Comicbook co.'s library has over 5,000 characters
The Incredibles” but produced little else to capitalize on popular comicbook characters. This week, it’s poised to become the owner of Marvel and its vast array of crime fighters and villains. The deal between the two companies, valued at $4 billion, would put Disney in charge of the comicbook factory that launched Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America and other iconic characters. Most of those established characters will remain ensconced at their current studio homes, at least for the foreseeable future. But the pact, which Walt Disney Co. topper Robert Iger called “a great opportunity at the right time,” nonetheless has the potential to yield billions of dollars for Disney by turning Marvel’s library of more than 5,000 characters into movies, TV shows, Internet properties, theme park attractions, videogames, toys, licensed merchandise and, of course, comicbooks. In return, Marvel gains the marketing and distribution muscle to turn its characters into bigger brands, especially overseas, where it’s been focusing much of its efforts lately. Although the deal caught many in Hollywood by surprise, Disney had been pursuing Marvel for some time, mainly because it has been eager to identify properties that will help target an audience of younger boys more aggressively across multiple platforms. Disney’s animated films, the Disney Channel and product lines featuring its princesses and fairies have appealed more to girls. Ironically, Disney had already brokered a first-look production deal with Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk, and his Pow! Entertainment, as part of plans to produce more male-skewing programming. It had also started airing Marvel-produced fare on Disney XD, the cabler formerly known as Toon Disney, that the Mouse retooled to target 6- to 14-year-olds. The Mouse-Marvel deal, Lee said, “gives Disney a library of literally hundreds of unique and colorful characters that have the potential to make great, high-concept movies and long-lasting franchises — and nobody knows how to play in that ballpark better than Disney.” Disney is adamant that it doesn’t plan to “rebrand Marvel as Disney,” Iger said. Marvel CEO Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter will continue to oversee the company. What Disney gets via the acquisition is a curious mix. Until Marvel started taking more control of its properties by self-financing and producing its own pics in 2005, with “Iron Man” and the reboot of “The Incredible Hulk” as the first films to emerge under the new mandate, the company had been setting up its higher-profile characters at various studios around town. Sony, for example, has Spider-Man, while Paramount locked down Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Avengers. Universal distribbed the Incredible Hulk and New Line released Blade, while the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Daredevil have been housed at Fox. Marvel had also set up lesser-known properties like the Punisher at Lionsgate, which also distribs Marvel’s direct-to-DVD animated features. While a percentage of the coin collected by films such as the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” franchises go into Marvel’s coffers, buying Marvel doesn’t give the Mouse House immediate control of all those characters, if at all. “Our intention is to respect the deal in place,” Iger said of the current pacts, calling it “the right thing” to do.
- Sony will continue to control Spider-Man through a deal that doesn’t lapse. Three more pics are planned for the franchise, with the next set to bow in summer 2011.
- Par will continue to distribute Marvel’s next five pics, starting with the “Iron Man” sequel next summer and including a planned third installment.
- Fox retains the right to make movies based on Daredevil; the Fantastic Four, which includes the Silver Surfer; and the X-Men, which spun off a separate Wolverine franchise this summer, as long as the studio has films based on those characters in active development.