Last week, DC made waves with a rumor suggesting that Warner Brothers was possibly committing to seven superhero films in their near future, bringing the total of upcoming movies in the genre to 23. But what people forget is that while WB flexes its muscle, Marvel, in addition to its crammed slate for the next few years, still has a ridiculously long list of untapped characters, both over at Disney as well as other studios like Fox, Universal and Sony.
For the time being, Sony’s got four more films in the “Spider-Man” universe planned based on studio announcements. Fox has release dates for the next “Fantastic Four”, “X-Men” and “Wolverine” movies. And Marvel has expanded their “Avengers” world to allow for multiple heroes to thrive in their own movies, and thereby rack up huge box office numbers. Does the marketplace suggest we want to see these films? A superhero film rarely loses money in this filmmaking economy, so clearly people are fans.
But the current well has to dry up soon. Marvel’s day players that include Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans are only signed up until "Avengers 3. Similarly, Fox has banked on Hugh Jackman‘s Wolverine for seven films so far, with reportedly two more on deck, stretching him thin. Sony’s already experiencing the growing pains of swapping out Tobey Maguire for Andrew Garfield, as Garfield’s films aren’t nearly as popular, plus there’s a limit to how many existing big-name characters can be rebooted in the same way as Spider-Man: if there’s no connective tissue between the films, re-casting is a cinch, but because the expanded universe approach is so popular, it becomes a bigger deal when you have new actors play familiar faces.
Which is why, in addition to finding a smooth way to phase out the more familiar actors in these movies, the studios need to develop new brand names. What lies beyond Professor X and his X-Men? Who will assemble when the Avengers retire? Fortunately, we’re dealing with Marvel, that not only still owns a massive library of characters (of some diversity and depth), but has doled out a fair number of properties to the aforementioned Fox, Sony and Universal. The possibilities are endless, depressingly so for anyone who feels like we’ve already reached critical mass as regards comic book films. With pivotal movies like “The Sinister Six” and “Doctor Strange” on the horizon, what’s left for Marvel? We decided to take a peek and see just who owns the last remaining Marvel properties, and just how viable they might be.
If the rumors are true, Sony could end up giving “Spider-Man” a brief rest, sidelining the universe established in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” that set the stage for the upcoming “Sinister Six” movie. But while postponing “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” means letting certain loose threads dangle, it doesn’t have to mean that the entire mythology is given a break. Of the many franchise hints in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, the one people seem to gloss over is the introduction of rising star Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy. Fans know this to be the alter ego of criminal Black Cat, who has alternated between hero and villain during her 35-year-old history. Black Cat has had a full comic book career as a cat burglar and occasional superhero, and it would be yet another stab at DC if Marvel was able to grant this character her own adventure film while DC continued to ignore the commercial viability of a well-made “Catwoman” movie.
In the tricky game of rights roulette, Sony actually owns the film rights to all Marvel characters with the prefix “Spider-”. That includes this frequent Avengers member, who rarely, if ever, interacted with Spider-Man in the comics. Bearing little resemblance to her male counterpart, Jessica Drew (the most prominent of several characters bearing the Spider-Woman moniker at Marvel) was in fact a spy who had just uncovered the fact that she had been brainwashed, her past missing, a kind of female arachnid Jason Bourne, then, though the earlier comics featuring her character focussed on supernatural enemies, leaning towards horror and suspense. In recent years she’s represented more of a common costumed crimefighter, potentially enough to convince Sony that this is a character worth using, and not just a dumb brand extension.
In the comics’ “Ultimate” storylines, Marvel made the bold choice of definitively killing Peter Parker. But his actions during his brief career as Spider-Man inspired a young black Hispanic teenager to become the new Spidey, equipped with Parker’s powers due to a because-of-comic-books coincidence. As Morales is basically a child, his character’s adventures have been filled with a joy and enthusiasm the “regular” “Spider-Man” comics have not matched. With the two Andrew Garfield “Spider-Man” offerings suggesting the public may be growing tired of Parker, why not make the bold decision of introducing fan-favorite Morales into the cinematic universe?
