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Who Owns the Movie Rights to Kingpin?

Daredevil #117 (2009) cover by Marko Djurdjevic

We recently updated our infographic on the Marvel live-action rights and one big question was left unanswered: Who owns the rights to produce a live-action movie or television series using Kingpin?

Wilson Grant Fisk of the most powerful criminals in New York City. The character was created by Stan Lee and John Romita Sr., and first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #50 (1967). The "Kingpin" name comes from the organized crime nickname for a crime lord or boss. Fisk rules the underworld with a combination of cruelty and charm frequently wearing a tailored suit, ascot, and cane.

His signature appearance is of a massive man with a bald head. While it appears that he's fat he's actually solid muscle. Why is kingpin so big? On the official Marvel page for Kingpin they say, "his enormous size is comparable to that of a sumo wrestler". He's displayed incredible feats of strength despite having no superpowers. Like an Olympic wrestler, he's trained his body to be able to lift 600 pounds. He fights Spider-Man who has super-strength to a standstill and his bulk allows him to survive 

The comic book character was created as a Spider-Man villain but in the 80's writer/penciler Frank Miller reinvented the character as a scheming crime lord who was above the law. Starting in Daredevil #170 (1981) the character soon became more closely associated with Daredevil. The blind superhero and lawyer Matt Murdock fought Daredevil in and out of the courts. In the comics, Fisk discovered Murdock's secret identity and became obsessed with ruining his legacy.

The comic book character had a number of Marvel animated appearances starting in 1967 with the Spider-Man animated series continuing through Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and beyond. But his first live-action appearance was in the live-action 1989 television movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk based on the 1970's television series The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby. In the movie Banner is put on trial for murder and Matt Murdock takes the case to defend him in court. As the secret superhero Daredevil Murdock fights the evil plans of the crime boss played by John Rhys-Davies. 

The live-action rights to Kingpin have gone through several paths. As I said before Kingpin was created in a Spider-Man comic book. Based on the rights optioned by Sony Pictures he was included in the movie rights they purchased from Marvel. Reportedly Sony owned the film rights to Spider-Man and 900 related Marvel Comics characters since 1998. It's said the studio can keep them as long as they release a new "Spider-Man" movie every five years and nine months.

Who owns the rights? In 2003 Kingpin appeared in the live-action feature film Daredevil portrayed by Michael Clarke Duncan. The movie was produced by a rival studio Twentieth Century Fox but the rights were still owned by Sony. The studio allowed them to use the character since he was closely associated with the "Man without Fear" than the web-slinger. This was confirmed by Avi Arad when asked about it in 2012. Arad was talking to SuperheroHype about the upcoming Andrew Garfield film and potential villains for the sequels. The co-producer said, "Believe it or not, Kingpin was on loan to Daredevil, so again, anything that is part of the Spider-Man Universe or introduced in the Spider-Man Universe–without getting too legal beagle here–is an opportunity, and if we have a story that Kingpin is important, I’m sure we can handle that."

Further confusing the matter in 2014 Marvel Head Kevin Feige told IGN Movies, "Kingpin we either have or somehow share. I’m not 100 percent clear on that one." So not even the head of Marvel didn't really know. In 2015 Netflix debuted their live-action television series Daredevil and Kingpin is a major villain in the show. This was mainly because of the strength of Kingpin's role as a Daredevil villain. 

Netflix had purchased the rights to several characters including Daredevil. Does Netflix own the rights to Daredevil? It's complicated but the simple answer appears to be both Netflix and Sony had the right to use Kingpin. In December 2020, the rights to Daredevil returned to Marvel Studios. Does that mean Kingpin is returning as well? It's still not clear. It's possible that Sony still owns the rights and hasn't challenged Marvel on it. Or it's possible that the rights are in a shared position that Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and Namor were in. 

Scarlet Witch was fair game for Marvel as long as they didn't mention mutants or their mutant father Magneto. The MCU got around that by changing their origin to experimentation with the Mind Stone. The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver situation was resolved by Disney, which owns Marvel, buying Fox Studios and the licenses. So it appears that Kingpin is shared by Marvel and Sony. Marvel could use Kingpin as long as they didn't mention Spider-Man and as long as it was on television Sony didn't feel a need to fight it. But Spider-Man was loaned out by Sony for the MCU. It looked like it was fair game to use Kingpin, but now Marvel's relationship with Spider-Man is changing since Sony decided to stop Marvel from using him in the Marvel universe. So what now? 

Until Marvel announces the Kingpin is coming to the MCU we don't know the status. But until he's announced as part of the shared movie and television universe of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we have to assume Wilson Fisk is squarely in the hands of Sony.

Based on the Wikileaks documents of the Sony-Marvel contract Kingpni and Jessica Drew and specifically named as being shared by Marvel because of the contract:
Non-Exclusive To SPE [Sony Pictures Entertainment]. SPE and Marvel share the following: 
“Kingpin” and related characters listed on the attached Schedule 7B, but SPE may not use any of these until after Fox’s production rights to Daredevil expire. Marvel’s use of Kingpin is restricted to use in connection with Daredevil and other characters with which he appeared prior to 9/15/11. 
“Jessica Drew” and specifically listed related characters. SPE may depict Jessica Drew as Spider-Woman, and Marvel may only use her without any Spider-Man-related elements.
Marvel and SPE must each notify the other of any intended use of these shared characters. 
So this means Wilson "Kingpin" Fisk, and by extension Jessica Drew, are shared by both Sony and Marvel and they can join the MCU as long as it's related to Daredevil.

About the Author
Maurice Mitchell has been a passionate science-fiction fan of movies, television, books, and comics since age five. He and his twin brother Nigel created the site "The Geek Twins" to share that passion. Maurice has written and created infographics for sites like The Geek Twins and About.com. His work has been featured on sites like Business Insider, io9 Slashfilm, and more.
Read more of his posts | Follow him on Twitter @Mauricem1972 

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