The world of superhero films could be turned on its axis with news that 21st Century Fox had recently considered selling most of its assets to the Walt Disney Company. Naturally, any such deal would dramatically re-shape the landscape of Marvel's cinematic future, so we'll try to detail what it would mean for the future of Marvel Studios, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four movie franchises.
It's worth noting that after CNBC's initial story this afternoon, Bloomberg reported the two companies are no longer discussing a sale, in all likelihood because Fox is pursuing a possible avenue going forward in a world where streaming services rule the world. However, stalled talks don’t necessarily mean a deal is dead -- Sony and Marvel's agreement to share Spider-Man was once announced as having been taken off the table only to have the studios reverse course days later. So if this does end up happening, what would Fox be offering to Disney?
Fox can't sell its broadcast channel to Disney, as a company is not allowed to own multiple broadcast networks. It also would not sell its sports network, FS1, as that would likely open up monopoly talk if it were combined with Disney's ESPN. Fox would not sell its business cable channel and definitely not its cable news network. FX and National Geographic, however, would be included in any deal, as would Fox's international networks, Sky and Star. The primary asset, however, would be its 20th Century Fox film studio. This, of course, is what most interests Marvel fans.
That's because Fox currently owns the licenses to produce films based on the X-Men (and all related characters) as well as the Fantastic Four. If Disney were to purchase 21st Century Fox, that would bring Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox under one roof, permitting the X-Men and FF characters to appear as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The biggest immediate boon would be with the Fantastic Four, as Marvel's First Family would easily slide into its cinematic universe, and allow for the addition of such major cosmic characters as Silver Surfer and Galactus.
Of all of Marvel's properties, the Fantastic Four seem particularly well-suited to the current approach of Marvel Studios. The bright, optimistic take on a family of superheroes was something that Fox decided to move away from in its 2015 reboot (and it did not work), so it would seem likely that a Marvel Studios version of the Fantastic Four would hit big. Imagine the first time the newly cast Human Torch met Chris Evans' Captain America. In addition, there are no announced plans for future installments in the Fantastic Four film universe, so Marvel wouldn't have to worry about abandoning any current projects.
The X-Men films are another story, as Fox's franchise is alive, profitable and expanding, with three new installments -- The New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix -- targeted for release in 2018. Therefore, there'ss more of an argument to be made that perhaps the X-Men films would be allowed to remain in their own universe and not immediately be integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Especially with films like Deadpool, Logan and the upcoming New Mutants looking to appeal to a different market than a standard Marvel Cinematic Universe release, the chance of allowing them to do their own thing is a very real possibility.
However, even if the X-Men films were left in their own universe, it opens up the possibility of some sort of crossover between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the X-Men Universe. Avengers vs. X-Men, anyone? Hugh Jackman has said he's done with the Wolverine character, but would he seriously turn down the chance to play Wolverine in a film in which the X-Men face off against the Avengers? It seems difficult to believe.
Of course, Marvel could easily decide to allow the current X-Men franchise finish with Dark Phoenix, and then simply reboot those characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Jackman really is done with the character, then that would be a perfect opportunity to introduce a new actor in the role.
Purchase by Disney would also theoretically affect the current television agreements between Marvel and Fox for the production of The Gifted on Fox and Legion on FX. With Marvel expanding further into television and streaming platforms, having the X-Men characters available would lead to a significant increase in shows for the upcoming Disney-branded streaming service. There are so many X-Men characters that there are a multitude of possible options for new series.
On a less-important note, it would be nice to see the X-Men on the live-action television landscape, rather than the Inhumans.
It is obviously very soon to be talking about anything definitive, as, again, Marvel and Disney are no longer in active discussions. However, if you're a Marvel fan, the mere possibility should have you excited for the potential future.