OTHER SONY PROPERTIES:
In addition to the considerable rogues in the “Spider-Man” gallery, there’s a subset of occult characters like Man-Wolf and Morbius that could conceivably carry their own films, though Morbius might also be a part of the "Blade" package. The rights issues to these characters gets fairly confusing.
Namor: The Sub-Mariner
Despite never getting a greelight for actual production, Universal has managed to hang onto the film rights to Marvel’s first-ever superhero. Namor rules the deep sea empire of Atlantis, though his executive decisions have labeled him an eco-terrorist and a tyrant to surface-dwellers. While ultimately Namor fights for the humans as well as his own kind, his biggest enemies have always been his own hubris and vanity. Namor is rumored to possibly be Universal’s big, unrevealed 2016 release, but right now that’s simply speculation. Still, it would give the character his own showcase before we really got to know Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, DC’s Atlantis-based superhero, who will reportedly only make a brief appearance in 2016’s “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice."
20th Century Fox
Marvel recently trademarked nine titles for possible future film production, and surprisingly Canada’s number one mutant superteam made the list. The squad, which has always had mysterious ties to Wolverine, works for Canada’s Department H, an organization in charge of facing off against superpowered rogues. It’s a basic set-up, but longtime members of Alpha Flight includes popular characters like Guardian, Puck and Sasquatch. If Fox wants to demonstrate there is life beyond Xavier’s School, heading up north is a definite possibility.
In many comic circles, Dazzler is a punchline of a character, a Marvel creation meant to capitalize on the disco craze juuuuust right after disco basically died. Of course, the same could be said of "Ant-Man," who is getting his own blockbuster next summer, (a baldfaced mockery of common sense). Dazzler went on to outpace her chintzy origins, her character dabbling in various musical genres as she utilized her mutant powers to turn sound into light and energy, becoming not necessarily a superhero but a pop star. At last, we can make the movie about someone who develops extraordinary powers and turns them into an innately marketable skill! “Dazzler” could offer a great part for a young actress/singer, bringing some fun and musicality to the rather dour “X-Men” universe and expanding the movies’ fanbase considerably. And can you imagine the soundtrack?
Ah, that famously orphaned property. First-timer Tim Hill was set to direct a script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (“Zombieland”) with Ryan Reynolds firmly in the lead. But that project, an R-rated, fourth-wall-breaking mutant adventure, never really gained traction with the studio. It didn’t help that Reynolds himself starred in a couple of bombs that pretty much killed his commercial appeal, including the comic book-based “Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D.”. But in Hollywood, all it takes is one hit to make you suddenly seem viable again (or no hits, if you’re Colin Farrell), so if Reynolds gets hot or even lukewarm (this project is basically tethered to him) don’t be surprised to see Fox kicking the tires once again.
Channing Tatum is in agreement that he is playing Gambit. Producer Lauren Shuler-Donner is saying he is Gambit. And yet, no one at Fox is saying a “Gambit” movie is a go, beyond writers like Simon Kinberg saying they hope to make it happen. Which is interesting — not only is Gambit not necessarily the most commercially viable character, he’s barely factored into the movies, to date only played by Taylor Kitsch in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. A $60 million spinoff starring Kitsch might be a smart commercial idea, and even bringing Kitsch back for “X-Men: Apocalypse” would make sense. But Tatum’s star within the “X-Men” universe would be much, much brighter so a “Gambit” movie with him in the role would need to accommodate that.
Since the 1990’s, Constantin Films has owned the rights to the Silver Surfer and has struggled in vain to spotlight him as the star of a new movie. When the character finally popped up in 2007’s “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer”, it was supposedly the backdoor to his own film penned by J. Michael Straczynski (“Babylon 5”). Unfortunately, that film flopped, killing hopes for the long-in-development “Silver Surfer” movie that at one point back in the nineties was going to star Johnny Depp. That being said, Fox has announced a “mystery” project that is slated for release in 2018. Maybe they’ll be attempting to isolate Silver Surfer from the Fantastic Four for his own adventure? It’s very possible there is truth to the rumor that Fox allowed their “Daredevil” rights to expire in order to keep the rights to “Silver Surfer” for that exact purpose.
