What If… Marvel had owned all their characters from the beginning?

What If… is a self-indulgent look at how things could have been. I take an event or a rumour and let my imagination run wild. It’s rarely based on fact and completely based on guess-work and conjecture.

Marvel made the decision to sell of their properties very early on. It made sense back then and many different studios decided to cash-in, buying the rights to Marvel’s biggest characters. Sony took Spiderman, while Fox hold the rights to both Fantastic Four and X-Men. This left Marvel with what would be considered the “minor or second tier” superheroes. Using their fairly low-key, unknown elements, they crafted, created and launched the biggest superhero franchise ever known. What if they had never sold their characters though. What if they could have launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe with all their pieces in tact?

We have to imagine that if they held the rights to all their heroes, they wouldn’t start with Iron Man. No well-run, money hungry studio would. Marvel would reboot and start their Cinematic Universe with their most popular and recognisable hero – Spiderman. It is much less risk and actually a better “in” for any regular, non-comic audiences they wanted to attract. You would hope they would produce a film at least as good as Raimi’s and that made more coherent sense than Webb’s (although I do really like those films) that would end with exactly the same post-credit sting as Iron Man’s: Peter Parker at home, thinking his identity is safe when Samuel L Jackson emerges from the shadows to ask his about The Avengers Initiative.

You’d have Nick Fury emerge to talk to Spiderman instead…


I don’t see the line-up changing much from there. You stick with the recognisable but the ones that follow The Avengers pattern. Next would be The Incredible Hulk. Edward Norton giving a decent and under-appreciated performance as Bruce Banner and his Green, rage-monster alter-ego. The interesting thing is that Tony Stark hasn’t made an appearance yet so this post-credit sting would have to be Nick Fury again – meeting General Ross about The Avengers.

Where would Marvel go next though? We have now replaced Iron Man 1 with Spiderman so this is where things begin to look more like they do now. I see Iron Man coming next. Robert Downey Jr in all his glory and the movie being the huge success it was. In fact, even more of a success than before because it has Avengers momentum behind it.

You’d still have that Hammer in the desert…


The post credits sting would be the Hammer in the desert – next comes Thor. Again, the same thing, Chris Hemsworth delivering the performance we all love and bringing the Asgardian warrior to the fold. This would then lead us to Captain America – Chris Evans and a movie that does a job but will hardly blow anyone away.

That is Spiderman, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America: The Avengers. Except Our Avengers don’t look The Avengers we have today. In our franchise we haven’t been introduced to Black Widow yet because we removed Iron Man 2 (thankfully). This means we have to use The Avengers to introduce two new characters to the team. This is possible and very do-able (they have done it with Age of Ultron) but not ideal. Our Avengers has Spiderman in though – so that could make up for it!

Imagine if you could then see these characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe


Marvel handled the movies after The Avengers very well but in my Cinematic Universe, they own another ensemble movie team. The next movie I would imagine Marvel would introduce is X-Men! X-Men, in the same universe as The Avengers. They would have their own contained story until Fury appears to arrest/detain the mutants at the end of the film – making an enemy of the X-Men (more on that later).

Sequels come next so we would have the inevitable Spiderman 2, Thor 2, Iron Man 2 and Captain America 2. All these would have their contained stories but each would hint at a bigger rivalry and could even address the new emergence of Mutants in the Marvel Universe. It would lead very nicely to a very different Avengers Sequel – Avengers vs. X-Men!

Imagine a movie version of this event…


This would now lead to a very different Phase 3. So far we haven’t had Guardians of the Galaxy and in this new Cinematic Universe they wouldn’t exist. Thanos wouldn’t be the big villain that is taking on the whole universe in the third instalment. Here we introduce the next, new team – The Fantastic Four. This is where we get galaxies, space and other dimensions.

Sequels to other movies would follow – Captain America could get Civil War, introducing Black Panther and other lesser-known heroes (Ant-Man maybe) and even unmasking Spiderman ready for his third movie! Thor would get Ragnorak and X-Men could do a decent job of the Phoenix saga. All this time, a single character would making his way towards Earth – The Silver Surfer.

You’d get a proper version of this character on-screen


Avengers 3 would be a Marvel Cinematic event. Everyone would be drafted in to finally take on Galactus! You don’t get much bigger a villain than the “eater of worlds” and it would take characters from all over the Marvel Universe to help fight and finally destroy the villain and round off three phases of a very ambitious and probably successful movie franchise.

Overall, to be honest – I’m glad Marvel sold their biggest characters. If they still owned and could include the X-Men, Spiderman and Fantastic Four, we wouldn’t have room for The Guardians of the Galaxy, a decent portrayal of Black Widow or future Ant-Man and Doctor Strange movies. We would also lose the good X-Men sequels and the greater story that is being told. It makes you wonder what kind of franchise we would have had if these characters could have been included from the beginning – especially Spiderman, who is now being brought into the fold but has had a pretty rough and patchy ride to finally get there.  

You can’t really argue with the Cinematic Universe we already have though!



4 thoughts on “What If… Marvel had owned all their characters from the beginning?

  1. A neat idea, but I think you’d run into trouble asking an audience to pick sides in an Avengers vs. X-Men movie. There’s not a ton of room in a 2.5-hour movie to get the nuance of both sides legitimately wanting what they think is best, which has a lot of potential to lead to “my favorite versus your favorite and neither of us leave happy” Honestly, I’m not even sure how confident I feel about Civil War, let alone something as big as this.

    I think stories like that work GREAT for comics and books and television, but I’m just not sure about movies, where the inclination and expectation is “good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and the heroes win while the villains slink away.”

    1. I have high hopes for Civil War because the work has been done (or at least set-up) in the previous movies. Tension between Iron Man and Cap has already been established and it won’t take long to build two dividing armies. It only takes a few small battles and one huge battle and with a running time or 2.5 hrs, a lot can be accomplished. It’s movies like Dawn of Justice which has done no character development or built any real intrigue that will struggle with the issues you mentioned – which is why I’m much more excited for Civil War than Batman vs Superman.

  2. The biggest casualty in all this has definitely been the FF, which have struggled with decent, but not great films and a third that doesn’t have me optimistic at all.

    1. I’m reserving judgement on it but certainly not as excited as I am for usual superhero fare. Its a shame too because in the hands of Marvel studios, it could have been great.

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