The opponent no Marvel super hero can beat? Lawyers

May 16, 2016, 10:32 AM · The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most popular film franchise in the history of the movie business, according to raw box office receipts. The Walt Disney Company has shown time and again its desire to develop and promote franchises across its many operations, including film, television and theme parks. From Maelstrom, to Space Mountain, to Storm Rider, Disney's converting many of its existing attractions to franchise IPs, while also investing hundreds of millions of dollars to build entire new lands based upon franchise IPs, as well.

Star Wars, Frozen, and multiple Pixar franchise all have gotten or are getting theme park installations. But none of them have made as much money in aggregate at the box office as Marvel.

So what's keeping Disney from bringing Marvel to its theme parks?

Of course, longtime Theme Park Insider readers will know this answer... and probably be able to write the rest of this post themselves. But the average theme park fan might not know about the deal that Marvel Studios signed with MCA in the 1990s and how that deal is affecting the global development of theme parks still today.

In my Orange County Register column last weekend, I wrote about the deal that binds Marvel, Disney and Universal, allowing Universal Orlando to host the Marvel Super Hero Island at its Islands of Adventure theme park while keeping the major Marvel characters out of Walt Disney World's theme parks. I also examine the deal in light of the recent rumors that Disney might create a Guardians of the Galaxy overlay for its Twilight Zone Tower of Terror rides.

If you've ever wondered why certain characters and franchises can appear in certain parks but not in others, deals such as this one are the reason. I hope you'll give this column a read... and keep a lookout for my columns each week in the Orange County Register.

Read Robert's column:

Replies (17)

May 16, 2016 at 10:48 AM · I really don't want to lose the Spider-Man ride which is still my favorite ride ever ... Not too convinced Disney could do better yet to justify losing that forever.
May 16, 2016 at 11:12 AM · If Carsland hasn't made its way to Disney World, then why can't Marvel be installed in Disneyland Resort. Each park can have it's own rides and they don't need to be cloned to defray the costs. It's actually silly to suggest costs can be defrayed for new attractions when installed in multiple locations. The research is already sunk. Disney won't offer the ride to another company to get the money back. The possible savings might not be realized at all especially if each location tailors the ride. Tower of Terror is different at each location. Pirates and Haunted Mansion are all different at each location. Shanghai Disneyland's Pirates is a new creation. The only thing holding Marvel back is Star Wars Land. One thing at a time.
May 16, 2016 at 12:37 PM · Not convinced Disney would do a better job with Marvel in theme parks anyways. I think Universal's strength are better suited for Marvel in the Theme Park world than Disney's are.
May 16, 2016 at 12:47 PM · They have not put in in California as of yet as they are probably trying to figure out how to do it as well as Universal, without doing the usual and making it for 10 year old. Doubt they can. They have nothing that compares to Spiderman or the Hulk. I hope Marvel rides stays right where they are at Universal. If Disney were smart about this, they would give all the character rights, for rides at least, to universal. Then continue to rake in the money on the movies and such, with the free advertising.
May 16, 2016 at 1:14 PM · Just to be clear: This also means Universal cannot and never will have the right to create attractions using anything from the MCU. They are only allowed to use art and characters from the comics.
May 16, 2016 at 4:53 PM · I've observed before, the last time I was at IOA, and was in Marvel island, the stores were full of Marvel merchandise - lots of it from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
I'm sure Disney would like to have Marvel in their own parks, but they have to see a benefit to their intellectual property being advertised within the gates of their number one competitor - and the property being treated VERY well.
Universal's never going to sell Mickey Mouse ears in their parks, but Disney has the next best thing going.
Product saturation, even within the walls of your competition. Not a bad thing, really.
May 16, 2016 at 4:55 PM · Marvel does not fit Disney's theme park strategy anyway. Definitely not the Magic Kingdoms, Epcot, or Animal Kingdom. Maybe a fit into California Adventure but it would be forced. Why not further license out Marvel and treat it as being paid to advertise the IP. Managers and lawyers can be creative in their own way. Use that creativity to write a good deal to expand USF with a nice fee. Extend it to USH and keep the parks focused on what they do best. If not Universal, somebody will pay a sweet penny for the rights for what's allowed.
May 16, 2016 at 6:11 PM · People have this idea that competing businesses hate each other. The real fact is they just like money. Disney knows Universal brings people to Orlando and vice versa. They will certainly allow Marvel products to be sold at Universal. Now, what the article fails to mention is that the Marvel movies have made that much, but the Star Wars brand itself is likely much greater, and they will be releasing the movies at the same rate and getting tons of merchandising sold. I cannot think of a single adult with Marvel items in their office. Star Wars? You bet. They have it, their kids have it, and their grandkids have it. It just amazed me that Disney failed to see this and make it the fifth gate in Orlando. That is certainly what Universal would have done with it.
May 16, 2016 at 8:25 PM · If Disney wasn't able to pack it's parks this would be a major problem, but the simple fact WDW is bursting most days means any additional major attractions just over crowds the parks even more. Now if we were talking a 5th gate...
May 16, 2016 at 11:18 PM · Disney still has Anaheim, Paris and Hong Kong, all with small parks where adding Marvel rides will greatly enhance their appeal.

