And Then There Were Four: Disney’s Fox Acquisition Will Leave Behind Fantastic Four

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Disney will return the X-Men to Marvel Studios with its purchase of 20th Century Fox, although this does not mean all sets will return: it seems like the Fantastic Four may stay in their adopted house.

The Walt Disney Company is very close to acquiring 21st Century Fox’s movie and TV divisions, 20th Century Fox. As one of Hollywood’s Big Six studios, 20th Century Fox has a huge library of content that will bolster Disney’s catalog, their live-action slate that has been reliant on Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios with live-action remakes and re-imaginings of Disney’s stories and characters. With Fox under its belt, Disney will control blockbuster franchises like Avatar, Alien, and Kingsman.

The Mouse House sees this potential in owning one-third or more, of Hollywood and other aspects of the media industry, which will embolden them to continue twisting arms across the US to agree to the outrageous distribution terms. That is why many believe the companies uniting under one banner is distressing. But that does not mean there is no silver lining. If this deal goes through, comic book fans may get to see the X-Men fight alongside the Avengers.

If Disney acquires 20th Century Fox, the mutant superhero team may move into the MCU without the Fantastic Four. Although it has been perpetuated that Fox owns the rights to Marvel’s First Family, they just license them; Fox does not own the Fantastic Four, and they never have.

THE HISTORY OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR RIGHTS

In the 1970s and 1980s, comic book sales were declining, and to save themselves from extinction, Marvel’s chiefs held a sale of their characters’ movie and TV rights. But Stan Lee took it upon himself to find a buyer for the Fantastic Four, the most important superhero team in Marvel Comics’ history. In 1983, German producer, Bernd Eichinger met Lee and agreed to option the Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer’s movie rights for $250,000 in 1986, and he kept the rights so long as a movie for either property entered production by the end of 1992.

Finding a studio to front $40-45 million, proved difficult for the producer since comic book movies were hard to sell. Eichinger tasked B-movie producer, Roger Corman, an ashcan copy, so he and his company, Constantin Films, can retain the superhero team’s rights. The 1994 Fantastic Four movie is the stuff of legend; a movie that never released and exists through illegal copies.

In 1993, before Oley Sassone’s The Fantastic Four had been scheduled to premiere in January 1994, Marvel Studios co-founder Avi Arad made an 11th-hour purchase of the movie from Eichinger and had the copies destroyed. Eichinger began courting blockbuster directors to direct a Fantastic Four movie before the rights expired. This led to the German producer forming a partnership with 20th Century Fox, due to the studio’s relationship with Marvel Studios on Bryan Singer’s X-Men movie.

WHY DOES FOX MAKE FANTASTIC FOUR MOVIES?

Constantin Films and 20th Century Fox spent years developing their big-budget Fantastic Four movie (thanks to an extension by Marvel in 1999) before finally releasing the product, co-produced by Arad and Marvel Enterprises, in 2005, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon. While we don’t know the exact details of Constantin’s deal with Fox, the Hollywood studio does possess distribution rights for the characters, via Marvel’s 1999 agreement with the studio. Because Fox has co-produced and distributed the Fantastic Four movies to make it onto the big screen, they have been associated with the franchise. But the Fantastic Four’s production rights are not theirs to sell

Constantin Films’ partnership with 20th Century Fox, though confounding to the uninitiated, actually isn’t unprecedented. For instance, Warner Bros. Pictures-owned New Line Cinema is responsible for producing each and every installment in Peter Jackson’s Middle-Earth series, and they are  working in-tandem with Amazon Studios to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth to life on the small screen, but New Line doesn’t actually hold the rights to Tolkien’s narratives; The Saul Zaentz Company does, and they license out the books’ film rights to New Line Cinema. So, for argument’s sake, if New Line Cinema were to be bought by, say, Paramount Pictures, the rights stay with Middle-Earth Enterprises, but the license would most likely transfer over to Paramount, which would allow them to make more movies if they wanted.

WILL THE FANTASTIC FOUR LICENSE TRANSFER TO DISNEY?

Unlike the aforementioned licensing contract between Middle-Earth Enterprises and New Line Cinema, Constantin Films is an actual production company that produces their films alongside their studio partners. Although Constantin Films’ agreement with 20th Century Fox is unclear, as the fine print of the arrangement has not been made public, there is a chance they may be unwilling relinquish creative control of the franchise to Marvel Studios, if the Disney moves forward with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox.

Disney buying 20th Century Fox does not grant them the movie rights to the Fantastic Four. If Disney controls distribution, Constantin would have no choice but to work with the Mouse House on another Fantastic Four movie. Otherwise, they could make a movie without the ability or legal right to distribute it – which would be pointless for the studio and, essentially, make the film another ashcan copy.

These distinct details and clauses aren’t available to the public for analyzing, so this is only speculation at this point. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the end.

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