Thursday, August 16, 2012

Theme Parks and Super Heroes- The Messy Side

Well folks, this topic has been going hog wild online the last few weeks so I suppose I may as well address the monster head on. Mostly because I'm tired of incorrect, nearsighted people who are completely convinced they know it all.

Now as I'm a female with only mild interest in the "Super Hero" franchises outside of what park owns what rights and how cool the ride/attraction is based on said hero. I'm going to happily stick a plunger to my husband and pick his brain on this matter.  Let's face it, I'm an 80's child so I have a rather well rounded education on all things "cartoon" growing up but I freely admit outside of knowing "Super Hero Name" and "Main Arch-Villain" is I'm fairly clueless. My Super Hero education comes entirely from playing war with the neighborhood boys growing up and what the movies tell me, this is where my husband comes in!
Some of you may know him, he writes Kitsuneverse which is all things Amine, Cosplay, Conventions and More. However for matters of this article, he's Mr. Know-It-All (do NOT tell him I said that, I'll never hear the end of it)! 

Okay, let's dive into this at the most logical start point I can think of.  That would be what theme parks own/operate the rights to what super heroes and/or franchises. Get comfortable, this is going to get rather convoluted rather quickly. Because let me tell you, we had a HELL of a time tracking all of this shit down and figuring out the crazy twisted path things take. We'll attempt to explain it to you all as best as possible and hopefully the dots will all connect in the end? Well, lets hope so cause we're onto something here!

The Players
Universal Resort:
Universal is undoubtedly the ten ton neon yellow gorilla in the corner. You know it's there but you tiptoe around it hopefully not attracting it's attention because it's probably a man-eater and most likely is hungry.
Universal Orlando Resort owns the rights to operate Marvel, or more exactly Marvel Superhero Island. Now to understand this you have to go back into the History of the park and when the concepts began. Originally Marvel Superhero Island was concepted to DC Superhero Island in 1991 but shortly after this someone else bought the rights to DC Comics in a theme park setting which knocked DC off the table (See Six Flags). During this same time, it's safe to say Marvel Comics was a company in very deep shit. As in they where nearly broke and very close to going out of business entirely, now here comes a giant resort with gobs of money who want to build attractions with your characters names slapped onto them. Your going to say "YES" and in 1995 when construction began on Islands of Adventure that's exactly what happened with their contact lasting until 2050.
Now things begin to get murky, in 2009 Walt Disney Company bought out Marvel Comics but I'll get to that under the Disney Section.
The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman at Universal Orlando

Six Flags Amusement Parks:
Before Six Flags got huge in the 90's they where mostly small regional parks, numbering only six parks scattered all over the United States. In 1984 Warner Brothers signed a licensing deal with Six Flags, Now at this point not a single one of us is thinking "Super Heroes" or even "Comics". No we're thinking Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Looney Toons which is what that initial deal was entirely about.  It was a fluke side effect the Warner Brothers also happens to own DC Comics and has since 1969, so naturally in 1991 when Warner Brothers/Time Warner bought a 50% share of all Six Flags Amusement Parks the rights to use the DC Comic characters came completely into play.
This successfully knocked Universal Studios out of the running for the DC Comic Characters (see Universal Orlando Resort)
Batman the Ride at Six Flags Magic Mountian

Paramount Parks:
Now while Paramount owns no rights to theme parks super heroes, they also come into play in this crazy mess. In 1993 Paramount Pictures when on a completely buying spree, acquiring 6 theme parks of their own.  Paramount is the parent company of Dreamworks/SKG which is licensed out to Universal Studios. Now in 2006 Paramount sold off their theme park franchise was the same time they purchased Dreamworks/SKG, not to be confused with Dreamworks Animation which is a seperate company but is distributed by Paramount.  Again at the same time owned all the distribution rights for Marvel until the Disney Company buyout of Marvel comics. This deal is to end in 2012 with Disney Company buying out the rest of their contacted rights to the movies.

Walt Disney Company:
Disney is the other ten ton neon pink gorilla in the corner and we know it's an established man-eater!
Now Disney has NOTHING to do with Super Heroes at all, they had no interested in them as they had a proven money-maker in the form of movies and princesses and theme parks long before anyone else thought to jump into the park game.
Now in 2009 Disney Company purchased Marvel Comics: Lock, Stock and Barrel. Many aren't entirely sure why exactly they went after and purchased Marvel, it's said the Iger is a fan and wanted to work the brand into Disney's vast library. Others say Marvel was just a logical fit for Disney who has been trying to expand their brand into more "boy" related things lately and Marvel and Super Heroes are the logical way to do this.. either way no one knows the true reasons behind the purchase.  So Disney now owns Marvel. Universal has rights to Marvel Characters and Paramount has rights to distribute Marvel movies.

This shit is messy. So let's break it down further, please keep in mind a LOT of this is pure speculation on our parts just based on knowing how these parks think and operate.

