The Modern Age – What Does Fox’s Upcoming Deadline Mean For Future Daredevil Films?

By this point, most fans realize that although Marvel Entertainment has set up their own production company, realizing tremendous critical and popular success with this summer’s Avengers movie, Marvel does not currently have the film rights to all of the characters in the Marvel Comics universe. This sounds bewildering at first: why wouldn’t Marvel be able to make movies with all of their characters? One needs to think back to the 1990s, though, before the first X-Men movie. At that point, superhero films were not commonly made (or well done when they were made). The only successful superhero film franchises had been based on Superman and Batman. By contrast, while Marvel had had television series and TV movies based on their characters, it wasn’t until Blade (which is really more horror/supernatural than superhero) in 1998 and then X-Men in 2000 that they had successful film adaptations of their characters. Back then, Marvel had no production arm and sought partnerships with established film studios in order to get their characters on screen. So Twentieth Century Fox acquired the rights for the X-Men characters and the Fantastic Four (which made it to the screen in 2005 and 2007) as well as Daredevil and related characters (ultimately spawning the 2003 film and a frequently-forgotten Elektra movie in 2005). There was a protracted battle for the rights for Spider-Man, which had been sold and resold over the decades, and those were finally won by Sony. So this is why you won’t see Peter Parker, Charles Xavier or Reed Richards popping up in Avengers 2.

However, the rights to those characters only last so long if they are not used. That is why Sony rebooted the Spider-Man franchise so soon after the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire films. It was clear that the team behind those films wasn’t going to make another soon and if Sony didn’t make some kind of Spider-Man movie, the rights would eventually revert back to Marvel. Ditto for the reboot (sorta) that Fox did with X-Men: First Class. Reportedly, Fox is planning a new Fantastic Four franchise helmed by director Josh Trank, who made the recent offbeat superhero/found footage movie Chronicle. Otherwise, they would lose those rights. Daredevil, however, hasn’t been on screen in nine years and if Fox does not begin production on a new Daredevil project by this October, their rights to the character expire and they revert back to Marvel and its new and now potent film wing.

There had been speculation for a while that David Slade (30 Days of Night, Twilight: Eclipse) would direct a new version of Daredevil. When he dropped out, director Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) seemed to indicate that he wanted to make a film version of the famous Frank Miller-penned storyline “Born Again” set in 1973. However, Carnahan recently all but admitted on Twitter that his version of Daredevil will not be made by Fox. With little more than a month left and no other feasible options, it looks like Fox will not make another Daredevil movie. The character will go back to Marvel Studios, so what does that mean for his film future?

If Marvel does re-obtain Daredevil, he could conceivably be used in a future Avengers movie. This would have seemed like an odd place for him because he has typically stayed out of team books. However, he did recently join the New Avengers, so it is possible. Still, I think it’s somewhat unlikely that he would show up in the Avengers franchise for two reasons: 1) Most of his story history and characterization is that of a loner. 2) There are many other characters more typically associated with the Avengers who would seem to more logical choices to include in the films. Additionally, although Marvel has thus far focused on the Avengers franchise and related characters, their “Phase II” seems to indicate a willingness to make movies set in the Avengers universe though not directly tied to the movie. Down the line, that could lead to movies for Luke Cage, Dr. Strange, or Black Panther. Daredevil could be included in that group, as well.

There was some Internet excitement about Carnahan’s sizzle reel for Daredevil (a vision of the film made using comic art and clips from other movies) and speculation that perhaps Carnahan could make his vision of the movie with Marvel. While that remains a possibility, I have some reservations about Carnahan and his vision. It always struck me as odd to set a storyline written in 1986 in 1973. I understand the “gritty New York” vibe, but why exactly that year? Also, it would seem like a strange decision by Marvel to waste a character they had just re-acquired by setting his movie in the past, making him unusable in future studio film crossovers. Finally, I did have some nervousness about the style, too. I understand the motivation to make Daredevil dark and gritty. It’s a part of what makes Miller’s 1980s work on the series so compelling. However, as we can see throughout the comics world, there is a fine line between interesting dark and gritty and boring dark and gritty. Carnahan’s sizzle reel had potential, but I also could see it easily becoming a grim and violent exercise like the Punisher movies.

If Marvel Studios does acquire Daredevil, what type of movie should they make? Bringing up filmmaker names at this point would be pure conjecture and rather pointless. However, there are the stories. Marvel Studios has shown themselves to be respectful of the history of stories within the comics. And although Daredevil may not be considered a top-tier hero by some, there has been an impressive line of writers work on the book. Besides Miller’s exemplary initial run, he later contributed “Born Again” and the Man Without Fear miniseries, both great. Brian Michael Bendis wrote some very original DD stories, marrying and “outing” Matt Murdock as Daredevil. Ed Brubaker then put an outed Daredevil in prison. Currently, Mark Waid is writing some really sharp stories. I’d add that an underrated writer for the character was Ann Nocenti in the late 1980s. So there is a large amount of strong material Marvel could adapt. That’s why my personal preference would be to forgo a movie altogether and instead focus on a dramatic television series that could tell long, complex story arcs. Combining a crime series, legal drama and action pieces would definitely be a challenge, both in terms of tone, budget and pacing. If done right, though, it could become a tremendous series that operated in a small corner of the Marvel cinematic universe while still being connected to that larger world. Since there is no precedent for this type of show, this currently seems less likely than a solo Daredevil movie, but it’s also not inconceivable. In any case, Marvel Studios has earned some faith with the quality work they’ve done with their characters so far, so I am excited to see what they could do with the prodigal lawyer/blind crime-fighter. It has to be better than Ben Affleck in red leather.