Marvel, Fox pact for pix

'X-Men,' 'Fantastic Four,' 'Silver Surfer' rights extended

With Marvel Entertainment emerging from its debilitating bankruptcy, the status of several projects based on Marvel works is becoming clearer: 20th Century Fox and Marvel have pacted to extend the studio’s control of the feature film rights to three projects based on Marvel’s “X-Men,” “Fantastic Four” and “Silver Surfer.”

While the three projects have been in development at Fox for several years, Fox’s rights to at least two of them were due to expire shortly; sources said that the studio’s claims to those rights could have been challenged as Marvel emerges from bankruptcy and merges with Toy Biz, the toymaker that holds the toy license on Marvel’s characters.

Under its deal with Marvel, Fox agreed to principal photography deadlines on the three projects, but since the pics have taken longer to develop and put together than expected, the studio was in jeopardy of forfeiting the years of development and money it has put into the projects. It’s understood that the extension lasts for at least two more years.

The good news for both Fox and Marvel, which has seen many projects based on its comic books succumb to budget and effects issues, is that Fox is currently in pre-production for a summer start on “X-Men,” which will be helmed by Bryan Singer and produced by Richard Donner and Lauren Shuler Donner. Fox intends a 2000 release for the superhero pic.

Fox next intends to go before the cameras on “Fantastic Four,” which it is actively developing with an eye toward a late 2000 or, more likely, a 2001 release. Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures and Bernd Eichinger are producing. Eichinger is also producing “Silver Surfer,” which is being developed as Fox’s possible third entry in the Marvel stakes.