ByAlisha Grauso, writer at Creators.co
Editor-at-large here at Movie Pilot. Nerd out with me on Twitter, comrades: @alishagrauso
Alisha Grauso

If you're a comic book fan, then you know the current dominant battle being waged for movie supremacy is the one between Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner Bros. Who will prevail? The Avengers or Justice League? Marvel or DC? With DC releasing their entire movie slate through 2020, and Marvel all but officially confirming Civil War, the last few weeks have had us all doing the Loki side eye back and forth between the big two.

You know the one I'm talking about.
You know the one I'm talking about.

But if you break it down further, there's a quieter battle that's been raging for a while between Marvel and Fox regarding Marvel's own characters. I assume if you're reading this, you know the deal, but for the sake of those who might not, let me break it down quickly: Back in the late '80s-early '90s, was in danger of going bankrupt. And not "We're losing a little bit of money" bankrupt, but "The ship's about to go down" kind of bankrupt. So with its feet to the fire, Marvel did the only thing it could do and sold off the movie rights to many of its major characters, including Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Fantastic Four.

Sony Pictures got Spidey and all his associated characters (well...eventually), Fox Studios got the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and their related characters. The rights of Marvel's other, smaller properties (like Daredevil and Ghost Rider) have since reverted back to Marvel.

Image: The Geek Twins
Image: The Geek Twins

At the moment, Marvel and Sony enjoy a cozy relationship with one another, and have for a while. Sony Pictures Imageworks did a lot of the VFX post-production work on , and, I suspect, will work out a deal for joint ownership of Spider-Man. The two have regularly realized the mutual benefit of working together. No issues there.

Marvel and Fox, on the other hand...not so much. In fact, their beef has gone back for well over a decade. Most of you know Fox's infamous decree that, as it owns the movie and TV live action rights to anything -related, Marvel can not use the word "mutant" without fear of a swift lawsuit by Fox.

But this acrimony stems from a 2001 TV series that ran for three seasons titled Mutant X...a show created not by Fox, but by Marvel. Who no longer owned the rights to the X-Men or any of its mutants.

Nope. No similarities here. Don't know what you mean...
Nope. No similarities here. Don't know what you mean...

Yeah. You can see where this is heading.

Cue the two-year long court battle, with suing Marvel, then Marvel countersuing Fox. They eventually came to a settlement, but Fox had made it clear that even including the word "mutant" in any property would be an expensive one-way ticket to Lawsuit Town. In the meantime, Marvel has gotten around this by trademarking the phrase "registered gifted," so hopefully we won't have to hear any more cringe-inducing lines like the "age of miracles" one from the post-credits scene of .

Marvel lay low for a while, not able to risk another huge court battle, but the damage had been done. Now that Marvel swings a huge stick in Hollywood and is no longer beholden to the mercy of other studios, you better believe its next mission is to regain the rights to all of the characters it sold off in the '90s. And while it works just fine with , Marvel has its sights set on Fox - and Marvel is hellbent on putting a chokehold on the market share Fox enjoys due to its ownership of Marvel's characters.

And it's been heating up the past few years. There was the well-publicized battle over who owned the rights to Quicksilver when both Fox and Marvel declared he was going to be a character in upcoming films, Fox with Marvel with . Eventually, they split ownership, but Marvel head, Kevin Feige, has said that the two Quicksilvers will be very, very different, and that we can expect to see Marvel's version with Aaron Taylor-Johnson to have far more screen time than just one single standout scene.

"Hey, Evan, remember when you were my sidek--" "Shut up."
"Hey, Evan, remember when you were my sidek--" "Shut up."

But lest you think Marvel's freeze-out of Fox isn't real, let's take a look at what's happened in the past few months. Fox isn't relinquishing its rights to the X-Men and , and that won't change any time soon - so Marvel leveled up. If you can't beat 'em outright, undermine 'em. And that's exactly what Marvel is doing.

The first thing you need to understand is that this isn't just about movies. Juggernaut franchises make far more money off the merchandising and tie-ins than the movies do themselves: Clothing, toys, promotional deals, - if it can be marketed with an iconic character's face, it will be. That's why they're franchises. And it's that pervasive, cross-promotional aspect of comic book movie franchises now that audiences (particularly the all-important young demographic) expect to see.

