Opinion: What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

During my piece “The Never-Ending Battles”, while I discussed the various aspects of each company’s portfolios, the recent happenings on the Marvel side of things has given me the desire to delve more deeply into the components of the cinematic properties and their off-shoots. But before we get to the recent news a certain amount of setting the stage is required.

Towards the late 90’s Marvel’s future was looking rather bleak. The collapse of the “speculator bubble”, being the time period where people were snagging multiple copies of “the next big thing” in comics with the plan to resell them at a sizeable profit, lead to such a huge drain on Marvel’s financial resources the company was forced to declare bankruptcy. In an attempt to recoup some of the losses Marvel, then entirely a Comics company, sold off the movie rights to its big franchises to various studios. That’s right, everything we flock in droves to cinemas to see comes from Marvel’s B-league properties. Iron man and the Avengers were always playing second fiddle to Wolverine and the X-Men. Spider-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy were never brought up in the same conversation either, owing to how far apart they were in the hierarchy of heroes.

Led by Blade and then the X-Men, studios were finding great success putting these storied characters on the silver screen but it was the runaway success of 2002’s Spiderman and its sequels that really opened eyes as to just how much of a financial mark these movies can make. To put it in perspective, while in this day and age its not uncommon, Spider-Man was the first movie to break the $100 million mark in its opening weekend with a final tally of over $800 million. The first not just out of comic book movies but any movie of any kind. The writing was on the wall, plain to see by the powers that be at Marvel but what were they to do? Spider-Man and the X-Men represented Marvel’s two most established, bankable franchises and they no longer had the rights to capitalize on this revenue stream, so they looked at their options and decided to embark on a plan using characters who had proven to have just as great of longevity if not quite the mainstream recognition. But first it required a gamble of startling proportions.

In order to move forward with their plan to self produce their own films, thus retaining all of the profits, Marvel required $525 million which they secured through Merrill Lynch. As collateral they agreed to relinquish the rights to 10 of their properties including Captain America , The Avengers, among others if they failed to succeed. One name that was not a part of the agreement was Iron Man who, due to his rights not being held by Marvel until two months after the signing of the Merrill Lynch deal, wasn’t available to be offered. That also means Marvel couldn’t spend any of the $525 million on it. However, knowing that the key to their plan was the build to The Avengers, Marvel knew Iron Man was the ideal vehicle to introduce viewers to the MCU. With no other alternatives, Marvel again gambled it all on financing the movie all on its own. Having double downed on their movie projects Marvel brought in Robert Downey Jr, a questionable choice at the time given his troubled history with drug abuse, and the rest they say is history. From the humble beginnings of five solo movies, the MCU fully hit it’s stride with the release of The Avengers. Earning a whopping $1.5 BILLION Marvel fulfilled its dream of building an interconnected world featuring its properties.

With unprecedented success, currently the MCU has grossed over $9 billion at the box office, comes a shift to larger goals. What started as a comparatively small goal of building to a team film from each character’s solo efforts has since grown to become a gigantic 22 movie juggernaut culminating in Avengers 4 that encompasses a wide spectrum of both themes and locations. Last weeks trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has the members of the Panel as well as the world at large waiting with baited breath for our next chance to dive back in. But as excited as we may be with the trailers release, two other details have emerged that have me, at least, even more intrigued than the overwhelming spectacle provided by the coming of Thanos.

One of the watershed moment thus far in the MCU has to be the arrival of Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. What makes it so much more than just the arrival of our friendly neighborhood wall crawler to the same screen as the mighty Avengers is the fact that it took navigating a contractual web of red tape in order to bring Sony’s Spider into Marvel’s world. FOX however has been unfortunately closed to the idea of sharing the X-men or the Fantastic Four in a similar fashion to such an extent that it seemed hopeless to think we might one day get the whole band back together. Until it wasn’t. Reports keep emerging that Marvel parent company, Disney, is in talks to purchase, among other things, FOX’s movie division, thus bringing these cornerstones back under the control of the House of Ideas. While a few weeks ago we were told that negotiations had stalled, recent word is that they have now progressed at a rapid pace and the announcement of deal could happen by the New Year. Todays announcement of a Wolverine scripted podcast positively gave me goosebumps as, in recent years, Marvel has not made any sort of an effort to grow the characters it no longer holds the cinematic rights to. Especially in media other than comics. While I’m sure Marvel will reap the benefits of the series regardless of the FOX deal, it’s definitely a positive sign that things are moving in a good direction. The timing of the announcement, to me, seems to indicate that they at least think it’s going to help them moving forward and I don’t know that that’d be the case if in the end it was bolstering FOX’s position. Even should the deal get signed it of course will still need approval from a federal level. A deal of this scope raises questions after all, but it definitely makes me want to believe in what the future holds for these characters I hold so near and dear to my heart. What about you? Are you a “True Believer”? I know if things move forward as hoped, I’ll Make Mine Marvel.

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