After Disney trumpeted its "opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof," Chairman & CEO Bob Iger reiterated his company's plans to integrate those properties into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the purchase of key assets of 21st Century Fox. However, when and how that will happen remains a big question.
In two conference calls held with investors on Thursday following the announcement of the agreement, valued at $66 billion, Iger spoke about those franchises only in the broadest of terms. But of course, he was speaking primarily to shareholders and Wall Street analysts, not die-hard fans of Marvel Comics' superheroes.
"With 20th Century Fox Film, we have the opportunity to expand iconic franchises for new generations of fans around the world – just as we have with Marvel and Star Wars," he said in the first call, held at 8 a.m. ET. "The obvious example is Avatar – which is still the single highest-grossing movie in history. We’ve already worked with James Cameron to expand the storytelling into a spectacular newland called Pandora – The World of Avatar, which opened in Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando earlier this year, and are very excited by the opportunity to continue that relationship, especially related to the series of Avatar films he’s currently working on.
"We’re also looking forward to expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe to include X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool," Iger continued, "and to reuniting all of the Star Wars movies ever made under one roof again, which opens new opportunities for that iconic franchise."
The latter is a reference to the distribution rights to Star Wars: Episode IV, which until this agreement Fox had held in perpetuity, long viewed as an obstacle to the release of any "ultimate" collections of the saga.
Iger returned to the subject of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool in an afternoon call, in response to a question about whether Disney intends to change Fox's film strategy.
"Basically Fox -- 20th Century Fox Studios -- has some interesting tentpole opportunities, we obviously are going to continue to support that," he said. "What they've done obviously with Avatar, and what they did with Deadpool, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Planet of the Apes is another one. We'll stay in that business. Not all of it will be branded anything other than what it's branded today, as a for instance. How much we will create under that banner, we're still uncertain. It's going to take a while from a regulatory perspective. They'll continue to develop in that period of time and at such time as we close this deal and have control, we'll take stock and really look carefully at what their slate looks like going forward and how many movies it would make sense to make."
Iger was understandably vague, undoubtedly in no small part because the acquisition of Fox's assets isn't expected to be complete for another 12 to 18 months, pending the approval of federal regulators. But his comments underscore the uncertainty surrounding Fox's long-term plans for the Marvel Comics properties, and others. As we previously noted, the three X-Men films scheduled for 2018 -- The New Mutants, Deadpool 2 and X-Men: Dark Phoenix -- will still be released as planned, barring some unrelated issues. Beyond that, the slate gets a little hazy.
Gambit and X-Force are already in development, with the former further along than the latter, so they may indeed move forward under the Fox banner. But features like the New Mutants sequels, an X-23 spinoff and whatever the next move is with the troubled Fantastic Four series may be in Disney's hands.
Citing unnamed insiders, The Hollywood Reporter contends there will be casualties among Fox's superhero slate -- including X-23 -- once the deal goes through: “[Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige] is going to be asked, ‘Do you want to continues on these developments paths?’”