The terms of the license agreement called for Fox to begin production by Oct. 10, a looming deadline that left the studio scrambling following the July departure "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" director David Slade. Executives quickly turned to Joe Carnahan ("Smokin' Aces," "The Grey") to helm a take on Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's acclaimed "Born Again" storyline characterized as a "hardcore '70s thriller."
But late Monday, the director offered the first concrete indication that time had expired, writing on Twitter: "Think my idea for a certain retro, red-suited, 'Serpico'-styled superhero went up in smoke today kids. We shall see. Time is NOT on anyone's side." Carnahan later clarified, "DD pitch was tremendous and everyone flipped for it. The clock ticked down at Fox, that's why it went tits up."
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel had already granted two deadline extensions to Fox, which has held the rights for more than a decade -- the studio also briefly had the license in the late 1990s -- culminating in 2003 with the Mark Steven Johnson-directed "Daredevil" and the 2005 spinoff "Elektra." Variety contends Marvel rejected the latest extension request, which could explain conflicting reports last week of a possible rights swap in which Fox would hold on to Daredevil in exchange relinquishing Galactus and Silver Surfer (currently part of the "Fantastic Four" license).
Daredevil is only the most recent property to return to the Marvel fold -- and the second since Disney's acquisition of the company in 2009 -- on the heels of Blade and The Punisher. Those characters, like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, are artifacts of an era before the 2006 launch of Marvel Studios, when the properties were farmed out under fairly generous terms. Fox still holds the licenses to the X-Men (including Wolverine and Deadpool) and Fantastic Four in perpetuity: As long as the films are in active development within a contractually prescribed time frame, the studio can retain the rights, essentially, forever; that same clause keeps Spider-Man, Venom and Ghost Rider within the Sony Pictures family.
Fox, which recently began production in Australia on "The Wolverine," will start "X-Men: Days of Future Past," the sequel to last year's hist "X-Men: First Class," in January. Its "Fantastic Four" reboot, directed by Josh Trank ("Chronicle"), could go in front of the cameras as early as next spring.