When Disney purchased Marvel, Universal found themselves in a unique bind. With their rival park and company now owning one of their key pieces, the contact came into play that they signed with Marvel. While Universal is allowed to keep the current rides they have and anything that was "On the Drawing Board at time of purchase" they are now stuck as they can't build or add onto the are Marvel Superhero Island.

Now onto the Speculation.

Universal now has a useless contact which they can't build upon without giving a rival a large sum of money if that would even work. Disney wants these characters but can't use them right now due to said existing contract.

 No one is happy, No one can build and the knifes are on the table. 
SHIT! Not again!


Here, have a pony!

Connecting the Dots.. 
Now, What does Universal Orlando have that Warner Brothers owns all distribution rights to? What is Universal Orlando's biggest draw right now.. that Warner Brothers owns all distribution rights to as well as the first four books? I'll give you a clue, it's MAGIC.

Universal Orlando struck gold with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, their printing money in the basement and can't spend it fast enough. Now Warner Brothers and Universal already have a good working relationship due to Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.  It's become much the matter of rumor these days that Universal and Warner Brothers are going to do something very sneaky, many of us suspect that they may make a deal to knock Disney right off their collective ass and stop making them money on the Marvel name.
Many believe that Universal is going to get their hands on DC Comics by making a deal with Warner Brothers, Allowing them to transfer Marvel Superhero Island into DC Superhero Island was originally planned. Now not a single person has any idea what this will mean for Six Flags who is no longer owned by Time Warner but who currently keep the rights for the characters owned by them.

Universal could make the deal with DC and easily change two parts of Islands of Adventure.
Marvel Superhero Island could easily transfer to DC Superhero Island, allowing new characters with no restrictions like Disney has upon them now. They could easily build and expand without having to worry about paying off the rival park and company.
Also they could easily add in another piece of Warner Brothers history into a park of Islands of Adventure which is drastically lacking:  Cartoon Lagoon.  They could add in the Looney Toon characters to their own, giving them a much bigger drawing power then the now antique characters their spotting today. Let's face it, most kids today haven't a clue who Duddly Do-Right and Woody Woodpecker are.. but they do know Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

At least, those are my own ideas and adding up of the current Gordian knot of tangles these relationships are between companies and parks and who-owns-rights-to-what.

Super Heroes.. Sometimes a problem
Let's face it, Super Heroes are big money at the moment and whoever holds the most popular of those characters is sitting on top of the world.. for now.

The problem with Super Heroes and the franchises around them in general is they are VERY easily lost. A few bad movies and your in trouble. Movie Studios will stop making these movies the moment they fail to make money, we've got a few examples of these that I can easily think of off the top of my head. 
Batman: We love Batman, he's damn cool. He doesn't need superpowers to kick your ass, he's got a million and one cool toys and all the money in the world to buy more! However we've had some bad turns over the years. We all remember "Batman Forever" or as I enjoy calling it: Batman and the Attack of the Neon Nightmare of 1995. It was horrible, it was a flop. They attempted to make it better with "Batman and Robin" in 1997 which really was even more horrible then the Neon Nightmare! This successfully killed the Batman franchise for years until 2005 when "Batman Begins" finally fixed the problem.
Spiderman: In 2002 Spiderman made a HUGE success of its-self, and Spiderman 2 was an even bigger hit. However the entire thing went down in a flaming pile of wreckage in 2007 with Spiderman 3.  It took another 4 years until Spiderman was made into something halfway decent again but even that wasn't the massive success of the  2002 version.

Proof that one or two bad movies can kill your franchise. People get paid millions and millions of dollars for trying to guess what "The Next Big Thing" will be, right now we're stuck on Super Heroes. What will happen next is anyone's guess and the Super Hero thing will fade for 10-15 years until it comes back for it's next reiteration.

Now I don't expect this to happen for at least about 5-10 years given the current trend and popularity but the fact we can't forget is it will end and this is something that these parks think about. They don't just look at what is popular today, they are looking 20-50 years into the future. Many of us call it "The Long Game" and that is what will dictate a LOT of what will happen between all of these theme parks and their huge deals counting into the billions of dollars.

So, what does it all mean?
In the end, until something is announced or a massive leak happens we're simply not going to know what these parks have on their drawing boards. We can speculate all we want, dream and hope our own personal favorite character will make an appearance at our favorite theme park in the form of an epic and groundbreaking ride. In the end Theme Parks and Super Heroes are a well twisted up puzzle.


  1. Isn't there enough money to go around. Ticket prices are ridiculously high. I guess it's more about power and greed?
    chad @ ITEC CO.

  2. I don't think ticket prices really reflect the fact that Disney purchased Marvel nor the twisted roads of "Who owns What rights" which this post was about.
    Yes, I agree that the ticket prices are a bit higher then they should be but unless people suddenly stop going all at once I doubt they will drop anytime soon.

  3. All people always want to know all about things that you have been described. It is very valuable & very nice posting!

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