Marvel, Lions Gate pact for movie characters

Marvel Entertainment on Thursday announced an agreement with Lions Gate Entertainment to bring two new superhero characters to the bigscreen.

In addition to the new movie deals for characters Iron Fist and Black Widow, deal also covers plans for a sequel to vigilante actioner “The Punisher,” a comics actioner starring Thomas Jane, John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos that Lions Gate is set to bow on April 16.

“Punisher” was included in Lions Gate’s acquisition last year of Artisan Entertainment, which previously had a film production pact with Marvel.

Iron Fist had been envisioned as the basis for another Artisan-Marvel project, but a pact potentially covering that property expired before the Lions Gate acquisition. Black Widow, heroine of yet another Marvel comic book, is being tagged for development for the first time.

Plans call for Lions Gate to fully fund the three live-actioners with production budgets estimated at $30 million to $50 million apiece. Marvel will share 50% in certain revenue associated with the movies, participate in film development and handle all film-related merchandising, officials said.

No release dates were announced.

Iron Fist, a martial arts fighter with superhuman powers, and Spider-Man nemesis Black Widow are the kind of lesser-known comic book characters Marvel films chief Avi Arad believes can nevertheless perform well with movie audiences.

Deals are part of Marvel’s determination to play a more active role in production. Its marquee characters such as Spider-Man and the Hulk reside at Sony and Universal, respectively, under film licensing arrangements.

“Working with Lions Gate on ‘The Punisher’ was a great experience, and we feel very comfortable expanding this relationship to include two more exciting franchises,” said Arad, chairman-CEO of Marvel Studios.

“We like to create alliances with companies that have powerful brands, and Marvel has one of the most popular, exciting and recognized brands in the world,” Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer said.

Insiders at the companies said additional agreements involving other Marvel characters are possible.

Deal was announced after the close of market trading, but stocks in both companies marked productive days in an otherwise sluggish trading session. Lions Gate shares climbed 41¢, or 7%, to $6.26, while Marvel rose $1.57, or 5%, to $32.78.

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