Captain America, Nick Fury, others headed for screen

Paramount has inked a lucrative, exclusive distribution deal with Marvel for films based on the comicbook publisher’s remaining characters.

The pact is the first major deal negotiated on the watch of new chief executive Brad Grey.

Many of its A-list characters are already “taken” by other studios — “Spider-Man” lives at Sony, “Iron Man” is at New Line and “X-Men” resides at Fox.

According to a Dow Jones report Wednesday night, Marvel has already amassed a half-billion-dollar war chest to make a slate of movies with budgets as high as $180 million, drawing on its remaining 5,000 comic-book characters.

Among the first of its superheroes headed for the silver screen: Captain America and Nick Fury, an American version of James Bond.

The new studio is the latest step since its emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998. The company now makes most of its profit from licensing its characters for toys, videogames and movies.

Marvel has never produced a movie on its own until now. To fund its slate Marvel arranged a seven-year $525 million revolving credit facility with Merrill Lynch Commercial Finance Corp., secured against the movie rights to 10 comic-book characters, including Captain America. Paramount isn’t putting up any production money; it will receive a fee for marketing and distributing an initial 10 movies, the first of which is expected to hit theaters in two years. To ensure the maximum possible audience, none of the movies will be R-rated.

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