There is rumour that HKDL will turn Autopia into another Marvel ride to go with Iron Man Experience and form a Marvel area within the new Tomorrowland.

May 17, 2016 at 6:20 AM · I have four questions regarding this deal, Mr. Niles.

#1-When Universal aquired the theme park rights to Marvel, why specifically did they place the restrictions on building Marvel rides in other parks? Did they know that Disney would buy them out years later? Did these restrictions only apply to Marvel, or did it also apply to IOA's other licensed IPs? (Popeye, Dr. Seuss etc.)

#2-Why is it that the Marvel rights for USH expired but UO still has them? Was it because UO had actually built something?

#3-Just like B Goodwin, I also saw merchandise based on the GOTG film in one of the stores (And at a very hefty price, mind you). They even had pictures from the film on display! Does this mean that TOT won't be getting a GOTG overlay? (I hope the answer's yes).

#4-So, the deal between Universal and Marvel means that WDW can't have anything Marvel-related in their parks, right? But on my last few times riding Maelstrom, I saw that they were selling a children's book adaptation of Thor: The Dark World in the gift shop! How did they pull that off?

May 17, 2016 at 7:21 AM · I love How Universal is making money off of Disney. Disney makes a movie, you go to Universal to ride the attractions.

Actually both are making monies off of Marvel. But you know it must bug the snot out of Disney... hahahahaaha.

Plus Disney would take 6 years to make a ride like Hulk.. Oh never mind, Disney has to make small family rides....

May 17, 2016 at 7:44 AM · Re-Brian Emery

On what planet is RocknRollercoaster a "small family ride?"

May 17, 2016 at 9:01 AM · Robert, It is nice that you have a paying gig with the Orange County Register. There have been several columns that are interesting to your Themepark insider readers where you have only part of the column. We have to go to the Register to read the rest. I know that you are promoting the Register, and probably have to by your contract. It would be nice if you wrote for us, your loyal readers and then shared it with the Register.
May 18, 2016 at 7:44 AM · I don't think Disney is bugged at all by Universal making money off Marvel. The more money Universal makes from Marvel, the more money Disney makes from Universal.
May 18, 2016 at 1:59 PM · For the AC above, allow me to clarify a few things:

1) I am not a Register employee and do not have a contract with the Register. I write a weekly column for Register (which is made available to other papers in the LA Newspaper Group) on a freelance basis. I don't need to link here to my stuff on the Register's website, but I do because I think that many TPI readers would be interested.

2) It doesn't cost anything more to read my column on the Register than the time and effort to click the link. Here at TPI, I don't break posts into five different pages to inflate my views, nor do I do those multi-click slideshows, so I do try to respect your reading experience by not disrupting it unnecessarily. But I don't think it's too much to do a post that introduces a Register column once a week. The intro post here is basically the TL;DR, so you're not missing something crucial if you don't read the whole thing. But I do try to reward the readers who do. (And thank you to those visitors who do click to read the whole column!)

3) If you've been reading TPI for a while and read my stuff on the Register, well, you're not wrong if you see things coming up again and again. I think I've written this Marvel column about six times now across the two publications. If I have some breaking news, a scoop, or a new insight, it's going up here on TPI first. (FWIW, I file my Register columns several days in advance of their appearance on the Register website and in print.) Think of the Register column as the "Best of" recent posts on TPI.

Anyway, I hope this helps anyone to understand, for anyone who cares to understand what's up here.

May 19, 2016 at 8:59 AM · As a loyal TPI reader I appreciate your explanation of your arrangement with the Register. I hope that you do save the breaking news and scoops for us at TPI. I have noticed that once a writer starts working with or for a printed publication, the majority of their work (over time)drifts to the publication. See Kevin Yee and other theme park writers. We do care to understand one of our valued writers.

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