Captain America, Thor, others to hit big, small screens

NEW YORK — In a wide-ranging joint venture agreement, Artisan Entertainment and Marvel Enterprises have joined forces to turn at least 15 Marvel superhero franchises into live-action features, TV series, direct-to-video films and internet projects.

Marvel franchises involved in the deal include Captain America, the red-white-and-blue shield-wielding patriot who’s headed for features, and Thor, the hammer-swinging son of Odin, who’ll be developed for a TV series.

While Marvel has deals at several major studios for big-budget live action films of such franchises as “X-Men” and “Spider-man,” the Artisan pact marks the most expansive deal Marvel has made, said Avi Arad, president and CEO of Marvel Studios.

Arad made the deal with Amir Malin, co-chief exec officer of Artisan, with both companies sharing revenue generated from internet and films, as well as from licensing and merchandising. Each company will equally own the programming library.

Both parties will coproduce, with Marvel providing the properties and developing licensing and merchandising tie-ins. Artisan will fully finance the moderate-priced fare, and distribute in both theaters and video.

“Over the last year, Marvel Studios has gotten extremely aggressive in becoming the entertainment arm of Marvel Entertainment, and this joint venture shows that commitment,” said Arad. “The companies are similar in their taste for cutting-edge entertainment and the idea here is for us to develop our product so that both companies can expand rapidly.”

Malin said the pairing resulted because the goals of the companies are similar. “Artisan has been all about branding in the core demographic between ages 15 and 24, a nice audience that matches perfectly with Marvel,” said Malin. “With their assets, our distribution, marketing and financing clout, this is almost like an independent studio.

“There will be a huge upside for Marvel on the deals, and the Marvel brand names gives us a head start because with a project like Captain America, there is a brand awareness of probably 75%.”

Aside from Captain America, Marvel and Artisan will develop features from:

  • “Black Panther,” a black Indiana Jones-style character, to which Wesley Snipes has long been attached to produce and star;

  • “Deadpool,” a mercenary uglified by an experimental cancer cure who becomes a hitman taking on the hardest jobs without a care whether he lives or dies;

  • “Iron Fist,” an orphan taught a mystical martial art which allows his first to become literally an iron weapon;

  • “Morbius,” a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who’s turned into a vampire trying to cure a rare blood disease. The bloodsucking doc will only bite evildoers, whom he stalks at night;

  • “Longshot,” a genetically-engineered marksman created as a slave in another dimension, but with special powers;

  • “Power Pack,” a family of four kids given superhuman powers by a dying alien;

  • “Mort the Dead Teenager,” an irreverent serial about a kid killed in a car crash who comes back to life;

  • and “Antman,” a scientist who can shuffle his subatomic particles to make himself the size of an ant or a giant.

Malin said there will be no change in Marvel’s existing deals at major studios, where films like “The Incredible Hulk,” “Fantastic Four,” “Silver Surfer” and “Blade 2” are in various stages of development.

“Artisan is not in the business of creating $80 million to $120 million action event films and certain Marvel characters lend themselves to that and nothing but that,” said Malin. “We don’t want to develop characters that, at the end of the day, we know we won’t finance. But there are so many franchises that as we develop our first group of projects, we’ll have our eyes on other titles from the library.

“Marvel cannot make this kind of deal with somebody else. It’s the most comprehensive deal I’ve worked on at Artisan, there’s a complete franchise universe here.”

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