We’ve all heard of Marvel and its superhero characters but as we snack on our popcorn watching our favourites come together in epic clashes that span the universe the spiders-web of intellectual property that sits behind the scenes is both a marvel and a headache…
In December 1996 Marvel filed for bankruptcy in the US, the company was haemorrhaging money and had huge debts. The market for comic books, trading cards and CD-ROMs had fallen through the floor as technology and the internet was gathering speed. It’s hard to believe that the Marvel powerhouse we know and love today was staring down the precipice, and that falling down it was the most probable outcome… but on the precipice they were and all they had left to fight with were the Marvel characters and the rights to exploit them, and exploit them they did…
Marvel studios set about licensing the rights to some of its superhero’s to the big Hollywood studios; 20th Century Fox, Sony, Universal and New Line have all (and some still do) held licenses for various characters. Marvel even sold the Spider-Man rights to Sony. Being in the hands of the big studios meant that we suddenly started seeing a whole glut of movies hit the box office; Blade, Spider-Man and the X-Men all began raking in cash at the box office for the studios that secured IP rights or licenses to them with Marvel taking only a small fraction. But Marvel didn’t have to lift a finger for the money slowly drip in, that’s the beauty of licensing – your intellectual property works for you. Marvel could’ve been sitting on the beach sipping Pina Coladas while its assets got them back in the black.
Over the years a whole host of deals were negotiated; a host of court battles fought most notably the nearly eight year clash between MGM and Sony over the Spider-Man franchise. An intricate spiders-web of rights was built with Marvel sitting in the middle.
In 2005 Marvel launched an ambitious plan to turn the drip of cash into huge returns by setting up their own production company and making their own movies. In order to do that they needed a financial deal from the bank of a whopping $525 million and if the bank were going to lend that sum of money they wanted security. Once again, Marvel’s intellectual property, its main assets were called upon and Captain America, Ant-Man, Cloak & Dagger, The Avengers, Black Panther, Nick Fury, Hawkeye, Doctor Strange, Power Pack and Shang-Chi were all used as collateral.
For their first film Marvel Cinematic Universe put Iron Man on the big screen for the first time and it made over $500 million. Since then, Marvel have gone from strength to strength and as they slowly recall the rights to the characters that were licenced to other studios we see more and more of them appearing together on the big screen.
The story is poetic really. Fictional they maybe, but for Marvel it really was the superhero’s that saved the day.