It might surprise some people to know that Wolverine, Spiderman, and the Thing were all Avengers. In fact, the list of Marvel Characters that joined the Avengers was massive. Also, Spiderman often worked closely with the X-men. So why don’t we see Thor and Wolverine battling the Chi’tari together? Why doesn’t Spiderman sling into action against Magneto? Why haven’t we seen the Thing arm wrestle the Hulk?
Marvel, when it was an independent company, sold the rights to certain characters to movie studios. The agreement was that the character could be kept by the company so long as they consistently made movies. This ensured that only one company could make movies for the same character.
Disney bought Marvel in the mid 2000’s and slowly began to reel the copyrights back in. For example, after 2 Punisher movies, the rights returned to Marvel — or Disney, as Disney now owns Marvel. So now, only Disney can make Punisher movies.
That’s why we have the Spiderman reboot series. That’s also why we have an X-men movie being made ever couple years. So long as they keep making movies, they can keep the movie rights.
So who owns who right now?
Fox currently owns the rights to X-men and The Fantastic Four.
Sony owns the rights to Spiderman.
Disney owns virtually everything else, but they are focusing on the Avengers right now.
There’s also a clause saying that all related properties also belong to the company that buys the character. So Sony, owning Spiderman, also owns Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, etc. Disney can’t throw Venom into the Avengers movies. He belongs to Sony.
Certain characters fall in grey territory, such as Quicksilver. He was a long-time Avenger, but also the son of Magneto. So technically, both companies can use him. There aren’t many cases like this.
So why don’t the companies work together?
Simple answer: Money. The Avengers raked in 1.5 billion dollars. That’s without Spiderman’s help. If Sony were to allow Spiderman in the movie, they would want a cut of the profits. In short, it’s more profitable to simply go alone for now.
So will we ever see a cross-over?
Some would say that it’s possible. I would say it’s not probable. In a couple years, when everyone is sick of comic book movies, they might decide to throw in together and make a big movie as a final cash-in, but I somehow doubt it. So long as these movies are good, that day is still a long ways off.
It’s more complicated legally, but this is the short version. Thankfully, we can still watch Wolverine duke it out with Hulk in comic form. It’s not Ruffalo and Jackman, but hey, it’s something.