Marvel Movie rights are confusing so let’s unpack it together

Everything happens for a (legal) reason.

words by: Alee Kwong
Sep 5, 2022

It may come as a shock to you, but Marvel Studios is not the end-all-be-all of Marvel Comics characters. While they own a considerable amount of characters, there’s still a handful that are either fully off-limits or have stipulations attached to their appearances. Although they’ve done a good job at making said restrictions seamless and nearly undetectable, questions are now being asked since the MCU is in its second decade, and bolder projects are in the pipeline.


Knowing which characters belong to which studio can be hard to keep track of. It’s not the most confusing thing in the world, but it does allow fans to understand why some of their favorites have been barred from appearing in the MCU, and why some never get their own solo project.




Spider-Man exclusively belongs to Sony. You’re probably asking yourself, “Then how is it that we have Tom Holland as Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?” Well, that has nearly everything to do with Andrew Garfield’s departure from The Amazing Spider-Man role


Spider-Man is a huge character to have your hands on; a golden goose that Sony will most likely never let go of. However, Sony needed the help of Marvel Studios (and their Disney money) to make more successful Spider-Man films. A deal was struck with Marvel Studios to participate in a joint venture. The MCU is allowed to have their own Spider-Man, but he must share a screen with at least one Marvel Studios-owned character, such as Iron Man and Doctor Strange.


Photo via Tyler Kirkham


Sinister Six

The notorious villain group, comprised of Spider-Man’s foes, also belongs to Sony. Sony has already taken advantage of this group by building them up, possibly leading to a full formation and face-off with Spider-Man. The formation began with Venom (2018) and will continue with a Kraven the Hunter film in 2023.


Photo via Marvel


The Incredible Hulk

Universal still owns the rights to The Incredible Hulk, and it looks like their relationship with Marvel Studios isn’t the best one. Fans have been waiting for the chance to see another standalone Hulk project (this time with Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk), but it doesn’t look like that will ever happen since Universal owns all movie rights to the character.


However, not all hope is lost for Marvel Studios. Universal only has the movie rights to the Hulk, which leaves television open as an infringement-free territory for Marvel Studios—meaning his appearance in She-Hulk could be the first of many to come.


Photo via Marvel Comics


Namor the Sub-Mariner

Sadly, this is another character held by the tight clutches of Universal. There have been rumors that the rights to Namor the Sub-Mariner, one of Marvel Comics’ oldest characters, have been absorbed by Marvel Studios, but there’s been no official confirmation. With the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever around the corner, there are questions surrounding the rights. It could be similar to the Hulk, where Namor is sharing the screen with Marvel Studios-owned characters.


Want to know the wild story of Andrew Garfield and his third Spider-Man movie (that never was)?


Photo via Sony Pictures/Marvel Studios