While Jeff Wadlow (“Kick Ass 2”) was hired to write an “X-Force” movie, “X-Force” creator Rob Liefeld tweeted recently that “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” seriously put the film in jeopardy. Or at least Wadlow’s vision for the film, as in the comics, X-Force has taken on many forms. Originally they were an offshoot of the “New Mutants”, a paramilitary mutant team dedicated to neutralizing dangerous mutant threats without the (supposed) safety or morality concerns of Xavier’s students. Leader Cable seems like a viable addition to the movie universe, and there are a number of X-Force characters that have yet to be introduced to the movies that could feature in this film. In recent years, X-Force was led by Wolverine and featured a couple of more familiar X-Men characters however, which means this could conceivably function as that elusive “X-Men 4” everyone has wanted to see.
OTHER FOX PROPERTIES:
It’s hard to deny that Fox has the rights to the two greatest Marvel villains of all time in Magneto and Doctor Doom. So Sony may be intrigued by a “Sinister Six” film, but solo “Magneto” and “Doctor Doom” movies would make more sense. Another X-team that could surface are the “X-Factor Investigations”, based on a later version of the X-Factor team in the comics centered on mysteries and led by the very cinematic fan-favorite Multiple Man.
Still waiting for a callup to the big leagues is Marvel’s premiere black superhero, the costumed ruler of the fictional nation of Wakanda (which itself has already earned references in the Marvel films). Black Panther has no real abilities other than peak human athleticism and superior intellect, making him something of a Batman analog. But he’s also got an army, ruling over Wakanda, a place considered rich in Vibranium, the rare metal used to forge Captain America’s shield. While rumors suggest the opening of “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” will take place in Wakanda, the studio has not yet committed to making a standalone Black Panther movie. But their Phase 3 lineup features a number of release dates, of which just two titles are unaccounted for, and one is expected to be “Doctor Strange”, which means “Black Panther” could be next in line to join the Marvel stable.
Marvel has managed to reacquire a number of characters originally licensed to other studios, including Hulk, Daredevil and Ghost Rider. But just bringing the characters back doesn’t mean there are plans in store for them. Still, it’s been ten years since “Blade Trinity” ended the “Blade” saga, more than enough time to bring the Daywalker back. More specifically, the character can now be integrated into the larger Marvel universe, possibly in a team atmosphere. Marvel’s got several characters based in the supernatural and the occult, including Doctor Strange and Ghost Rider. Why not have them together in their own film, fighting the ghouls and spirits that wouldn’t cross paths with the Avengers?
Carol Danvers has had one of the most colorful existences of any female character in comics, though it’s been in recent years that Marvel has brought her to the forefront. She’s a literal heavy hitter, gifted with flight, super strength and invulnerability, earning her Captainship by serving in the air force before developing her otherworldly powers. Danvers would make an excellent addition to the current “Avengers” team, adding diversity and sheer power to the lineup. And she’s already rumored to be part of "Avengers: Age of Ultron," but so far that remains to be seen.
Recently, Marvel’s “Inhumanity” storyline has imagined an Earth where several humans are actually members of the Inhuman race, evolutionarily advanced beings from another world. This latest development has made these characters very much like mutants, born with unexpected abilities and seen as a danger to others. Of course, Marvel doesn’t have the rights to mutants, which explains why the comic company has pushed this storyline to familiarize audiences with the concepts of Inhumans simply living amongst the other heroes. Which makes it easy to imagine a movie based upon the Inhumans, particularly the royal family headed by Black Bolt and Medusa, in which they could feature the mutant characters they can actually use (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, perhaps) as new members of the Inhuman race.
