After the nearly two years of corporate courtship, a rival suitor in the form of Comcast, and a long stroll through regulatory scrutiny, The Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of nearly all of 21st Century Fox’s media holdings closed at 12:02am EDT Wednesday night. The roughly $70 billion deal changes the landscape of media in several drastic ways. For starters, there are now only five major movie studios, with analysts predicting there will be five to seven fewer major releases in a given year from now on. Additionally, Disney now own tons more popular intellectual property, including Star Wars, Alien, The X-Files, Avatar, and, of course, the Marvel Comics characters.
Until Wednesday, that last asset existed in a split state. Two of Marvel’s high-profile properties — the X-Men and the Fantastic Four — have been under Fox’s control since the mid-1990s. According to the terms of the deal Marvel Comics made during a particularly bad financial time, Fox would control the media destinies of both properties in perpetuity as long as it continued to make and develop films based on the characters. From the moment Disney’s acquisition of Fox was announced, fans assumed those properties would end up part of Marvel Studios’ wide range of characters, which appears to be the correct assumption; Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that the company will now have access to the characters previously held by Fox.
Now that Disney’s Marvel and Fox’s Marvel are one entity, what will that joined vision of the Marvel Cinematic Universe look like and how soon will it happen? Here are six answers to questions you may be asking about Marvel’s role in Disney’s Fox acquisition.
Throughout 2018, people including Feige insisted Marvel could not even begin to cook up ideas for the X-Men or Fantastic Four until the deal for the merger officially closed. There was also some talk about keeping the Fox-controlled Marvel assets separate, but that notion was later dismissed by Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“There shouldn’t be two Marvels,” he said back in September.
Since we previously assumed a lingering Fox contingent might delay Marvel Studios’ control of the characters, we counted out an X-Men stinger in Avengers: Endgame. Instead, we predicted Logan’s adamantium claws might appear in a 2021 mid-credits stinger scene. Now, we think it is possible — though still highly unlikely — the characters might be referenced in a singular image or a word. (It would have to be something easily shot in the next week or two as the studio could not use any of the characters or iconography until now.)
But even if Marvel manages to add a Fantastic Four or X-Men tease to Endgame, that stinger moment is all we will see of the characters for some time. Marvel Studios’ 2020 output inches closer to production even if the company declines to reveal their schedule until after Endgame’s release. At this point, we know The Eternals, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and sequels for Doctor Strange and Black Panther are in the pipeline. Presumably, three of those projects will fill the 2020 release dates. Of course, the studio has altered its plan before, bumping Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and a proposed Inhumans film to secure a place for Spider-Man: Homecoming. With that in mind, it is possible the first Marvel Studios X-Men or Fantastic Four film could happen in 2021, particularly if Feige ever gets back to Legion’s Noah Hawley about his Doctor Doom script.
While Dark Phoenix will hit theaters this June, the fate of New Mutants is more tenuous. Though still slated for an August 2 release, the film’s planned 2018 reshoots (that would change more than 50 percent of the film and introduce a new character to the story) reportedly never took place and are no longer scheduled to occur.
Until the deal closed, Fox had to abide by its original agreement with Marvel Entertainment and release X-Men films at regular intervals. It also had to plan for a future in which it and Disney remained separate entities just in case the deal fell through or was delayed beyond the summer. Around this time last year, both films were pushed back to accommodate reshoots. But considering New Mutants’ additional photography never took place, it is fair to wonder if Fox delayed both films to save on development costs for other X-Men projects Marvel may eventually cancel. There is plenty to suggest this was the case and it may lead to New Mutants losing its theatrical release.
Under the spirit of “business as usual” in the event the deal fell through, Fox planned to expand its output of Marvel-based films to three projects per year. The plan included more X-Men sequels while branching out with lesser known characters.
One project centering on fan-favorite mutant Kitty Pryde was announced and would see Deadpool director Tim Miller returning to the X-fold. Said to be based on Uncanny X-Men #143, the film would focus on Kitty’s struggle against a N’Garai demon while spending a lonely Christmas night in the X-Mansion. Comic-book writer Brian Michael Bendis was said to be adapting the issue into a feature script for Miller. Neither has commented on the project’s prospects.
Though little has been said since word first broke about the project, James Franco was set to star in a film focusing on X-Factor favorite Jamie Madrox, a.k.a. The Multiple Man. Franco’s real-life troubles may have sent this one to the back-burner, but considering X-Men characters must now compete with Shang-Chi and The Eternals for one of Marvel Studios’ coveted release dates, expect any solo X-Men outings to be a late 2020s development. Channing Tatum’s long-delayed Gambit film is also more than likely kaput.
As we mentioned above, Noah Hawley signed on to develop a feature film for the greatest of Marvel villains, Doctor Doom. Recently, the Legion FX series executive producer revealed Feige asked about the draft he completed some time ago. Unfortunately, Hawley has not heard from the Marvel Studios boss since. But since we all want Doom to face off against the heroes, we hope this one works out.
Finally, X-Force, the Deadpool 2 spin-off, was expected to begin shooting in late 2018 under the direction of Bad Times at the El Royale’s Drew Goddard. With cast members like Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, and Ryan Reynolds reprising their Deadpool 2 roles, it seemed set to become the last Fox-produced X-Men film. Sadly, Goddard refused to comment on the project following news of the acquisition’s imminent closure. And with X-Force co-creator Rob Liefeld openly discussing the film’s demise on Twitter, we’re going to assume this one is also toast.
