Why Marvel Can’t Make a Namor Movie | Popgen Tech
In Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” we’re introduced to a terrifying new villain named Namor. Played by Mexican actor Tenoche Huerta, Namor comes from an underwater community, his life defined by subjugation and colonization. At one point, he explains the origin of his name: Kung love means love, then he is an outcast (a mutant) hunger for love. No love. Namor. He is loveless, a loner. He is also in debt. Because Marvel Studios doesn’t really control the character.
The situation around Namor goes back to the pre-Marvel Studios/pre-Disney era of making movies out of Marvel Comics characters, before the studio streamlined and controlled intellectual property. Before Marvel Studios made “Iron Man” its own independent film production, the company had a habit of licensing or selling the rights to characters to other studios – the X-Men went to Fox, Spider-Man went to Sony, etc. And Namor is one of the characters that is still controlled by another studio.
It’s not that Namor won’t return to the MCU, as “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Nate Moore confirmed to TheWrap: “He could come back” — but Disney won’t be able to make a standalone movie about the character.
So what’s the deal?
Well, Namor’s situation is similar to Marvel Studios’ deal with Universal for the Hulk. He also cannot star in his own film because Universal Pictures has the rights to the same character. And he cannot appear alone in marketing materials, unless it is part of a series of posters. We spoke to “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” producer Moore about the situation and he acknowledged that Namor was “borrowed” like the Hulk.
“Honestly it affects us, and not to talk so much outside of the school, but in how we market the movie rather than how we use him in the movie,” Moore said. “There’s really nothing we couldn’t do from a character standpoint for him, which is great because obviously, we took a ton of inspiration from the source material, but we also made some big changes to really anchor him in that world. in the fact that the publication did not really go in, I would argue, in a big way.”
Moore praised co-writer/director Ryan Coogler for the material and how legal formalities didn’t affect that reconfiguration. “I’ve read every Namor comic ever written and I love them, but the world of Atlantis is a little vague. Maybe Roman is nice. And so, Ryan is such a detail-oriented filmmaker that he wanted to anchor it in something that felt as tangible and real as Wakanda’s hopes for the people. And I don’t think there’s anything from a business side that’s stopping us from doing that, which is great,” Moore said.
Namor’s first circulated appearance was in “Marvel Comics” #1 in October 1939. Also known as the Sub-Mariner, he was an underwater baddie (part of the lost city of Atlantis), who later reformed and became a hero. (The character in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” certainly seems, by the end of the film, on the path to redemption.) Morally ambiguous, Namor oscillates between hero and villain depending on the needs of the storyline or whatever giant Marvel crossover event. is happening at that time.
In the late 1990s, when Marvel was facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the company founded Marvel Studios, then run by chairman/CEO Stan Lee and president Avi Arad. A contemporaneous Variety report at the time stated that Marvel “dispersed most of its heroes among studios across town” by licensing the use of its characters to different studios for a fee.
Fox is developing “Fantastic Four” with Chris Columbus scripting and Pete Segal (“Tommy Boy”) directing, planning a “Silver Surfer” standalone movie (to be directed by Australian auteur Geoffrey Wright) and has- Bryan Singer locked down for “X-Men”; Universal has “The Rocketeer” director Joe Johnston to direct “The Incredible Hulk” and is working on “Luke Cage” with John Singleton (what so?!); and the report also mentions a “Venom” movie with a David Goyer script at New Line Cinema, along with “Doctor Strange.” (Elsewhere, Nicolas Cage is still hoping to play ” Iron Man.”)
At this point, Marvel Studios attached, of all people, Philip Kaufman, who directed “The Right Stuff” and worked on “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” to a “Namor: The Sub-Mariner” movie. In 1997, no studio did. But Marvel is desperate. In 1999 and six months from bankruptcy, Sam Hamm, famous for his script for Tim Burton’s “Batman” (which effectively started the current age of superhero cinema) signed on to write the “Namor” script (in this point Kaufman is still attached to the direct). In 2001, The Hollywood Reporter noted that Universal Studios had acquired the rights to “The Sub-Mariner.” THR says the “project, which aims to be a major franchise for the studio, is expected to be released to writers soon.”
In 2002, Entertainment Weekly reported that Universal had hired David Self to write the Namor movie and that it would hit theaters in 2004. Later that year, Marvel Studios formally announced that a Namor movie was coming. It was their next project together after Ang Lee’s “Hulk” in summer 2003. In December 2004, Chris Columbus (there he was again!) was formally attached to produce and direct, working from Self script. In 2005, Columbus passed away. The following year, Jonathan Mostow, who directed “Breakdown” and “U-571,” was hired and in 2009 he told Collider that development was progressing.
Of course, in 2009 the Marvel Studios machine revved up, starting with 2008’s independently produced “Iron Man.”
When asked about the character Namor in 2013, Marvel Studios President (and its grand engineer) Kevin Feige said that Universal still owned the rights and therefore he would not appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since then, there has been much confusion, with conflicting reports about who exactly owns the character (or aspects of the character). On the eve of the Disney/Fox merger in 2018, Feige acknowledged the confusion surrounding Namor: “I think there’s a way to probably figure it out but there is — it’s not as clean or clear as most of the other character.” A few months later, Feige said there was a way for the character to appear in the MCU. (Universal still holds the distribution rights.)
This kind of complex maneuvering is nothing new at Marvel Studios; Universal’s control over the Hulk means that no Hulk standalone film or series can be developed at Marvel even though his stature has only grown in the years since Mark Ruffalo began playing the character in 2012’s “The Avengers.” (The one Hulk-centric film released within MCU continuity — 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” with Edward Norton — was distributed by Universal.)
It’s not that Disney doesn’t play well; the company allowed the characters from “Unbreakable” to be used in a pair of Universal movies – “Split” and “Glass.” And in 2005, NBCUniversal traded sportscaster Al Michaels (who wanted to jump ship from Disney-owned ESPN’s “Monday Night Football”) for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character created by Walt Disney before Mickey Mouse but controlled by Universal.
So, yes, you’ll see Namor make a splash again, with the partnership between Universal and Marvel Studios continuing … swimmingly.