'X-Men' creator preps own films
Marvel Entertainment invented the X-Men - but Fox is raking in the lion's share of this weekend's box office. That's why Marvel is ready to launch its own film slate.
The much-anticipated X-Men: The Last Stand pulled in a boffo North American box office of $107 million this weekend. You'd think that would be good news for Marvel Entertainment (Research), the creator of the X-Men comic-book series, which has seen films based on its characters gross more than $3.6 billion to date.
But Twentieth Century Fox, the film studio that produced and released the movie, is raking in the lion's share of the X-Men film's profits. Marvel is set to make well under 10 percent of the gross profits under a licensing deal it struck years ago.
Those licensing deals are history, however. Marvel is hoping to mutate from comic-book publisher to Hollywood studio, producing films based on its comic-book heroes by itself.
To that end, Marvel has regained movie rights to Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk and tapped top-drawer film talent to help launch its first wave of self-produced films, due to hit theaters in 2008:
• Jon Favreau will direct and co-write Iron Man.
• Zak Penn, who helped develop X2, Fantastic Four, and X-Men: The Last Stand, will write a new screen version of The Incredible Hulk.
• David Shelf, the screenwriter for Thirteen Days and Road to Perdition, is penning a script for the all-American super-soldier Captain America.
• Andrew Marlowe, screenwriter for Air Force One, End of Days and Hollow Man, will write Nick Fury, Marvel's superspy series.
• Screenwriter Mark Protosevich of The Cell and this summer's Poseidon will bring a Norse god to the big screen in Thor.
With those writers on board, Avi Arad, CEO of Marvel's film division, has proved that the company can attract creative talent even without a major Hollywood studio's backing. Now, he's got to get Wall Street to pony up more cash.
Already, Marvel has borrowed $525 million to finance its filmmaking venture, but that deal didn't include the Hulk or Iron Man films. Industry insiders believe that Marvel will either negotiate with Merrill Lynch, which structured the original deal, to expand the existing loan to cover the new films or seek a new one from Merrill or another bank, but nothing is certain yet, and Marvel may end up funding the films itself, a risky move that would weigh heavily on its balance sheet.
And while the existing loan protects Marvel from losses if any of its self-made films bomb, Marvel could lose control of the film rights to its characters under certain circumstances. Getting outside financing for movies based on the Incredible Hulk and Iron-Man characters could put those properties at risk, too.
But to Marvel's Arad, the risk is worth running. Why? Look no further than the two Spider-Man films Sony produced, which grossed nearly $1.6 billion at the box office. Marvel is estimated to have received just $75 million of that. Under licensing deals, Marvel misses out on most of the lucrative payoff from DVD sales - a market it hopes to tap by making its own movies.
"Nobody knows better how to make our characters come alive for audiences," Arad told Business 2.0 earlier this year. "We just want to get paid for it."
'X-Men' knocks out 'Da Vinci Code.' Read more.
Marvel's movie-making plans got a close-up in May. Click here.To send a letter to the editor about this story, click here.