Why Marvel Can’t Come To Disney World

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The Avengers are assembling at the Disney Parks with Avengers Campus coming to Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort on June 4, 2021! But even though Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge came to both coasts, don’t expect the same to happen with Avengers Campus.

There’s actually something even more powerful than Thanos keeping the Avengers out of Walt Disney World — lawyers.

Due to a contract from the 1990s, there are rules for where Disney can utilize the Avengers at the Disney Parks; and with the opening of Avengers Campus just around the corner, I’m here to break it all down.

The Notorious Contract Keeping Marvel Out of WDW

Long before Disney purchased Marvel for a cool $4 billion, and even before Tony Stark said, “I am Iron Man,” Marvel signed a contract with MCA Inc. who owned the Universal Studios theme parks.

This, folks, is why we have that incredibly ’90s Marvel Superhero Island over at Universal’s Island of Adventure park and why you can meet a Thor and Captain America who look nothing like the characters from the MCU.

Now, due to this agreement, coupled with the fact Disney didn’t obtain all of Marvel’s licensing rights, Disney is severely limited in how it uses the Marvel name and what characters it can use at Walt Disney World.

According to the contract, any characters being used by Universal cannot be used by Disney in their parks east of the Mississippi River. And unfortunately for East Coast Disney guests, this agreement is perpetual as long as Universal continues to pay Disney who now owns Marvel.

A Tale of Two Spider-Men Rides

Now we know the rules, let’s clear up some other confusing aspects of Marvel at the theme parks starting with Spider-Man rides.

Photograph copyright Universal Orlando 2020.

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man attraction opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure park way back in 1999 (that’s why you won’t see Tom Holland or Zendaya).

But since the agreement allows Disney to use Marvel characters west of the Mississippi, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure is set to open with Disney California Adventure’s Marvel-themed land Avengers Campus (and yes, here you WILL see Tom Holland).

WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure in Avengers Campus inside Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, brings recruits to the Worldwide Engineering Brigade for an open house. Here, recruits team up with Spider-Man on an adventure throughout the Campus and experience what it’s like to have super powers as they sling webs to capture his Spider-Bots before they wreak havoc. Avengers Campus opens summer 2020. (Disneyland Resort)

So if you’re on the West Coast, there’s a Disney Spider-Man ride. But if you’re on the East Coast, the only Spider-Man ride is at Universal.

So Why Does EPCOT Get Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy?

So considering all those pesky legalities, you’ve gotta be wondering how Disney can build Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT, right?

(Disney)

Well, if you’re only familiar with Marvel movies, and not the comic books, you’re probably unaware that the Guardians of the Galaxy is a pretty deep cut from the Marvel library of comic book characters.

Therefore, the ragtag heroes aren’t technically part of the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, and aren’t already featured at Universal’s Superhero Island. This means the Guardians are free game for Walt Disney World to implement into the parks hence Cosmic Rewind and other appearances of the Guardians, such as short-term meet and greets at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and live performances at EPCOT.

Exceptions & Loopholes

Even though you can’t see Iron Man or Spider-Man at Walt Disney World, you have been able to see them aboard the Disney Cruise Line (in pre-COVID times that is) for Marvel Day at Sea events.

Disney Parks (Chloe Rice, photographer)

How? Well, these special Marvel-themed days onboard occur in international waters.

Guests may see more Marvel at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World since it’s not a Disney Park. This is why shoppers were able to find WandaVision cakes at Amorette’s Patisserie earlier this year, and it’s also why there’s a Marvel merchandise store called Super Hero Headquarters.

WandaVision Cake at Amorette’s

But did you notice that Super Hero Headquarters doesn’t include the Marvel name despite its selection of Marvel-themed merch? It’s for the sake of the agreement, as is the name Avengers Campus (sans the Marvel name) at Disney California Adventure.

