The Movie Rights To The Addams Family Have A Shady History

If December is the season for cheesy Christmas rom-coms, October is Addams Family time. It's hard to strike a balance between dark and wholesome, but to my mind, no one does it better than the devoted gothic family. Dreamt up by cartoonist Charles Addams, the on-screen Addams clan wasn't afraid of what others might think — their only care in the world was each other. Unfortunately, this attitude was only half-shared by Charles Addams' second wife, Barbara, a woman whose morbid actions certainly turned a few heads (though they didn't always seem to be driven by love).

The second Mrs. Barbara Addams (Charles Addams' first wife was named Barbara, too) was a shrewd lawyer who put her argumentative skills to good use, winning cases inside the courtroom and franchise rights at home. A biography on the cartoonist revealed that Mrs. Addams convinced her husband to give her the movie and television rights for the fictional Addams family. This was no small gift, especially considering how many adaptations have been produced. But while it's tempting to brush the gift off as a token of love, things seem a little more sinister behind the scenes.

Around the same time, Mrs. Addams convinced her husband to take out a life insurance policy of $100,000, which is equivalent to ~$1,100,000 today. Morticia and Gomez may have reveled at the thought of "inhuman" pain, but at least their love for each other was crystal-clear. On the other hand, according to the biography, Charles Addams was allegedly so startled by the life insurance policy that he secretly consulted with his lawyer. Although the cartoonist would escape with his life (he divorced Barbara Addams a couple of years into their marriage), he never regained the film or television rights to his spooky family.

Trouble followed the Addams family movie rights

All things considered, Barbara Addams didn't make much use of her adaptation rights. Eventually, she'd sell them to Orion as the studio attempted to create a movie, though the half-completed project would in turn be sold to Paramount. Some of the rights would then be passed around a couple of other studios, including Universal Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But new directors had to be careful: as the creators of "The Addams Family" (the 1991 movie) would soon learn, acquiring the underlying rights was only half the legal battle.

With so many different iterations of Addams family content, it's only natural that each new project would put a slight spin on things. But what happens when a new personality trait or two becomes a key part of a character? Are those traits included in the licensing rights down the road? Well, no ... or at least they weren't before, but they might be now. It's all very confusing.

If your head is spinning, you're in good company: in 1992, David Levy, the creator of the '60s television show "The Addams Family" filed a lawsuit against Orion and Paramount because the studios' 1991 movie included Addams family developments (both individual traits and entire characters) that were established in the hit television show, rather than Charles Addams' comics. It was looking less and less likely that Thing and Cousin It, both of which were created by Levy, would be returning in the movie's sequel. Eventually though, Paramount and Levy would reach an out-of-court agreement. Since Thing has already been spotted in Netflix's upcoming Addams project "Wednesday," it's pretty safe to say that some of Levy's creations have been integrated into the licensing rights — but when dealing with the macabre Addams family, you never know what to expect.