It's Marvel's world, and we're all just living it. With an estimated $1.2 billion in global ticket sales this weekend, Avengers: Endgame has taken a strong first step toward becoming the most popular film of all time. It's already cemented Marvel's status as the world's most popular entertainment franchise.
So of course we are going to talk about Marvel and theme parks now, aren't we?
This story might not involve as many plot twists and battles as the third act of Endgame, but it's a helluva tale, nevertheless. While the details might be familiar to some long-time Theme Park Insider readers, it never hurts to bring everyone up to speed on who owns the rights to do what with Marvel in theme parks around the world.
This story starts back in the 1990s, when Marvel Entertainment signed a deal with MCA for that company, which owned Universal Studios, to open Marvel-themed attractions at its parks. (Here is that contract, from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's website.) "The Marvel Universe" would become part of Universal's properties in Orlando and Hollywood, with Japan added to the deal later. So Marvel Super Hero Island become one of the Islands of Adventure when Universal Orlando's second gate opened in 1999. Its The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride quickly laid claim as the world's best theme park attraction, leading Universal to duplicate the ride at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka in 2004.
But Universal, which was owned by French water company Vivendi until 2003 and then co-owned with General Electric until 2009, never invested to bring the Spider-Man ride to Hollywood. Universal let its rights to the characters west of the Mississippi lapse, and Marvel characters left Universal Studios Hollywood in 2007.
In 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in cash and stock, but it did not obtain all the licensing rights that Marvel had signed away before then. That's why X-Men remained a Fox movie property and Spider-Man the property of Sony. And that's also why Disney did not get the rights to use the Marvel name and characters at Walt Disney World. Universal's rights deal in the Orlando market remains in effect in perpetuity — so long as Universal keeps cutting royalty checks to Marvel's owner, which is now Disney.
By buying Fox's movie studio this year, Disney now has brought X-Men back into its Marvel Cinematic Universe. And Disney made a deal with Sony to allow Spider-Man's use in Disney's Avengers films while Sony continues to distribute the Spider-Man movies, though they are now part of the MCU's storylines. (Well, at least the live-action ones are now part of the MCU... though the idea of the MCU hooking up with Sony's Academy Award-winning animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would make me indescribably giddy.)
Disney and Universal also reportedly have come to a legal understanding that allows Disney to use characters not currently referenced inside Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure to be used in Walt Disney World attractions. That's why Disney is building a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster in the old Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot. But Disney still can't use the brand name "Marvel" in promoting its theme park attractions at Walt Disney World... or at Disneyland, for that matter.
Disney can use its Marvel characters on the west coast, which allows Disneyland to open a new "Super Hero-themed" land at Disney California Adventure next year. That new land will get a Spider-Man-themed ride, which Disney is billing as an "immersive, interactive experience" that will feature "a brand-new, cutting-edge interface as part of this fun, interactive attraction."
In addition to the new land at Disney California Adventure, Disney is introducing Marvel-themed lands at Hong Kong Disneyland and Walt Disney Studios Parks in Paris, where Disney has no restrictions on the use of the Marvel name or characters. The three lands will be themed as Stark Industries facilities providing local headquarters for The Avengers.
"Through partnerships with S.H.I.E.L.D., Pym Technologies, Masters of the Mystic Arts and the new Worldwide Engineering Brigade, The Avengers and their allies will forge new global campuses to champion the next generation of heroes," Disney said in its press release describing the new lands. Hong Kong has already opened a "Star Tours"-like Iron Man Experience ride and a re-build of its old Buzz Lightyear ride into Ant-Man and the Wasp: Nano Battle. Paris is retheming its Rock 'n' Roller Coaster to The Avengers, in addition to those new Spider-Man rides coming to California and Paris.
In the Middle East, where neither Disney nor Universal have theme parks, Disney has licensed the use of Marvel characters to IMG Worlds of Adventure, which features the Spider-Man Doc Ock's Revenge spinning coaster, Thor Thunder Spin top spin, Flight of the Quinjets spinner ride, Hulk Epsilon Base 3D movie, and Avengers Battle of Ultron dark ride.
So there ya go. That's the past, present, and future of Marvel in theme parks around the world, as is known right now. Might Disney have future plans for even more Marvel adventures around the world? Surely it at least has some as-yet-unseen additional concepts somewhere inside Walt Disney Imagineering's headquarters in Glendale, California. But until Disney writes a check big enough to entice Universal to surrender its claim on the world's most popular entertainment franchise, Disney will have to deal the restrictions imposed upon it by a contract it wasn't even a party to back when it was signed more than 20 years ago.Tweet
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