The big news for the past week has been about Disney in talks with 21st Century Fox to buy a bulk of its film studios and its intellectual properties. While the initial news had it that talks have stopped the possibility remains that both parties will resume negotiations. What is driving Disney’s desire to expand its entertainment empire is the need to bolster its upcoming streaming service when it is available in 2019. The film studio 20th Century Fox has a huge film library with many viable franchises such as the Alien films, Avatar, and Planet of the Apes. But more importantly, Fox still has the rights to the original Star Wars films and the missing pieces in Disney’s Marvel films: the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
The following I wrote back in September 23, 2017 for another site that is going defunct soon. It’s related to the current situation and illustrates how wildly things have changed from just a few weeks ago. I decided to repost it here and will add some final thoughts afterwards.
What rankles many fans of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is that two of Marvel Comics’ top properties, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are not part of it.
The obvious reason for this is because the film rights for both properties are being held by 20th Century Fox, who is determined to hold onto them. Long before The Walt Disney Company brought Marvel Comics, the comic book company sold the film rights of its characters to many film studios, including Fox. Over the years, even before the success of the MCU, Marvel Studios sought to regain the rights to its characters. For the most part they have succeeded and the top prize for the studio was getting to share the film rights to Marvel’s top character, Spider-Man.
But the only major hold outs were the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Fox has had great success with their X-Men films even though some of them were reviled by fans and critics for not being faithful to the source material and being downright terrible. Meanwhile, their efforts with the Fantastic Four never took off. The most recent failure being the DOA 2015 reboot that buried director Josh Trank’s career.
Given the poor track record with their Fantastic Four films, one has to wonder why Fox would want to continue making them. Despite the negative reaction from their reboot, the film studio is still trying to develop more films based on the superhero team and even spinoffs featuring Dr. Doom and the children of Reed and Sue Richards. Naturally the reaction to the news is one of despair and anger. Most fans see that the Fantastic Four would fit naturally into the MCU and their villains are some of Marvel’s greatest. Marvel Studios cannot use Galactus in their films because he is a Fantastic Four villain, the same thing goes for Magneto. While the X-Men films did a terrific job with their presentation of Magneto the same cannot be said for Dr. Doom and Galactus. In fact, in his onscreen debut, Galactus was just a giant space cloud!
There were rumors that after the reboot debacle, Fox was ready to sell back the rights to Disney/Marvel but a snag in negotiations derailed that idea. Many were hopeful that after Marvel allowed Fox to start making TV shows based on the X-Men properties that perhaps the deal was that the Fantastic Four would go back to Marvel. But that does not appear to be the case.
Right now, there are only vague allusions to Marvel being allowed to use the two properties but in far off terms. One curious thing is that Marvel Studios still has not announced what the Phase 4 MCU films will be. This gives hope that maybe the Fantastic Four could make a splashy debut. It is possible; when Spider-Man joined the MCU it was a surprise.
What it took for Spider-Man to join the MCU was the failure of his recent films and the shaky status of Sony Pictures. Fox does not have the same financial problems of Sony, so they can afford to weather out the storm of bad films until they strike gold. This almost happened with their attempt to reboot Daredevil, but the rights lapsed and Marvel regained him. From there, Marvel saw great success with their Netflix version of Daredevil. Perhaps Fox executives feel that they can find the right formula and are more patient. At that rate, it will be quite some time before Marvel Studios regains the Fantastic Four. That and an insane amount of money.
With the X-Men films doing so well, it is ridiculous to think that Fox would ever relinquish the rights to Marvel. For this to happen, fans would have to vigorously boycott all X-Men-related films and TV shows. The property has to be seen as too unprofitable for Fox to want to keep, but this scenario may not happen. Look at what is going on with the Fantastic Four, their films are poorly received and the property is not as popular as the X-Men yet Fox still won’t let them go.
So, is it just a pipe dream? Are the Fantastic Four and X-Men doomed to never join the MCU? Well, it can happen but be prepared to wait and protest.
It turned out that the idea of these properties joining the MCU is not necessarily a pipe dream for fans. Things may be quiet now, but do not be surprised when the Fox sale or some variant of it is announced anytime between now to next year’s Comic-Con to beyond.
While we comic book geeks are just giddy over the idea of Wolverine popping up in an Avengers film or the Human Torch and Spidey together onscreen trading barbs, some are rightly sounding a cautionary note. The idea of Disney growing even more as an entertainment behemoth is disconcerting when you consider how much power and influence the company will have. To many critics, the company already has too much power right now. Will this cause other film companies to merge and become mega studios just to compete? How will that affect prices for tickets, merchandising and everything else since there will be less competition? Will this create more limits and strangle creativity and independent thought? What about employment opportunities in the industry? There are many hard questions that must be addressed. Thankfully, by law, Disney is not allowed to buy the Fox network since they already own ABC. Plus, Fox still wants to retain its news and sports divisions in order to concentrate on them. Also, Disney will likely come under intense federal scrutiny since this brings the company close to becoming a monopoly.
All this could be some kind of ploy for all we know. Perhaps in the end, Disney may just buy the rights to their errant Marvel properties and call it a day. Honestly, what will Disney do with the R-rated Alien franchise? They could sell it and other properties to another studio and recoup the costs. All this is just speculation, but just anticipating a properly done FF or recasting the X-Men is exciting. Stay tuned…