Feels like the first day of ‘Pool. pic.twitter.com/QVy8fCxgqr
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) March 19, 2019
As Reynolds once joked, they may skip the third film entirely and go straight to Deadpool 4 or 5. The actor, who co-wrote the sequel with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, also said the narrative weight of taking everything away from the character in order to build him up again will only lead to diminishing returns. In light of that, he offered the possibility of playing Deadpool as a supporting character in films like X-Force. Reese and Wernick, meanwhile, have said they’d love to team Deadpool up with Spider-Man — a pairing so popular it had its own comic book.
It is possible Reynolds was just cushioning himself should Marvel Studios choose not to continue with his vision of Deadpool — it is a PG-13 production house, after all — but it may also be a savvy ploy to negotiate with the company for a sweet multi-picture contract in which Deadpool shows up, does something wacky, and disappears again. It is certainly possible to tone down some of Wade Wilson’s antics for the MCU, which is what the Christmas release of a PG-13 Deadpool 2 called Once Upon a Deadpool proved.
Meanwhile, Iger once told investors it is possible to carve out an R-rated niche for Marvel to allow for more Deadpool movies. On Tuesday, Reynolds posted a photo of Deadpool wearing Mickey ears and riding a school bus to celebrate the acquisition. What it means for the future is anyone’s guess.
After Thanos presumably gets his comeuppance in Avengers: Endgame, will Marvel Studios sow the seeds of another intergalactic Big Bad? If they attempt such a thing, Fantastic Four antagonist Galactus would be of a size and shape worthy to follow Thanos — even his headgear is more thrilling! But that is assuming Phase 4 will have a Big Bad. And come to think of it, the term “Phase 4” rarely comes up in Feige’s comments these days.
It took three phases and 22 films — now known as The Infinity Saga — to get to Thanos, even if he was introduced in the first Avengers film. So Phase 4, if we’re still using that term, may just see the regrouping of the heroes who survive Endgame and the introduction of the Eternals and Shang-Chi. If that is the case, the new big bad would be introduced in a potential fifth Avengers film in, say, 2022 or wherever Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 ends up on the schedule. It would also provide ample time for Feige to plan the integration of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four into the MCU. And what better way to introduce Marvel’s first family than by the Avengers searching for them ahead of Galactus’s arrival? (We’re maybe getting carried away here, but we’re damn excited.)
Of course, we are assuming the next few years of MCU storytelling will use the same momentum as Phases 1-3. But considering Marvel Comics has been using the same narrative conventions in its event crossover comics for the last few decades — to say nothing of the financial rewards the studio established by using the technique — it seems a safe bet that Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the Guardians, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four will unite to face some universe-shattering threat 22 films from now, if not sooner.
Turning our attention to television, the Fox acquisition comes at an odd time for Marvel’s live-action initiatives. On ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was renewed for a seventh season well ahead of its season 6 debut this summer. Cloak & Dagger returns to Freeform in a few weeks, and reports indicate Runaways’ second season was successful enough at Hulu for a third year to be all but a certainty. But over on Netflix, all of the Marvel shows were quickly cancelled following the debuts of their most recent seasons (except for Jessica Jones, which was cancelled ahead of its still-unscheduled season 3 debut). And from the way Netflix structures its deals, it will be some time before any of those characters can resurface on Disney platforms like Hulu (which the company now has a 60 percent stake in) or Disney+.
Meanwhile, the new Disney streaming platform indicates Iger’s desire for a single Marvel may not be in the cards just yet. Disney+’s Marvel television series will be produced by Marvel Studios, while all the television efforts to date are works of Marvel Entertainment. Yes, there is a difference, as the former is a division of The Walt Disney Studio, while the latter is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. In short: Disney operates two Marvel companies and, sometimes, their interests do not align. This is ultimately why the Defenders did not make cameos in Avengers: Infinity War and why the final seasons of their shows saw no one turning to dust.
From the Fox standpoint, the acquisition offered an incentive to end Legion after three seasons on FX. While Hawley recently said he always saw the program as a three-year story, the changing nature of Marvel TV no doubt helped the executives OK the idea of ending it now. Meanwhile, The Gifted’s future on the Fox broadcast network remains up in the air. The network — which was retained by newly minted Fox Corp. — plans to hold onto several popular series now owned by Disney (which acquired Fox’s TV studio branch as well), including The Simpsons. But The Gifted is not exactly popular. Also, there is no telling how it may interfere with Marvel Entertainment’s plans going forward or Marvel Studios’ long-term goals.
Fox later answered the media attention around the completion of the acquistion with a trailer:
In the meantime, Hulu and Marvel Entertainment announced an initiative to create four animated series for the platform, potentially leading to a stronger relationship between the two branches of the Disney empire. As it happens, Disney wants Marvel content to stay in house, so Disney brands like ABC, Disney+, Freeform, and Hulu are the places you will see future Marvel TV shows. Additionally, the newly acquired FX networks may prove a good outlet as well for projects more in the vein of Legion. Maybe the long-lost New Warriors will find a home on one of those channels.