Marvel Rights Issues Almost Kept Namor Out of the MCU

The rights to Marvel's Namor are almost as complicated as the Sub-Mariner himself. The aquatic anti-hero — created by Bill Everett for the failed pilot issue of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly, later widely reprinted in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939 — is under the ownership of Marvel Entertainment and its parent company DisneyPlayed by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta as the ruler of the underwater kingdom Talocan (instead of Atlantis), the hybrid mutant makes his first live-action appearance in Marvel StudiosBlack Panther: Wakanda Forever, in theaters on November 11th.

EW's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever cover story notes that "rights issues" prevented Marvel Studios and director Ryan Coogler from introducing Namor in 2018's Black Panther, which would have teased the character's arrival in a post-credits scene that went unused.

Dating back to 1997 — before New Line Cinema's Blade, Fox's X-Men, and Sony's Spider-Man adaptations took the box office by storm in the late 1990s and early 2000s — Marvel Studios and then-president Avi Arad developed Namor: Sub-Mariner with filmmaker Philip Kaufman. At a time when the rights for such characters as Iron Man and Captain America were scattered across studios like New Line and Artisan Entertainment, respectively, Namor landed at Hulk (and later The Incredible Hulk) studio Universal Pictures in 2001.

For nearly a decade, Marvel Studios and Universal developed a Namor the Sub-Mariner movie that Marvel would produce and Universal would distribute, as they did with 2003's Hulk and 2008's The Incredible Hulk. (The live-action Hulk rights are part of a deal between Marvel Studios and Universal: while Disney's Marvel has character rights, Universal holds distribution rights to any stand-alone Hulk movie Marvel might produce.) 

In 2014, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige told IGN answered "no" when asked whether Universal and Legendary Entertainment could still make Namor. Asked if Marvel Studios could produce a potential Namor movie, Feige said, "Yes, but it's slightly more complicated than that. Let's put it this way – there are entanglements that make it less easy."

"There are older contracts that still involve other parties that mean we need to work things out before we move forward on it," Feige said at the time. "As opposed to Iron Man or any of the Avengers or any of the other Marvel characters where we could just put them in."

By 2018, Feige again told IGN that the Namor rights are "not as clean or clear as the majority of the other characters" who are fully under Marvel's control (like Iron Man, Thor, and Black Panther) or involved with another studio (like Spider-Man at Sony). Later that year, post-Black Panther, Feige confirmed Marvel Studios could use Namor in the MCU — but it was yet to be decided when or where he might surface.

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Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opens in theaters November 11th.