The deal isn’t done but it’s too sensational a story to get bogged down in the corporate legalese and business intricacies when it comes to discussing one of 2009’s biggest entertainment deals of the year. The $4 billion Disney-Marvel merger could have huge ramifications and while this is all speculation that is subject to further (and further, and further) reporting and interviews, I wanted to give my thoughts on this news because my thoughts are better than everyone else’s thoughts. My thoughts are magic.
Hit the jump to read about my magic thoughts on the Disney and Marvel’s potential long-term relationship.
What May Happen to Superheroes Who Already Have Movies
Don’t freak out. All the films you’re currently anticipating like “Iron Man 2” and “Spider-Man 4” and so forth are still going to happen so stop dousing yourself and your comics in gasoline. Now there are distribution deals with Paramount so they get Iron Man 2, Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America, The Avengers and possibly Ant-Man but Marvel still owns those characters and franchises. But when it comes to studios like Columbia (Spider-Man), Universal (Namor), or Fox (X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four) I’m not sure how the ownership of current franchises at various studios means for Disney. These studios paid to make (or planned to make) these various properties into movies because they came in at a time before Marvel Studios became a powerhouse and could afford to make their own movies. Do these studios have the right to renew their rights to the characters in perpetuity? If so, other than the Paramount properties, what major characters are left that Disney could adapt? And is there a “fruit of the poisoned” tree problem where any character that came out of a particular franchise would be off-limits. Could Disney not even do “Dazzler” movie because she technically comes from the “X-Men” comics? Okay, so maybe you should freak out a little.
It’s going to be a major disappointment if Disney can’t get their hands on top-tier franchises for a few reasons. Some characters, such as Spider-Man, will continue onwards but with a new studio on board, fans may be more accepting of letting Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire move on from the property and let some fresh blood take over. Characters that made poor debuts like Daredevil could get a new start (and fans would be elated for such a reboot when it comes to that film). There would also be opportunities to ignore disappointing sequels (like “Superman Returns” attempted to do by ignoring “Superman III and IV”) and turn a once-popular franchise like “X-Men” towards a better direction by backing up to “X2”. And if all the films are under one roof, cross-overs may be far less complicated than various studios owning different properties and having to make deals with competitors in an attempt to make movies featuring the most popular Marvel characters.
But this brings me to a couple of potential problems and it’s one we’ve already encountered. Warner Bros. owns DC and yet the only DC movies (not including Vertigo titles and other adaptations from DC offshoots) in the past ten years are “Catwoman”, “Batman Begins”, “Superman Returns”, “The Dark Knight”, and “Watchmen”. I suppose an argument could be made that it’s better to have one remarkably-successful movie than a collection of successful-but-not-all-time grossing films. I would respond by saying that it’s better the other way around because there are more films to be excited about, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and it would keep DC competitive with Marvel. The fact that we’re just now getting around to Green Lantern movie and that a Wonder Woman film is nowhere in sight is inexcusable. Meanwhile, Marvel is already reaching into its second-tier characters like Iron Man and Thor.
It’s an indisputably valuable purchase for Disney and hopefully it will force Warner Bros. to lift their limit on the number of DC properties they put out per year (which usually ranges between 0 and 1). I’m not sure if Disney will create a similar kind of limit but obviously they want to try and keep up with Marvel Studios current rate of releases. However, we’re still in a recession and I doubt that Disney has enough cash to make all the big-budget comic book movies at Marvel’s current pace if they have to foot the bill for all the pictures.
Perhaps the largest concern is how Disney will interact with Marvel Studios. In a conference call [via CHUD who was one of the participants], Disney has indicated that since Marvel Studios has been doing just fine, there’s no need to come in and try to put their attitudes onto and current properties into Marvel movies. I’m pretty sure most fanboys will be less-than-pleased if they hear The Jonas Brothers playing over the credits of a Spider-Man movie (I think Nickelback pushed it as far as it could go with the first Spidey movie).
Why It’s Okay To Be Excited
– Jerry Bruckheimer
But Disney has some fantastic in-house production wings and here are two reasons why Disney just made a great purchase: Disney has Jerry Bruckheimer and Pixar. Bruckheimer is one of the most talented and experienced (if not the most) producers when it comes to making spectacular adventure stories that usually prove successful at the box office despite their steep budgets. Assuming they could get the rights, think about what he could do with even the most daunting properties like Namor and, dare I say it, M.O.D.O.K (this may be a bit of a stretch because I’m not sure a lot of people are clamoring for a Namor movie). Those hairs on the back of your neck are standing up at the thought of this, not necessarily because there are dead people in the room.
From the CW, we already know that it’s possible for networks to make a weekly superhero show (whether or not that show is any good is a different issue). Disney owns ABC and since they remain one of the major networks and generate greater revenue, they could make a better and more convincing superhero TV show. Let’s say a character may not be worth the price of a feature film; they may work better as a TV show and at smaller price tag. The same could go for a character that had feature films but never found an audience at the multiplex. And if characters don’t work on ABC, they can still go to a cable network like Disney XD or ABC Family.
And then there’s Pixar and if you don’t find yourself catching your breath at the phrase “Pixar-Marvel”, then you don’t read comics, see Pixar films, and are dull and probably pompous. This may be the grand opportunity for Pixar to finally branch out into live-action features and there wouldn’t be any loss in quality since Pixar always puts a premium on story and not the medium in which they’re working. It would also be exciting to see how Pixar would tackle an adaptation (we may get a taste of both with “WALL-E’s” Andrew Stanton’s upcoming “John Carter of Mars” even though it’s not being produced or distributed through Pixar).
– A Disney Production Studio for R-Rated Movies That Doesn’t Exist (Yet)
But Disney lacks one significant production wing which may pose a problem to the development of particular Marvel properties: they don’t have a wing for big-budget R-rated movies. Miramax only handles smaller projects and the low budget allows for less risk in pushing out an R-rated movie. But Disney may need to start up a new wing for R-rated characters like Punisher and possibly Daredevil. Marvel Comics already did this with their “Marvel MAX” line and just because most of those series are pretty crappy, it doesn’t mean that an R-rated line of Marvel movies would be anywhere near as bad.
Disney has theme parks. Disney makes rides based off their franchises. They could make a “Spider-Man” ride or a tour of the Baxter Building from “Fantastic Four” or “It’s a Small World After All” with animatronic “X-Men” characters.
I don’t know how this will play out or even if it will play out at all since Disney and Marvel still both answer to board members and other shareholders. Yet the ramifications of such a merger are so far reaching and as new developments arise, we may find answers to our current questions as well as new questions.