Marvel Studios is no longer forcing actors to sign multi-movie contracts, which fixes five major MCU problems that developed before Phase 4.
Marvel Studios’ new contracts fix several Marvel Cinematic Universe problems for Phase 4. When the MCU first began, Marvel’s grand plans for the shared universe meant convincing its biggest actors to sign multi-film contracts. Samuel L. Jackson and Sebastian Stan famously signed nine-movie deals, while Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth agreed to six-movie contracts to lead the MCU and the Avengers franchise. The days of these lengthy and daunting MCU contracts are gone, though.
The actor contracts Marvel Studios used in the past essentially tied an actor to the MCU for a decade, as Marvel had options for sequels, cameos, prequels, TV appearances, and so on. But now that the MCU is shifting its focus to a new batch of heroes, stars like Brie Larson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simu Liu, and Oscar Isaac are operating under new contract practices. They are not locked into contracts that give Marvel Studios the power to demand they appear in any of the upcoming MCU movies or TV shows. Instead, Marvel is focused on shorter contracts. Oscar Isaac’s MCU contract only contained Moon Knight season 1, for instance, which means Marvel Studios will have to renegotiate with him if they want to make a second season, a movie, or have Moon Knight appear in another project.
It is a big change for the MCU to make and one that might not seem like the best move to some fans. While they were certainly helpful in ensuring that certain actors and characters would be key players in the Infinity Saga, they created other problems for Marvel Studios, the shared universe model, and even the fan experience. It will be better for Marvel Studios to use these shorter actor contracts, as they fix five MCU problems in the process.
Marvel’s Shorter Contracts Are Better For MCU Actor Availability
One of the MCU problems fixed by Marvel’s new contracts is the availability of actors. Under the old contracts, the careers of actors involved in the franchise essentially belonged to Marvel Studios. The MCU’s ability to contractually require Anthony Mackie or Don Cheadle to make small cameos in Phase 2 projects meant they needed to stay in constant communication with Marvel. In some instances, the plans that Marvel Studios had for certain actors and the legal hold they had over them could force actors not to be involved in other projects. At the very least, it could create scheduling headaches for everyone involved if an actor was needed for an MCU movie but wanted to do anything outside the shared universe. Taking a look at Robert Downey Jr.’s filmography is evidence enough, as he did little else besides playing Iron Man for nearly a decade.
Thanks to Marvel’s shorter contracts, this will no longer be an issue. Actors will have greater freedom to pursue other projects and also undertake physically transformative roles. For instance, Wyatt Russell was able to shed his US Agent muscle after The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to land a role on Under the Banner of Heaven. It also can mean that actors do not have to pick and choose between being in the MCU and other franchises. Kit Harington has a Jon Snow Game of Thrones sequel show lined up at HBO even though he just debuted as Black Knight in Eternals in 2021. The starring role in the HBO series could limit Black Knight’s MCU future, but it is a project that likely would not have happened this soon if Harington was locked into a long Marvel contract.
Marvel’s Contracts Avoids MCU Characters Appearing Death Proof
These new Marvel contracts also help the MCU fix an older problem related to stakes and character deaths. The MCU’s long-term plans and roadmap of what is coming next have long been a strength, but fans are also almost too much in the know at some points. Many criticized Avengers: Infinity War‘s “deaths” for Spider-Man and Black Panther since it was known this would not be the end of their MCU journies. The original Marvel actor contracts also helped fans know if certain characters were actually dead, but it also meant many had an understanding that certain characters would not die. It was a bit more difficult to believe Iron Man was in any real danger before Avengers: Endgame thanks to Downey’s massive contract. The new Marvel contracts have already paid off in that regard, as uncertainty remains whether Scarlet Witch died in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness since Elizabeth Olsen is not officially signed on for multiple other appearances.
Marvel’s Contract Change Stops Actors Being Tied Into Roles They Don’t Want
Another benefit of Marvel’s contract change is that actors will no longer be tied to roles they are not interested in. While the majority of MCU actors enjoy their time with the shared universe, there are other examples of performers not liking the direction of their character or the experience overall. Hugo Weaving famously hated playing Red Skull due to the makeup requirements, while Natalie Portman grew unhappy playing Jane Foster because of a lack of storylines for her. Both had contracts that could have meant Marvel could bring them back on a whim. Marvel Studios ultimately played nice and did not force unhappy actors to return, but this will be even less of an issue thanks to the new MCU actor contracts.
There is also the side of the coin where actors who are ready to stop playing their superhero parts can exit the franchise more easily now. Major stars like Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, and others expressed a sense of growing tired of their roles in the past. Even Tom Holland said he could be done playing Spider-Man after Spider-Man: No Way Home, which marked his sixth appearance as the web-slinger in as many years. Each of them still had major roles to play, though, and Marvel found ways to get them excited to return so they could fulfill their contractual obligations. With the six and nine movie deals no longer happening, Marvel Studios is better positioned to accommodate unhappy actors.
Marvel’s New Contracts Necessitate Better Stories
Marvel’s new contracts should also help necessitate even better stories for the MCU and its characters. Without having the contractual obligation to return, actors will instead be enticed to return based on how their characters are used and the story they are involved in. Marvel Studios has already had some success with a similar model for Iron Man’s story. Robert Downey Jr.’s Marvel contract ended after Avengers: Age of Ultron originally, which meant Marvel had to convince him to return for Phase 3 based on the story. This is where the Russo brothers first pitched Downey on the idea of Tony Stark’s arc, starting with Captain America: Civil Warcontinuing in Avengers: Infinity Warand culminating with Avengers: Endgame. Most will agree that Iron Man’s MCU sendoff was perfect, and that was due to the overall plan for it and Downey’s excitement to perform. Marvel essentially got him to agree to a shorter three-movie contract based on this pitch, so there is evidence that the MCU’s new actor contracts could help facilitate other exceptional stories for its various characters.
Marvel’s Shorter Contracts Avoid Scaring Away Major Stars
The new Marvel actor contracts also avoid an issue the MCU has faced in the past with scaring off certain stars. Joaquin Phoenix playing Doctor Strange is one of the most notable examples. He was close to starring in Doctor Strange many years ago, but he reportedly walked away from the negotiations late in the game due to the multi-movie commitment. Even Chris Evans stated the length of his Captain America contract nearly caused him to pass on the role. By going with the shorter contracts, Marvel Studios will be better positioned to continue attracting major stars. Oscar Isaac might not have signed on to lead Moon Knight if it was the first MCU project in a nine-project contract, but now that he played Marc Spector’s alters, he’s excited to keep playing him. The MCU contract changes can now mean other stars can join the shared universe without concerns about what it means for their future.
More: Is Elizabeth Olsen’s Marvel Contract Over? Will Scarlet Witch Return?
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