Years ago the movie rights to Marvel Comics' biggest characters were flung out into the Hollywood winds. They ended up at many different studios, changing hands in deal after deal. While the characters lived in a cohesive world on the page, their cinematic future was destined to be fractured. Then eight years ago chief operating officer of Marvel Studios, David Maisel, had an idea: why not self-finance movies based on Marvel characters? Marvel began bringing characters back under their umbrella, slowly but surely. They had ten properties at the time: Ant-Man, The Avengers, Black Panther, Captain America, Cloak & Dagger, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Power Pack and Shang Chi. That was enough to secure over $500 million in financing for up to ten movies.
In 2005 Marvel got Iron Man back from New Line. In 2006 they bought Thor back from Sony. Somewhere in there Lionsgate relinquished Black Widow. Then in 2006 they got the Incredible Hulk back. Suddenly they seemed to have an Avengers line-up.
As the Marvel Movieverse took shape, other Marvel characters remained outside their sphere of influence. Sony retains Spider-Man, Marvel's flagship character. That's bad, but what's worse is that Fox has a hold on The Fantastic Four, the series that launched the Marvel Age, as well as Daredevil and the hugely popular X-Men/mutant characters. The Marvel Movieverse stands as an impressive feat, but it remains totally incomplete.
The success of the Marvel movies means one thing: no one at Sony or Fox will sell those characters back. Fox would rather make no money with The Fantastic Four than give them back to Marvel and see that studio have a major success. This is Hollywood at its most Hollywood - the focus isn't on making good movies, it's on not being seen making bad decisions. That means Fox will continue to meet the minimum requirements necessary to maintain the rights to these characters.
As fans this is distressing. Having Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and Reed Richards get together for coffee on screen would be a monumental moment. I'd like to know how the movie version of Captain America deals with the mutant menace. And everybody wants to see Spider-Man swing by at some point. As fans it seems so obvious: let these movies cross-pollinate across studio lines. Sony COULD give the okay for Spider-Man to cameo in Captain America 2... if they wanted.
Hope is not totally lost. While doing press for The Avengers Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige dropped a bit of info that feels like it could be the key to healing this rift:
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are usable by both Fox and Marvel.
Primer for those who don't know: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are twin brother and sister mutants. In Avengers #16 all of the Avengers quit, and Captain America is forced to put together a new team. In a daring move he recruits a line-up of reformed villains; one-time bad guy Hawkeye joins the team, as do Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. While Hawkeye was a pretty low-level hood, the other two were big time baddies. They're the mutant children of Magneto, villain to the X-Men, and were members of his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
While Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch started out in X-Men (issue #4, to be exact), I'm guessing they were also included in the Avengers licensing package, as they are considered core members of that team. This is the part that gets weird, where different characters are co-owned because they exist in multiple licensing packages (I would expect Kingpin is licensed with both Daredevil and Spider-Man, for instance). And so both Fox and Marvel can use the characters.
But neither can use them properly right now. As far as I'm concerned Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch divorced from Magneto are useless. And in the new X-Men: First Class series Magneto is way too young to have children old enough to be these characters. Either studio could fudge it, but it would be, in my opinion, a waste of the characters.
So how does this allow for the rift to heal? Simple: Marvel can use these characters whenever they want. They go to Fox and ask, nicely, to let them be mutants. Allow them to be mentioned as children of Magneto. That's it. They don't even need to have Magneto show up, just simply use the words 'mutants' and 'Magneto.' That's step one.
From there, take it as it goes. It's important for Fox to understand that franchise miscegenation will help EVERYONE. Fans like the idea of these cameos (something Fox sort of figured out already in X-Men: First Class), and the speculation and excitement will only improve the buzz. And because Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are co-owned, there's no need to do complex legal negotiations. This rising tide will lift all Helicarriers.
I remain hopeful. Things at Fox seem to be improving, and they're making movies that are actually GOOD now. X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Chronicle are all excellent genre films, and the first two are terrific entries in their respective franchises. We're a long way from Ben Affleck's Daredevil. Now is the time for Fox to take the next step, and start marrying these good movies to the larger Marvel Movieverse. Hugh Jackman would love to do the cameo.