“It was one of those rare business deals that became front-page news because it reached all the way from corporate boardrooms into people’s dreams and memories: On Monday, it was announced that the Walt Disney Corporation — owners of ABC and the Muppets, ESPN and Mickey Mouse, Pixar and Hannah Montana — had purchased Marvel Comics for a staggering four billion dollars. It came as a shock — reputed, reliable and industry-standard comics blogger Heidi McDonald noted that on Monday, her morning began with her fiancé literally shaking her awake to tell her the news. It was unexpected, but not unprecedented; after all, Time Warner had bought the DC comic-book line, home to Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman and Green Lantern in 1969 — but this was a much bigger deal, for a lot more money. Soon, the internet was humming with simple, silly sight gags — Donald Duck with Wolverine’s claws, Spider-Man’s distinctive red-and-blue webbing capped with mouse ears. But those pictures are worth far less than a thousand words; what does this deal really mean, and when will we see the ramifications of it play out on movie screens and your home theater?
The answers aren’t as easy as you think. Take, for example, the fact that the Disney deal doesn’t include the films Marvel Studios (the movie-making arm of Marvel Comics) has with Paramount Pictures. Paramount is contractually entitled to distribute, and share in the profits, of five more Marvel films — Iron Man 2 and 3, Thor, Captain America and the all-star superhero lineup flick The Avengers. Of these, Iron Man 2 just finished principal photography; Thor (a fantasy fable about an ordinary man who can become the vessel for the Norse Thunder god) has director Kenneth Branagh attached. And Captain America (the shield-wielding champion of the red, white and blue) has a director attached but no cast. Will Paramount want to distribute movies that, as of Monday, feed into a rival’s profit line?”