Except Marvel has put the kibosh on licensing the rights to any X-Men toys. So kids will see the , Guardians of the Galaxy, and Spider-Man prominently displayed in toy stores, but not the X-Men. So all Marvel movie properties and Spider-Man will be the toys kids grow up playing with, the cups they drink out of, the McDonald's Happy Meals they get, the t-shirts they wear - but not the X-Men. And if there's one thing we know about modern consumers, it's that we're very much an "out of sight, out of mind" society. Same goes for the Fantastic Four, with Diamond Toys being very much told they are not to create any FF-related characters, and the famed movie art studio, Mondo, getting the same message.

Pictured: A secretly relieved Chris Evans
Pictured: A secretly relieved Chris Evans

Marvel is pulling an assault on multiple fronts, too. It's not just the toys and tie-in merchandising that are affected, but also the original source: Comic books. Just last week came the news that Marvel Comics has decided to cancel the Ultimate Fantastic Four reboot just 6 issues into its run.

Then there are rumors that with Marvel relaunching of all their major comic book properties next year, the X-Men would be getting left behind. We do know that this has since proven untrue. The Fantastic Four is easy to pull the plug on as it does't sell as well, but not even Marvel is stupid enough to ax one of its most popular comic book properties in the X-Men.

Still, that hasn't stopped Marvel from doing what it can to slowly turn the screw. They may not be able to cancel their X-Men comics outright, but they can certainly kill off the X-Men's (and by association, Fox's) most iconic, marketable character in . Which is exactly what is currently unfolding in the comics side of things with the Death of Wolverine story arc. And the thing with comic book deaths is that while we know almost no one ever really *stays* dead (just Uncle Ben), Wolverine can stay dead for a very, very long time if Marvel wills it. Long enough for the cross-platform association with audiences to completely dry up.

Not goodbye forever, but goodbye for long enough...
Not goodbye forever, but goodbye for long enough...

Not only that, but X-Men writer Chris Claremont revealed a few months back on a Nerdist podcast (which Bleeding Cool dug up a few days ago) that the X department of Marvel Comics was expressly forbidden from creating any new mutants. So no new mutants being created. Wolverine, Fox's most marketable character, getting killed off in the comics and looking to stay dead for however long it takes for a new generation of comic book readers to forget about him. The Fantastic Four reboot getting cancelled. And no toy or merchandising tie-ins of any sort allowed for either X-Men or Fantastic Four, just as hype for heats up and the Fantastic Four movie already suffering from a complete lack of visibility in audience's eyes.

You may think this is crazy on Marvel's part, and bad business sense to slowly kill one of its most well-beloved, iconic comic series and characters with the X-Men, and at first glance, it seems it. But Marvel is so flush with cash right now (and has to back it) that it can afford to take a bit of a hit in order to focus on the bigger picture, which is one day regaining the rights to all of its characters. If Fox won't give them back, then that's fine. Marvel can afford to get mean until Fox decides it's just not worth keeping the rights anymore from a financial standpoint.

"FINE. Just-just take it. You can have it back. OVER IT."
"FINE. Just-just take it. You can have it back. OVER IT."

I suspect Fox might be just about done with the Fantastic Four and considers that property an acceptable loss they can cut in order to focus on pursuing the X-Men expanded movie universe. There's been a suspicious lack of, well, anything regarding the FF reboot, which finished filming quite some time ago - not normally how things operate in this day and age. Simon Kinberg has claimed it's because the reboot is going to be "so different" than the previous version that they want to make sure the first footage they put out "really expresses the voice of the movie" and isn't compromised by unfinished CGI.

But I have a funny feeling that it has more to do with Fox having a lack of faith in the reboot (I mentioned this as a reason for them leaking the test footage to gauge audience reaction) than wanting to get it exactly right. I could very well be wrong. The Fantastic Four reboot could end up crushing it at the box office. But my instincts say it's not going to do as well as Fox hopes, particularly since it suffers from curse of "Haven't we already seen this?," the controversial casting and plot decisions, and the fact it's been the least-hyped superhero movie possibly ever.

And it's understandable Marvel would want to get all of its characters back one day, that day preferably being sooner rather than later to build the - and business - that they want. The comic book movie bubble will eventually burst, so making movies with these characters is something of a "use it or lose it" situation. So it's not hard to see why Marvel wants all of its (now very lucrative) properties back under its care.

Still, Marvel is getting pretty underhanded with its Fox freeze-out. Marvel is perfectly within its legal rights with perfectly understandable logic behind it, but they are definitely not afraid to play hardball right now. Do you think they're going too far, or would you like to see Marvel's properties back with Marvel, no matter what it takes?

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