The Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, is an American media franchise built around a series of superhero films, each independently produced by Marvel Studios, and based on characters that have appeared in Marvel comic books. Some of these Marvel characters have had their own movies, or even an entire series of movies (see: Ironman, Ant-Man, Captain America, etc.). Others only play small roles within movies focused on different characters.
As you are probably well aware, there have been dozens of Marvel movies already, with countless more on the way. Yet, somewhat confusingly, not all of these movies are actually considered part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
So, why is this? Why aren’t all Marvel movies part of the MCU? As we’ll see, the simple answer is movie rights. But let’s dig into this a bit more.
Why Aren’t All Marvel Movies Part of the MCU?
The reason MCU excludes some Marvel movies is a bit confusing. Essentially, it involves the details of deals that had been previously struck between Marvel, Disney, Sony, and 20th Century Fox.
Years ago, Marvel Entertainment decided to sell the rights to some of its characters to the movie industry. Spider-Man was sold to Sony, and all variations of this extremely successful franchise have remained under their umbrella. Sony also own the rights to Ghost Rider.
Meanwhile, the X-Men were sold off to 20th Century Fox who, over the years, have greatly expanded from the original series to include all sorts of additional projects, such as the Wolverine movies, the Fantastic 4 series, and most recently, Deadpool.
Marvel also worked out a couple of other smaller deals. Universal got the rights to the Hulk, and Blade went to New Line Cinemas.
Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Where does Marvel Studios come into play? Well, eventually Marvel got wise to the fact that they were missing out on potential financial gain in the film industry. So in 2005, they established their own studio which would focus on creating films that were all part of a greater Marvel movie universe.
Marvel would work to reacquire some of the characters they had previously sold off, like the Hulk and other Avengers. This is part of the reason the Avengers have been such of focal point of the MCU.
X-Men, Deadpool, and the MCU
As mentioned earlier, the rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Deadpool all belong to Fox. However, Marvel originally sold these rights with the caveat that they could gain them back if a certain amount of time elapses without them being used in a film. This is why movies featuring these characters all continue to get made today. That, and all the money they earn, of course.
What About Spider-Man?
Spider-Man, on the other hand, is a special case all of his own. His rights were sold to Sony, but over time Marvel and Sony worked out a deal which allows Marvel to use Spider-Man in their films, with the small caveat that Sony gets final say in plot decisions regarding our web-slinging friend. So don’t expect a surprise Spider-Man death anytime soon.
So, while it can be confusing to remember exactly which characters belong to the MCU, and which ones never have, which ones sometimes do, and which ones are only loosely connected, the important thing for fans of the franchise is that there appears to be an endless supply of Marvel movies (and Stan Lee cameos) on the horizon. Trying to keep track can be half the fun.