Your #1 shopping destination for all things Marvel

Basically, it’s unlikely Disney World guests will be able to enjoy many Marvel-themed attractions or character interactions in the near future, especially considering the perpetuity of the ’90s Marvel contract. So if you’re looking to sling webs with Spidey, eat Shawarma like an Avenger, or train with the Dora Milaje, the Disneyland Resort is where you’ll need to assemble.

Have you been confused by the rules for where Marvel can be used by Disney and why? Do you wish there was more Marvel at Walt Disney World? Let us know in the comments! 

 

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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

6 thoughts on “Why Marvel Can’t Come To Disney World

  • April 21, 2021 at 12:17 pm
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    One big loophole that you’d thing could be exploited is the fact that the MCU didn’t even exist at the time that contract was created. That alone should allow Disney to have proprietary ownership of those characters as they appear in the MCU only. Somewhat like the joint venture between Sony and Disney for the rights to Spiderman

    Reply
  • April 21, 2021 at 1:18 pm
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    @Paul: The characters don’t “appear in the MCU only.” They appear in the Marvel comic books, and as noted above, were licensed to Universal for theme park use (similar to the Sony/Spiderman and Fox/XMen deals) well before Marvel had the idea to create an in-house movie studio, and LONG before Marvel was owned by a company that operates its own theme parks.

    If a given character is currently depicted in IoA’s Marvel area, Disney cannot use it inside the WDW theme parks. However, Uni is now restricted from *adding* new Marvel characters to IoA; if a given character is not *already* depicted there (e.g. the Guardians), it won’t ever be, and Disney is free to use it.

    Recall that, a couple years ago when Disney wrapped a monorail with Avengers graphics, it only rode the MK lines (which stay outside the parks), and never rode the Epcot line (which enters a park).

    Once you notice Disney Parks’ phobia around the word “Marvel,” you can’t unnotice it. They’ll talk about Marvel on the Disney Cruise Line at length, but as soon as talk turns to theme parks (even Disneyland), they will only talk about “Avengers” and “Super Heroes,” and will never ever use the word Marvel.

    Reply
    • April 21, 2021 at 1:42 pm
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      Yes, that is correct, but I was implying, much as you did, that the characters in IoA are nothing like the characters you see in the MCU. One would hope that an agreement could be reached between the two at some point that would allow each park to use the likeness of the characters in the platform they exist…. IoA more of the comic book type and Disney using the MCU

      Reply
      • April 21, 2021 at 2:34 pm
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        Except that Universal and Disney are competitors in the Orlando market, so any agreement between the two to use the same characters (even if each parks version of the character looks differently) just isn’t going to happen.

        The properties that are definitely out for inclusion at WDW are Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spiderman. Some other properties are a little fuzzy, like Dr. Strange (which appeared as a meet-and-greet at one time, but quickly disappeared). Black Panther seems like it may be one that could be used, but the character’s tie with the Avengers may be a little too close.

        The next generation of MCU movies is ripe for potential expansion into Disney World, though. Shang-Chi is a possibility (although I have to wonder if it may be a little close to Iron Man since both characters have close ties to the Ten Rings crime syndicate). If the Eternals movie is successful, that’s likely the next group that may find their way to Disneyworld.

        I also think Kamala Khan may be someone that would be a good fit for Disney, but unfortunately her superhero name is Ms. Marvel, and as already stated, Disney is avoiding the Marvel name at all of their parks.

        I’m done nerding out now (for a while, at least).

  • April 21, 2021 at 2:12 pm
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    This would be a good reason to finally build the long rumored midwestern park. Coastal Texas would have a year-round climate suitable for a theme park.

    Reply
  • June 23, 2021 at 8:57 am
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    I seriously doubt Marvel will be in Universal Parks in perpetuity. Between the fact that east coast families don’t want to see superhero characters as they appeared in the 1990’s, and the appearance of the marvel characters beginning to make the park look very dated, I would think Marvel will become a losing proposition for Universal, and they would want to cut their losses. At that point, they’ll be more than willing to strike a new deal with Disney. I’m sure we’ll see Black Widow and Doctor Strange at Disney world soon enough.

    Reply

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