting in Epcot by Food and Wine in Japan) and Star Lord and various crew have cycled in and out of the parks (both DHS and Magic Kingdom) as special event meet-and-greets. They spoilered that a Groot costume is in development for meet-and-greets, so it seems logical that, with a sequel coming, and the assumption GotG can go into parks, they’d try to develop that.

  5. It makes sense a Guardians ride would come to Hollywood Studios since it is not part of the Marvel Universal deal thankfully. They would just remove any Marvel logo or mention which is fine because it is very popular franchise.

  6. I think the agreement between Disney and Universal is a little more complicated than the blanket statement you’re giving here, and has to do with what characters Universal already had in their park, what Marvel movies were made prior to Disney’s purchase of it, and what characters belong to already-filmed franchises. I believe it was that because GOTG had “fresh” characters from unexplored franchises, it was allowed in the Disney park, not just because they took “Marvel” out of the title. Also, Starlord, Hiro and Baymax have all had character appearances in the Disney parks, despite being based on Marvel characters. If Marvel continues to make movies from “fresh” franchises, they don’t have to pay Universal a dime.

    1. This post really wasn’t the place to go into the minutia of the contract between Marvel and Universal Orlando. However, I believe Universal would have a bigger issue with a GotG ride than they would a meet and greet or Avengers merchandise for sale in the parks. The larger point is, however, that Disney needs to own the Marvel franchise at all of its parks in order to best capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. We know how big Bob Iger is on franchises.

  7. I watched James Gunn’s periscope. He read that question from a user post, that’s it. Nothing to see here move along.

  8. I still have a hard time believing that after shelling out 4 billion for Marvel, Disney wouldn’t go the extra mile to buy back the theme park rights for the brand. Perhaps they’re waiting for Universal to drop the asking price and since Disney is in a superior financial position, they’re choosing to wait Universal out on this. I don’t think they should wait too much longer. The potential in sales and brand reinforcement within WDW for Marvel must be greater than the money to buy it back from a company that is probably more interested now in building their own brands.

  9. There is another side. Universal cannot update or change their Marvel land without Marvel / Disney approval. The land is stagnant now as is, and Disney, with its plans for Hollywood Adventure, can wait them out while riding the Star Wars train.

    1. I thought about that too, Dan.

      Adding more fuel to John’s theory, could the newly announced Nintendo Land in Universal be the replacement for Marvel Superhero Island? My suspicion for some time has been that the next major IP license acquisition for Universal would come as a result of the cash flow that Disney would provide for Marvel rights.

      Universal hasn’t indicated such intentions of course, but it makes the most sense to separate the announcement of losing Marvel from acquiring Nintendo. The loss of the second biggest park draw (next to Wizarding World) could steal some thunder from a new IP, even Nintendo.

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