Could Marvel Knights Be Disney's R-Rated Label?

The Walt Disney Company has officially purchased 21st Century Fox's film and television divisions, giving Disney ownership of the Fantastic Four, X-Men and Deadpool properties.

Per Disney's official press release, the acquisition "provides Disney with the opportunity to reunite the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool with the Marvel family under one roof and create richer, more complex worlds of inter-related characters and stories that audiences have shown they love."

James Mangold, director of Fox's R-rated X-Men standalone Logan, expressed concern Monday about the deal, expressing a belief the deal would lead to "less movies."

“The real thing that happens when you make a movie rated R, behind the scenes, is that the studio has to adjust to the reality that there will be no Happy Meals. There will be no action figures,” Mangold said. “The entire merchandising, cross-pollinating side of selling the movie to children is dead before you even start. And when that’s dead, it means you’re making a grown-up movie.”

The R-rated Logan — heavier and more mature than standard superhero fare — is the highest-rated X-Men film and grossed $616 million worldwide. The swansong for X-Men franchise stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the brutal superhero drama saw Wolverine and Professor Xavier meet bloody ends — a kind of creative freedom not allowed by other studios because of merchandising, according to the filmmaker.

“We’ve now so co-opted this idea that these movies are not really stories, but are merchandise entities,” Mangold said. “You can’t kill the characters because they’re worth so much effing money.”

Disney-owned Marvel Studios explores adult territory on the Netflix side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders and The Punisher all carry TV-MA ratings — but Marvel Studios' big screen output up to this point has been strictly PG-13.

Fans have embraced Fox's R-rated X-Men outings — Fox's first, Deadpool, made nearly $800 million worldwide — and while a lot of fans are responding positively to the news, others are sharing Mangold's sentiments.

Kingsman creator Mark Millar has called the deal "bad for Fox," saying "beautiful gambles" like Deadpool are "never happening at Disney."

Fox did take a gamble on an R-rated Deadpool (with a relatively low $58 million dollar budget) after heavy campaigning from fans and leading man Ryan Reynolds, and while Disney has yet to wade into R-rated territory with their big screen Marvel properties, it's not out of the question: after all, Marvel did innovate the concept of the modern cinematic universe, and they've exhibited a willingness to take "beautiful gambles" of their own with untested properties like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has confirmed the Marvel Cinematic Universe will "expand" with the future inclusion of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and Deadpool, though it's currently unknown if Reynolds — and the merc with a mouth's raunchy attitude — will be retained.

Disney has shown an aversion to meddling, even with their biggest properties — Disney is largely hands off, entrusting key figures like Kevin Feige and Kathleen Kennedy to operate Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, respectively — and with the Deadpool sequel poised to be a hit this summer, it's unlikely Disney prematurely ends the viable Deadpool franchise.

Walt Disney Pictures releases Marvel Studios' blockbusters, but Disney is no stranger to adult fare: a then-Disney-owned Miramax produced an entire catalogue of R-rated movies like Pulp Fiction and Scream, while Disney's Touchstone distribution label has produced movies like Con Air and Armageddon.

Marvel Comics launched the "Marvel Knights" imprint in 1998, that allowed darker, more mature and experimental takes on Marvel properties, including Daredevil, Elektra, the Punisher and Wolverine — all characters who have already been the focus of R-rated or TV-MA iterations in movies and television.

Deadpool and then Logan have already made it clear there's a big, hungry audience for R-rated superhero tales, and the TV-MA Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and the Punisher have all spawned multiple seasons — the audience exists.

Instead of segregating its mature fare to the small screen — for now, that corner of the MCU automatically lands at Netflix — a newly launched Marvel Knights banner would allow Deadpool to continue on as-is, and would open even more doors for Marvel Studios.

Like Miramax or Touchstone, Marvel Knights would be Disney-owned without baring the Disney name.

Deadpool and other rated-R properties could be integrated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe under the new banner, allowing Marvel Studios to make R-rated movies starring characters lie Wolverine, Blade, Ghost Rider and Moon Knight — all operating in and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.