Marc Spector is a handful. This Jewish mercenary was left for dead in the Egyptian desert, only to be resurrected by the god Khonshu and turned into a warrior for justice. Returning to the states meant hiding his resurrection, however, in a series of false identities that have apparently given him multiple personality disorder. So yeah, Moon Knight is a hero with more than a few issues. There was a rumor a “Moon Knight” television show was being attempted years ago, but there’s no reason why the character can’t pop up in one of the new films, or even star in his own movie, provided they got the right actor. For the record, Tom Cruise would be an incredible Moon Knight.
This all-ages comic traced the evolution of an all-sibling kids superhero team, gifted with their abilities due to the experiments of their father and the influence of an alien race. While they often fought alongside adult heroes, there were comics where the Power Pack took on ground level issues, like bullies and schoolwork. Not every Marvel movie has to deal with the end of the world, and there’s no reason why a kids’-friendly team can’t interact with Marvel’s other heroes. All it takes is a kid-centric filmmaker with a little bit of imagination to get somewhere with the Power clan.
We’ve had three onscreen Punisher adventures so far. Why a fourth? Especially considering, for starters, that the Punisher concept on its own doesn’t have a lot of juice, and “Punisher War Zone” pretty much exhausted the potential for future straightforward Punisher films? Well, as in the comics, the Punisher’s greatest stories come from his interactions with other characters, specifically the more fantastical heroes with moral scruples. If Marvel is smart, they’ll have Frank Castle guest-star on a couple of episodes of the “Daredevil” series for Netflix, serving as a springboard for a film where the enforcer takes to the streets of the Marvel universe to dispense deadly justice to the hooligans the Avengers can’t grab.
No one knows exactly what happened with Peter Sollet’s “Runaways” movie, reportedly one of Marvel’s first planned solo movies. The concept is rich: a group of young teens learn that their parents are evil supervillains and team up to steal their equipment and tools in order to save the world. You could do this on a budget, and if Marvel is interested in diversifying beyond simple $200 million tentpoles, this is the ideal direction to go, courting the families that might find “Captain America” a bit too intense for their kids. Fortunately, the comics have enough suburban dysfunction to work on their own as enjoyable stories of a group of young avengers coming together.
The associations and insinuations made by people like David Goyer are unpleasant, but beyond that ignorance lies an incredible character. When Jennifer Walters is injured in an accident, she needs a family blood transfusion to survive, but the only possible source is her cousin, Bruce Banner. Walters eventually becomes a green-skinned colossus, but unlike her cousin she has control over it, and while she goes the predictable route of fighting crime with her enhanced skill and strength, she later becomes a successful criminal defense attorney, going through legal briefs during the day and saving the world at night. She-Hulk comics always promise heavy duty action as well as comedy that comes not only from the innate absurdity of She-Hulk’s existence, but the possibility she is aware she’s in a comic. These factors have allowed her to establish her own identity in the comics, and they should one day provide fodder for a fun movie, particularly if she fights alongside her cousin.
The Thunderbolts are credited with one of comics’ great reveals: they were introduced as reformed villains now dedicated to being superheroes. But soon, their true motivations were revealed, showing them to be opportunists attempting a long con in order to fool the world into earning their trust. In the movies, it doesn’t need to be so complex, particularly considering the movie universe would never trust the villains already established in the films. But what if Marvel did attempt an all-villain jamboree, teaming maybe Loki, Justin Hammer, the Red Skull, the Abomination and Baron Von Strucker in their own film? What hardcore Marvel fan isn’t going to want to see that?
OTHER MARVEL PROPERTIES:
The number of characters and brands Marvel currently possesses is ridiculous. In addition to potentially spinning off characters like Black Widow, Rocket Raccoon and the Heroes For Hire into their own films, there’s a backlog of single characters that could pop up in Marvel stories for years on end. Marvel claims they’ve planned until 2028. Considering whom they own, you better believe it.