Fishy Situation: What Exactly Is The Deal With Namor’s Movie Rights?
The movie rights for Namor The Sub-Mariner have been up in the air for years now, with confusion over whether he currently resides at Universal, Marvel Studios, or elsewhere. This confusion was seemingly put to an end this week as Joe Quesada asserted that Namor is back home at Marvel Studios --- but just how did the rights for one of Marvel’s oldest characters become so entangled?
Talk of a Namor movie first surfaced in 1997, and several scripts were written but ultimately unused, and the character was optioned by Universal in 2001 at a time when the superhero boom was just taking off thanks to the likes of Blade and X-Men. Marvel was recovering from near-bankruptcy at this point, and the sale of the movie rights to characters including Hulk, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four helped keep it afloat.
Development of a Namor movie stalled for several years until 2004, when Christopher Columbus was brought in to direct a film based on a script by David Self. Columbus left the project a year later and was replaced by Jonathan Mostow, but again the project was seemingly dead in the water (sorry) for a number of years.
In 2012, at a convention in the UK, Joe Quesada claimed that the rights to Namor had lapsed and reverted to Marvel Studios. Paul Rubin, a concept designer, gave an interview to ComicBook.com where he talked about his work on Universal’s Namor movie, and described his planned approach.
“...it's a little bit medieval, it's a little bit of a fairy tale kind of a setting both in the social structure and also in the way everything is designed. To take that and to find a cool, science fictional grounding for it...”
In 2013, Kevin Feige confirmed that Namor was still at Universal while answering questions about the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was briefly rumored that Vin Diesel may be playing the Sub-Mariner, due to some vague yet specific language used in an interview while talking about meeting for a possible role in Marvel Studios’ phase three.
“It was even talking about something so big that I can’t even talk about, because it’s like a merging of brands in a way, which I won’t get into.”
The wording of “merging of brands” drove some to speculate that Vin Diesel would be playing Namor in a collaboration between Marvel Studios and Universal. At this point, he may have been talking about Guardians of the Galaxy, as he wasn’t yet cast as Groot, but that was a movie in phase two, and Diesel has said he may appear elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a live-action capacity, but he's usually linked to the role of Black Bolt in Inhumans.
In May 2014, it was rumoured that Universal Studios and Legendary Pictures were teaming up to make a Namor film, but that was refuted less than two weeks later by Kevin Feige, who said in an interview with IGN that Marvel once again had the rights to Namor... but it was still a complicated matter they were working to untangle.
“Yes, but it’s slightly more complicated than that. Let’s put it this way – there are entanglements that make it less easy. There are older contracts that still involve other parties that mean we need to work things out before we move forward on it. As opposed to an Iron Man or any of the Avengers or any of the other Marvel characters where we could just put them in.”
These complications probably explain why Namor, like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, has been absent from all recent Marvel video games and animation.
This week Joe Quesada confirmed that he thinks the rights are back at Marvel in his interview with Kevin Smith, but he was rather uncertain in his language.
"I can't speak for studios... As far as I know, yeah we do. It’s not at Fox, it’s not at Sony... Yeah."
Joe Quesada is Marvel’s chief creative officer, so the rights to the characters are certainly in his remit, but the answer isn’t as definitive as some fans may like, and Quesada has been wrong on this matter in the past.
When asked whether fans might see Namor in the movies soon, all Quesada would say is that he cannot confirm or deny, which still leaves the future of the character in doubt. It doesn’t make much different which studio has the rights to a character if there aren’t any plans to utilize him, but does the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have room for the king of the seas, especially with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman on the horizon?
Whatever Namor’s future holds, perhaps its best he not appear on the big screen, lest he be played by another white guy named Chris, and not the literal perfect casting that is Ian Anthony Dale.
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