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Fox, Disney and Sony all own Marvel superhero properties. The bulk of the characters are over at Disney, while Sony controls the world of Spider-Man and Fox very tightly holds onto X-Men and Fantastic Four. But the very first Marvel superhero, back from the days when they called themselves Timely, is still not spoken for. That would be Namor the Sub-Mariner, and for the longest time the suggestion was that the rights to the character were over at Universal. But talkative Marvel head Kevin Feige is here to debunk such thoughts.
IGN recently sat down with Kevin Feige to talk about whether Marvel and Disney were free to make a Namor movie, and his answer was yes. Basically yes. With a caveat.
It’s slightly more complicated than that. Let’s put it this way – there are entanglements that make it less easy. There are older contracts that still involve other parties that mean we need to work things out before we move forward on it. As opposed to an Iron Man or any of the Avengers or any of the other Marvel characters where we could just put them in.
How vague. Rights issues can become quite complex. One studio likely doesn't just "own" the rights to something. It's why Marvel owns the rights to Spider-Man in print and on television, wheres Sony can only make the movies. Some rights expire. Some exist in perpetuity. Namor might be the one situation where highly sensitive legal documents are confusing or contradictory, with Feige still waiting for someone a bit more qualified to inform him who can make a movie featuring the character.
Perhaps this is a similar arrangement that Universal had with the Hulk. After the disappointing performance of 2003's Hulk, Universal allowed the film rights to lapse back to Marvel. However, when Marvel made The Incredible Hulk years later, Universal still distributed. Apparently, the studio had worked out a deal where the production rights to a Hulk movie had expired, but not the distribution rights. Marvel's negotiations to ensure this wouldn't happen again with Hulk or anyone else were, and may still be, something of a corporate nightmare.
In other words, perhaps Marvel has negotiated some, but not all rights, to Namor, and are just continuing to negotiate with Universal, who also has the powerful Legendary Pictures on their side. The end result could very well be a lot like The Incredible Hulk, where Universal distributes a movie made independently by Marvel and Legendary. Or maybe Marvel is negotiating a deal to gain sole, complete rights to Namor by leaving Universal out of the loop.
Or maybe no one is in a rush to make, or watch, a Namor movie. Like, at all.