The Skrulls rights

Before they rolled the dice and went it on their own with Jon Favreau‘s Iron Man, Marvel made some crappy deals with other movie studios which to this day prevent a large chunk of their characters from appearing in the now Disney-produced Marvel Cinematic Universe. The most obvious are Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, Deadpool, and Spider-Man (Marvel famously made a deal with Sony to produce Spider-Man: Homecoming, allowing Peter Parker to be part of the MCU).

But those rights also include many of the characters from those comic books. The whole thing is very complex, and ownership usually is determined by which comic book series the character first appeared in. For many years we believed the Skrulls rights to be locked up by 20th Century Fox, but apparently Marvel still owns the rights to some of the Skrulls.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn recently appeared on the Pointless Podcast (via io9) and talked briefly about the legal ownership of some Marvel characters. In the interview, Gunn clarified a long-standing misconception: Marvel could use the Skulls in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — they just can’t use all of them:

Marvel only partially owns Skrulls, and also for the record, we don’t own the Badoon either. So people were asking why we have the Sakaarans in the film, we don’t own the Badoon.

Gunn originally had the Badoon in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. You can even see concept art created for the film featuring the Badoon. But Marvel determined that 20th Century Fox owned the rights to those characters and the Badoon soldiers who were replaced in the film by the Sakaarans. Gunn further clarified on Twitter after being asked by fans:

This means that while some specific Skrulls are owned by 20th Century Fox, Marvel is able to use the Skrulls in a future Marvel Cinematic Universe movie if they see fit. Over 100 different Skrull characters have appeared in the comics and animated series, and while it might be too complicated to sort out here which ones belong to Fox through the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, it seems like Marvel would have enough characters left over to include in a film if they chose to.

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Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the race of extraterrestrial shapeshifters first appeared in Fantastic Four #2 published in January 1962. They have featured in many stories over the last half century, usually trying to invade Earth. They notably have been engaged in a prolonged war with the extraterrestrial Kree, who appeared as the main villains of Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s obvious why the comics have often returned to the Skrulls over the years. They can change their appearance to resemble anything or anyone, which allows for some dramatic reveals. And now that we know they could be used in the MCU, you’d better be questioning the motives of every character on screen, because they could secretly be a Skrull in disguise. Or even the dramatic death of one of your favorite characters? Might just be a Skrull. It’s happened a lot of times in the comics, giving Marvel an out for some pretty incredible cliffhangers. Hopefully they aren’t employed in that way in the movies.

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As for the ownership of the other Marvel characters, I present the over-simplified graphic created by The Geek Twins. Here is a way more extensive, but not complete, listing of character ownerships:

20th Century Fox

  • Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom/Victor von Doom, Human Torch/Johnny Storm, Invisible Woman/Susan Storm, Mr. Fantastic/Dr. Reed Richards, The Thing/Ben Grimm, Nova/Frankie Raye, Alicia Masters, Willie Lumpkin
  • X-Men Mutants: Agent Zero/Maverick/David North, Angel/Warren Worthington III, Arclight/Phillippa Sontag, Beast/Dr. Henry Phillip “Hank” McCoy, Blob/Frederick J. Dukes, Bolt/Christopher Bradley, Callisto, Colossus/Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin, Cyclops/Scott Summers, Deadpool/Wade Wilson, Emma (Grace) Frost, Jean Grey/Phoenix, Juggernaut/Cain Marko, Gambit/Remy LeBeau, Glob Herman/Herman Gardner, Iceman/Bobby Drake, Jubilee/Jubilation Lee, Katherine “Kitty” Anne Pryde, Kestrel/John Wraith, Lady Deathstrike/Yuriko Oyama, Leech, Magneto/Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, Mastermind/Jason (Wyngarde), Multiple Man/James Arthur Madrox, Mystique/Raven Darkholme, Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner, Phat/William Robert “Billy-Bob” Reilly, Professor Charles Xavier, Psylocke/Elizabeth “Betsy” Braddock, Pyro/St. John Allerdyce, Quill/Max Jordan, Rogue/(Anna) Marie, Sabretooth/Victor Creed, Sebastian Hiram Shaw, Silver Fox, Siryn/Theresa Rourke Cassidy, Spike, Storm/Ororo Munroe, Wolverine/Logan
  • X-Men Non-Mutants: Drake Family (Steven, Madeline, Ronny), Grey Family (Dr. John, Elaine), Henry Peter Gyrich, Robert Edward Kelly, Dr. Moira Kinross MacTaggert, Dr. Kavita Rao, William Stryker, Bolivar Trask, Warren Worthington II

Sony Pictures

  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man/Peter Parker, Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius, Green Goblin/Norman Osborn, (New) Green Goblin/Harry Osborn, The Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors, Sandman/Flint Marko, Venom/Eddie Brock Jr., Vulture, Mysterio, Kraven the Hunter, Black Cat/Felicia Hardy, Silver Sable, Electro/Max Dillon, Rhino, Carnage/Cletus Kasady, Sinister Six, Shocker, Chameleon, The Gentleman, Dr. Ashley Kafka, Beetle, Betty Brant, Dennis Carradine (Buglar), J. Jonah Jameson, Ben Parker, May Parker, John Jameson, Joseph “Robbie” Robertson, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson, Mendel Stromm, Flash Thompson, Allistair Smythe, Spider-Slayers, Miles Warren/Jackal,

Marvel Studios

  • Most other Marvel characters
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