The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday that it struck a $52.4 billion, all-stock deal to acquire 20th Century Fox and other assets from Rupert Murdoch's media empire. The transaction has a total value of $66.1 billion, with Disney assuming $13.7 billion in 21st Century Fox debt. As part of the agreement, Disney CEO and chairman Bob Iger extended his contract for two more years.
"The acquisition of this stellar collection of businesses from 21st Century Fox reflects the increasing consumer demand for a rich diversity of entertainment experiences that are more compelling, accessible and convenient than ever before," Iger, whose tenure was meant to end in 2019, said in a statement. "We're honored and grateful that Rupert Murdoch has entrusted us with the future of businesses he spent a lifetime building, and we're excited about this extraordinary opportunity to significantly increase our portfolio of well-loved franchises and branded content to greatly enhance our growing direct-to-consumer offerings. The deal will also substantially expand our international reach, allowing us to offer world-class storytelling and innovative distribution platforms to more consumers in key markets around the world."
The acquisition has been rumored for weeks, and many fans wondered how the deal would possibly impact the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For decades, 21st Century Fox has owned the rights to comic book characters from Deadpool, Fantastic Four and X-Men; the current MCU currently licenses characters from properties like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. Due to complicated copyrights, both studios have used different versions of characters like Quicksilver.
Phase Three of the current MCU will end on May 3, 2019 with the fourth Avengers film. Beyond that, it's possible that Disney—which acquired Marvel Studios and 5,000 of its characters for $4 billion in 2009—will reboot the MCU with characters from its entire stable. According to Thursday's press release, "The agreement also provides Disney with the opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof and create richer, more complex worlds of inter-related characters and stories that audiences have shown they love." The key word is opportunity, meaning nothing is set in stone—or planned—just yet.
Chris Evans, who played superheroes for both Disney and Fox, previously joked about the acquisition on Twitter. "So who do I talk to about a Cap/Human Torch buddy comedy spin-off?" he joked last week. "I'm thinking Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Parent Trap." Ryan Reynolds, who plays the titular antihero in Fox's Deadpool, also joked about the possibilities, writing, "Time to uncork that explosive sexual tension between Deadpool and Mickey Mouse."
When reports of the acquisition circulated in November, Reynolds asked, "If this is true, I wonder how the fudge it would affect Deadpool?" Iger addressed that very question in a shareholders call Thursday. "It clearly has been—and will be—Marvel branded. But we think there might be an opportunity for a Marvel R-brand for something like Deadpool," he promised. "As long as we let the audiences know what's coming, we think we can manage that fine."
Fox currently has several Marvel projects in various stages of pre- or post-production, including Dark Phoenix, Deadpool 2, Gambit, Multiple Man, New Mutants and X-Force. It's unclear at this point how involved Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige will be involved in shaping those films—but considering his track record with the MCU, it would be foolish not to use his insights.
Fox once licensed Daredevil, but it allowed those rights to expire, enabling Disney to later produce a popular Netflix series about the blind vigilante. Sony is now the only outside studio licensing major Marvel characters, though it leant Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to 2016's Captain America: Civil War. As part of that deal, Marvel got a producing credit on 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Iron Man for the summer blockbuster. Sony has announced a sequel to that movie, slated for release on July 5, 2019, and an animated feature film—Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—is set for a theatrical debut on Dec. 14, 2018.
Sony is also developing live-action features involving Black Cat, Silver Sable and Venom—all characters who appeared in the Spider-Man comic books. Tom Hardy's Venom will come out Oct. 5, 2018, while the Black Cat and Silver Sable film is currently set for a Feb. 8, 2019 release.
"We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox, and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry," Murdoch said Thursday. "Furthermore, I'm convinced that this combination, under Bob Iger's leadership, will be one of the greatest companies in the world. I'm grateful and encouraged that Bob has agreed to stay on, and is committed to succeeding with a combined team that is second to none."
As part of the deal, Disney will get the rights to films like Avatar and shows like The Simpsons.
Read all of the details on the acquisition here.