Why Can Universal Use Marvel Characters in Its Theme Parks?

Universal Adventurer

Spiderman Riding In Marvel Superhero Island Universal Islands of Adventure

One of the most popular lands at Universal Orland Resort is Marvel Superhero Island, a land based on Marvel Comics and many of the most iconic superheroes from the company. But why does Universal have the rights to these characters when Disney owns Marvel?

Understanding this requires some knowledge of Universal history, and Marvel history from the time before they were purchased by Disney.

Universal Studios Florida Arch Park Entrance

When Universal was exploring building a second theme park in Orlando, plans were included in the earliest versions of what would eventually become Islands of Adventure for a land based on superhero comic book characters. This was always a major part of the plans, although the exact contents of this land were constantly being redesigned during the development process for this park.

The earliest plans actually involved a DC Comics-themed land, featuring attractions based on characters like Batman, and using then-recent films as inspiration, but eventually, these plans would be scrapped when DC characters became associated with Six Flags, meaning the rights were no longer up for grabs for Universal.

Marvel was selected mainly due to the issue of rights, being significantly easier to acquire. At the time Marvel was an independent company, not associated with any that owned a theme park, and would enter into an agreement that allowed for the opening of Marvel-themed attractions at a variety of their theme parks.

Hulk Roller Coaster Loop Marvel Superhero Island Universal Islands of Adventure

The deal exists with several key conditions that still cause implications to this day. Universal has the right to use any characters currently featured in the park, but it can lose those rights based on certain situations. If they stop using characters they will lose them in the given region. If they stop paying for the characters, or use them in a damaging way, they can lose access to the characters. Beyond that, the deal exists as long as Universal wants, with them in complete control of any potential end to the deal.

Through the deal, Universal not only had exclusive rights to characters they used, but their character families as well. For instance, the use of Captain America would also prevent Disney from using Peggy Carter, as well as the Avengers.

Universal also has exclusive use of the world Marvel in theme parks. This means Disney could not use this name in any attraction, shop, or land names even where they can use the characters.

Marvel Superhero Island would be the most elaborate addition, but not the only Marvel-themed attraction in Universal Parks. A stage show would run in Universal Studios Hollywood, but it was short-lived and when it closed, Universal would lose theme park rights to Marvel characters west of the Mississippi River. A Spiderman ride exists in Universal Studios Japan as well, although it is the only Marvel ride, so the extent of the limitations of the rights on Disney are much smaller.

Green Goblin Character Marvel Superhero Island Universal Islands of Adventure

Today Universal has exclusive rights to most Marvel characters in the US east of the Mississippi River, preventing Disney from using a vast majority of Marvel characters, including the Avengers, at Walt Disney World. As of right now, the only characters known to be allowed by the deal in Walt Disney World are the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. This situation will only change if Universal wants it to change, and there are no signs of that happening anytime in the foreseeable future.

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