Long ago, Marvel Entertainment Inc. told us that “with great power comes great responsibility.” I hope they’re ready to eat those words. On Monday, Disney announced that it had aquired Marvel Entertainment Inc. for $4 billion. The news has sent shock waves across the internet, as legions of comic book fans continue to slip into hopeless despair. Spiderman will not save us this time–not when he is the intellectual property of the villain.
The news smarts like a Hulk smash to the chest, but anyone who actually believes a Jonas Brothers/Fantastic Four crossover is in the works doesn’t understand Disney. Disney did not become one of the world’s leading consumer giants by turning everything they touch to infantile dribble. Disney owns nearly a hundred subsidiary companies, each of which caters to a highly specific market demographic. Disney would never risk a shortfall to its profits by threatening the integrity of the Marvel Universe. What will happen, however, is that Disney will exert its newly acquired control upon preexisting Marvel franchises.
Consider how important Marvel characters have become in Hollywood. Sony has milked the Spider Man tit since 2000, while 20th Century Fox practically lives off its ever-expanding X-Men universe. The only major Studio that doesn’t own at least one former Marvel character is Warner Brothers (but they’ve got DC all to themselves). Comic book films (particularly Marvel) have become the lifeblood of most major Hollywood studio. And with Disney behind the reins, executives better start padding their kneecaps for some serious groveling.
No doubt this was a smart purchase for Disney. But was it smart for Marvel? Just a few years earlier Marvel completed a $525 million non-recourse debt financing so that Marvel Studios could self-produce 10 films. In 2008, License Global Magazine reported Marvel as the world’s fourth largest consumer brand, responsible for $5.7 billion worldwide sales. And Marvel earns a dramatic 40 percent return on its investments.
I believe the reason Marvel sold could be more distressing than the acquisition itself. Since the explosion of Spider Man onto movie screens in 2000, comic book movies have become a mainstay of summer blockbusters. But nine years later, how much juice can they still squeeze? Most of the popular characters have already been portrayed, and sequels can only go so far. As for new blood, the only truly intriguing development Marvel had for the future was their ambitious Avengers project. Beyond that is anyone really yearning for an Ant Man movie? The annals of cinematic history are lined with the corpses of Elektra, The Punisher, Daredevil, and numerous others who prove that movie goers will not tolerate shoddy adaptations, or esoteric, unrelatable characters.
Marvel may have anticipated an eventual bottoming out of the market. If the demand for comic book movies does happen to decline in the coming years, then Marvel will have sold at the perfect time.
What do you think? Why did Marvel sell out so badly? And was it the right move?