Every Character Marvel Is Suing Creators For The Rights Of – Screen Rant

The creators of some of the most popular MCU superheroes have sued for the rights of their characters, which Marvel is fighting hard to retain.
Marvel is suing creators for the rights of multiple prominent MCU characters. Ever since Iron Man‘s success in 2008, Marvel Studios has slowly built a widely successful franchise of interconnected superhero films and TV series, aided by Walt Disney Studios’ acquirement of the company in 2009. Yet, the creators of some of its most popular heroes have sued for the rights of their characters.
According to the Copyright Revision Act of 1976, copyright ownership should revert to the original creator 60 years after their product’s creation. This deadline rapidly approaches for many Marvel characters, which their creators are very aware of. Writer and artist Larry Lieber filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company to regain rights to several characters, and has since been joined by the estate of Steve Ditko, the estate of Don Heck, the heirs of Don Rico, and the heirs of Gene Colan.
Related: Characters Marvel Still Doesn’t Have The Movie Rights To
Disney has filed countersuits in response, claiming the copyright act does not apply because the characters were created under work-for-hire contracts. Previous lawsuits of a similar nature have agreed with Disney’s argument, but that does not necessarily mean this case will resolve in the same way. If Disney does lose, here’s every character they would no longer have the rights to.
Iron Man was created by Stan Lee, his brother Larry Lieber, and artists Don Heck and Jack Kirby. The billionaire tech genius first appeared in Marvel Comics in 1963 and was notably a hit with female readers. In April 1990, Universal Studios bought the rights to an Iron Man film adaptation from Marvel. This ultimately went nowhere, and in February 1996, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights. Several years later, in December of 1999, Fox sold the rights to New Line Cinema with the reasoning that they had too many superhero projects already in development. New Line Cinema had plans for a 2006 release of an Iron Man film, but when these plans fell through, the rights returned to Marvel Studios. Iron Man’s 60 year timeframe ends in 2023, which is when the rights to the character will return to its original creators unless Disney successfully wins its lawsuit.
Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and artist Jack Kirby created their own interpretation of the Norse god Thor in 1962. Plans for a movie adaptation of the superhero had been in the works since the 1990s, with director Samuel Raimi unsuccessfully trying to convince 20th Century Fox to pursue it. After X-Men‘s success, Marvel briefly contemplated a TV adaptation of Thor to be aired on the UPN network and financed by Artisan Entertainment. Sony Pictures Entertainment finally purchased the rights to the character in 2004 but sold them to Paramount Pictures two years later. Through a series of deals, Walt Disney Studios had acquired the rights to all of Paramount’s Marvel properties by 2013, effectively giving Disney ownership of most Marvel characters excluding the X-Men, Spider-Man, and a few others. In 2022, the rights to Thor will expire.
Created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby in 1962, an Ant-Man movie was in development for decades before finally being produced. Stan Lee first pitched the idea for a movie to New World Pictures in the 1980s, which went nowhere. Artisan Entertainment gained the rights to the character in 2000, but this reverted back to Marvel Studios when the company formed. Director Edgar Wright was set to write a script as early as 2006, but the movie would not be released for almost another decade. The character’s rights revert to the creators after 2022.
Related: Every Upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie & TV Show In Development
The web-shooting hero was first created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, and the history of Spider-Man’s film rights is a bit of a mess. Orion Pictures first held the movie rights in the 1980s until they were sold to The Cannon Group’s Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. After Golan became CEO of 21st Century Film Corporation, he extended the option for a movie and tried to revive the project by selling distribution rights to several companies in 1989. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired 21st Century Film in 1995 and sued several companies, including Marvel, for fraud in the original deal with The Cannon Group. Marvel filed for bankruptcy the next year, and in 1998 announced that Golan’s option had expired, which returned the rights to them. In 1999, Marvel sold the rights to Sony Pictures Entertainment, which produced five movies with the character before striking another deal with Marvel. The two companies agreed to co-own the rights to Spider-Man in 2015, and this new version of the hero has since appeared in five MCU movies, with a third solo film releasing in December 2021. Rights to the character expire after 2022.
Doctor Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1963. New World Pictures first tried to make a film adaptation of the character in the 1980s. When that fell through, Regency attempted to produce a movie in the late 80s, which also did not work out. A producer optioned the rights for Full Moon Entertainment around the same time, but that expired, and in 1992, Savoy Pictures was set to distribute a film. Columbia Pictures later purchased the rights in 1997 only to drop the idea three years later. Dimension Films then gained the rights in 2001, and Miramax acquired them two months later. Paramount Pictures bought the rights in 2005 and kept them until Paramount’s deal with Disney.
The first character to use the Black Widow alias, Natasha Romanova, was created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and artist Don Heck in 1964. Originally an Iron Man antagonist in the comics, the Russian spy eventually defected and joined S.H.I.E.L.D. Lionsgate bought film rights for Black Widow in 2004 but dropped the project two years later. The rights returned to Marvel Studios, and although the character was introduced into the MCU in Iron Man 2, a Black Widow solo film would not be made for 11 more years. The rights for Black Widow will expire in 2024.
Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, the archer also first appeared in 1964 as a villain. Hawkeye joined the Avengers team the following year. Hawkeye had never been optioned for film before his initial appearances in the MCU in Thor and The Avengers, so Marvel never lost ownership of the character. Marvel Studios briefly considered a Hawkeye solo film before redeveloping the project as a Disney+ series, which will release in November 2021. Hawkeye’s rights also expire in 2024.
Related: Why Clint Is Training Kate Bishop And Not His Daughter In Hawkeye
Carol Danvers was created by Roy Thomas and artist Gene Colan in 1968. She initially appeared in comic books solely as a United States Air Force officer, but became Ms. Marvel in 1977 and later took over the Kree superhero Mar-Vell’s role as Captain Marvel. Marvel Studios never sold the rights to this character, and a film adaptation had been considered as early as 2013, finally appearing in theaters 6 years later. This character would not leave Marvel’s ownership until 2028.
Falcon was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in 1969. Although Black Panther was the company’s first Black superhero, Falcon made history as their first African American one. Marvel Studios also never sold the rights to this character, who joined the MCU in a supporting role for several movies before starring in the 2021 Disney+ miniseries Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Rights to Falcon will expire in 2029.
Created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade first appeared in comics in 1973. New World Pictures gained film rights in the early 1990s, but nothing came from it. New Line Cinema eventually acquired rights to Blade and produced three films starring Wesley Snipes in the late 90s and early 2000s. The director shared plans to create a prequel trilogy in 2008, but by 2012, the rights had reverted to Marvel, who will retain the character until 2033.
Next: Marvel’s Blade Will Definitely Avoid One Mistake From The Original Trilogy
Autumn Cejer is a Movie/TV Features Writer for Screen Rant. She has spent her life chatting about popular media to anyone who would listen, even appearing on conference panels to discuss her favorite (and least favorite) shows and movies. Autumn has a Master of Arts in English from Northern Michigan University, where she also taught superhero-themed composition courses. She spends her free time drinking coffee and trying to resist the urge to buy any new books before reading the many she already owns.


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