Word on the street is that Marvel and Fox have been in talks to trade the rights to two of the studios' most valuable properties: the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.
During last weekend's New York Comic Con, Marvel announced a trio of as-of-yet unnamed films due out in 2020 after the second half of Avengers: Infinity War. Yesterday, it was announced that Fox was developing two new live-action series, Hellfire and Legion, centered around plot lines from the X-Men.
Fox has gone on the record saying that they have no intentions of giving the Fantastic Four back to Marvel, but Sony said the same thing before it agreed to share Spider-Man with Marvel for next year's Captain America: Winter Soldier.
It stands to reason that the studios' respective projects are the result of a strategic deal in which Marvel's given Fox the television rights to the X-Men. According to Den of Geek, in exchange for mutants, Fox gave up the Fantastic Four.
If you think about it, as uneven a trade as that might seem, it actually makes a lot of sense for both production companies.
Back in '90s, before comic book movies were a force to be reckoned with, Marvel Comics was on the brink of bankruptcy. Rather than going out of business, the publisher sold off the film and television rights to a number of different studios. Sony ended up with Spider-Man, Fox got the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
When Marvel bounced back from the brink and began producing big-budget movies, it drew from its remaining catalog of heroes as its Cinematic Universe began to take shape.
Heroes that previously hadn't been quite as high-profile—like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America—became vehicles of success for the company, and Marvel gradually began the painstaking process of trying to re-acquire some of the heroes that it had sold years before.
Over time, Marvel regained the rights to Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Blade, as well as making a strategic deal with Sony to allow the studio to use Spider-Man. Still though, there was one property that's been out of Marvel's grasp: the X-Men.
Of all the pre-Marvel Studios superhero movies, the X-Men have, by and large, been the most financially successful and genre defining: Fox's seven X-Men films have grossed nearly $1.3 billion dollars for the company in the past 15 years, making it one of the studio's most successful franchises.
The Fantastic Four, on the other hand, hasn't served Fox nearly as well.
Depending on who you ask, none of Fox's Fantastic Four movies have been all that good. The original two, starring Jessica Alba and a pre-Captain America Chris Evans, were critical flops derided for their questionable choice in wigs and unintentional camp.
This year's gritty reboot helmed by Josh Trank held promise, but suffered from a number of production roadblocks, extensive re-edits, and a toxic relationship between Fox and Trank that ultimately left the movie in shambles.
2015's Fantastic performed horribly at the box office, bringing in a paltry $26.2 million its opening weekend. Even though Fox insisted that it still intended to produce a sequel, just how they planned on making it financially successful was a mystery.
This deal could solve that problem.
As Marvel proved with this year's Ant-Man, the studio is actually pretty good at picking out relatively unpopular characters and crafting narratives around them that people actually want to see. Even though the Fantastic 4 is Marvel's "first family," theirs isn't exactly a story that Fox has been able to tell. They're literally a family with a member made of rocks and a guy called Mr. Fantastic.
Even though the F4 have proven to be a difficult property to monetize for Fox, they could actually be quite valuable to Marvel for one reason: universal scope.
As camp as the F4 may be, their villains are actually some of the most interesting in Marvel's comic books.
Galactus, a cosmic being that devours entire galaxies, is a frequent foe to the F4 that Fox has never really been able to incorporate well into its films. After Captain Marvel and Infinity War, however, Marvel's heroes will be more than familiar with universal-level threats. Why not introduce Reed Richards and co. then?
In exchange for the foursome, Marvel seems to have loosened its stranglehold on the X-Men that it's not so subtly been side-lining in its comic books.
In its 2005 House of M event, nearly every mutant in the Marvel universe was robbed of their powers after the Scarlet Witch, a notable Avenger, used her abilities to erase mutants from existence. Since then, mutants and the X-Men have played a smaller role in Marvel's various company-wide story arcs.
Instead, Marvel has opted to focus more heavily on the Inhumans, a species of superhumans who bear a number of similarities to mutants. Like mutants, many Inhumans begin their lives as regular humans until undergoing a sudden transformation that imbues them with superpowers.
While mutants tended to manifest their abilities naturally during puberty, it used to be that Inhumans only transformed after being exposed to a special chemical called Terrigen.
A recent plot line involved a Terrigen "bomb" being detonated in Earth's atmosphere, activating large numbers of unsuspecting Inhumans. The Terrigen from that bomb, it should be pointed out, proved to be toxic to mutants, killing many, and rendering humans with dormant x-genes sterile.
Many X-Men fans have interpreted this as Marvel's continued commitment to hitting Fox where it hurts.
Part of what makes the X-Men property both valuable and tricky to wield is just how expansive it is. Even though Fox has done pretty well with the likes of Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique, it, in theory, could use any number of the hundreds of mutants Marvel's created.
Having the television rights to X-Men would give Fox the ability to work with the entirety of the mutant roster in a safer way, financially. Rather than risking introducing new characters or becoming too reliant on certain ones (see: Wolverine) Fox could easily originate new stories, actors, and ideas on the small screen before bringing them into theaters.
Only time will tell whether Marvel and Fox are really willing to play that nicely with each other, but if they do, rest assured that the age of watching heroes in spandex fight evil isn't ending any time soon.