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Marvel Characters Can Be Found at Universal and Disney Parks. Here's How Both Benefit

The awkward marriage of Disney and Universal

This situation isn’t an uncomfortable and inconvenient as it seems. In fact, it’s a great deal for Disney. Their primary competitor in Orlando, Florida, sells products featuring Marvel characters that make Disney money. Universal also has multiple rides based on Disney characters that heighten their appeal. That’s particularly true of Spider-Man, as The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man is one of the best dark rides ever made. In other words, the perception that this Marvel-Universal contract hurts Disney is not based in fact.

If anything, the situation is more awkward for Universal. They are the younger sibling with an inferiority complex about their older, much bigger sibling. Comcast recently purchased controlling interest of NBCUniversal for 16.7 billion. Disney market cap hovers around $175 billion. Universal is a bug attacking their windshield rather than a threat.

The inconvenience for Disney is that they bought a product with immediately limited applications. Disney has two core businesses, financials notwithstanding. It was first an entertainment maker in the fields of movies and television. Then, Uncle Walt expanded into the theme park industry by building the Happiest Place on Earth. The Parks and Resorts division is always integral to The Walt Disney Company. The fact that Disney couldn’t expand its newest brand, Marvel, into its theme parks was problematic in that regard.

The next theme park battle

Disney has done some things over the years that are best described as boundary tests. They have held a meet-and-greet for characters from Guardians of the Galaxy as well as Doctor Strange, being careful not to violate the terms of the contract by calling it a Marvel superhero event. They also added monorail tram ads for The Avengers and other Marvel films, and to the best of our knowledge, faced no legal action from Universal. 

When Universal signed a deal with Marvel, they were interested in several primary characters. The Guardians of the Galaxy were largely a punchline outside the comic book industry until the release of the 2014 movie of the same name. They weren’t part of The Avengers, and Spider-Man was never a member of that particular superhero group. Universal had no reason to care about those characters other than potential financial gains if they could prove that Disney violated the terms of the contract.

For Disney, they were offering a show of strength. They knew that the contract permitted Marvel characters on West Coast, the permanent home of Disneyland. But interestingly, they doubled down with the announcement that a Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster was coming to Epcot.

And that’s where the story gets more interesting. It’s also where the story ends for now. Universal has announced plans for a new Nintendo themed land in Orlando. It’s their next power move, a kid-friendly area that will sell a metric ton of merchandise and concessions. Many people love Nintendo in a rare and impacting way. Universal is laying the groundwork to move away from its current Marvel composition at Islands of Adventure just as Disney starts to add one.

Fifteen years after the Universal and Marvel parties signed the contract to bring Marvel Super Hero Island to life at Islands of Adventure, Disney became the full owner of Marvel. Universal has made sure to honor their part of the contract to maintain the rights to Marvel characters in perpetuity. Disney is now ready to introduce Marvel characters at both of their North American theme parks. How is this possible? And what will happen next? Stay tuned…

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There is 1 comment.

Good article. Thanks

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