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Who Owns the Live-Action Rights to Marvel's Daredevil?

Read on to find out who owns the live-action rights to the superhero Daredevil.

Recently Netflix canceled the series Marvel's Daredevil. This surprised everyone since it's the flagship of the Netflix Marvel Universe and just finished the third season. Everyone naturally wondered if this was because Marvel wanted it canceled to create their own series?

Well, it turns out the rights to the "Man Without Fear" aren't as simple as we thought, and Marvel can't do that for two years. To find out why let's look back at the history of the character and the decades-long attempts to bring him to movies and television.

Who is Daredevil?

Daredevil first appeared in Daredevil #1 (1964) and was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett (with an assist from Jack Kirby).

The blind lawyer turned vigilante attained super-human senses after an accident with radioactive material. Teenage Matthew Murdock sees an old blind man about to be hit by a truck. He throws himself into the man and saves him, but is struck by the truck. The radioactive stuff the truck is carrying splashes into his eyes, blinding him. His sight is gone, but his other senses are enhanced to superhuman levels giving him a type of "radar" sense. Kind of like a superhero dolphin.

Matt's father Jack helps him growing up and pushes him to excel at school. Matt's father is murdered by gangsters for refusing to throw a boxing match. His death motivates him to become a lawyer. Later he becomes a vigilante superhero.

In the 1970s David Bowie's Wife Develops Daredevil TV Movie

Daredevil (Ben Carruthers), Black Widow (Angela Bowie)
Credit: Terry O'Neill/Getty Images

While the character was created in the 1960s the character only appears in cartoon shows. It wasn't until 1975 that a television program was developed. David Bowie's then-wife Angela talked to Stan Lee and got the temporary rights to Daredevil and Black Widow. She was required to develop and produce a television series within a year. 
Black Widow (Angela Bowie)
Credit: Terry O'Neill Getty Images
She started developing a TV special with hopes of going to series. "Stan's conception of the Black Widow will be important," she told the Marvel fanzine FOOM in issue #12. "Marvel is going to be totally involved. That may mean a lot of work for them, but the result will be worth it."

Bowie asked African-American actor Ben Carruthers (The Dirty Dozen, Shadows) to play Daredevil. The two did several black-and-white stills dressed up in their parts. Unfortunately, they weren't able to find a network. She told ManWithoutFear.com, "at that time it was considered too difficult and expensive to film, special effects, etc."

In the 1980s Daredevil Hulks Out

In 1989, just a few months after Batman opened a TV movie based on the Incredible Hulk series aired. In it, David Banner, played by Bill Bixby, is on trial and is assigned blind lawyer Matt Murdock (Matt Smith).

He eventually is revealed to be the crimefighter Daredevil and the two team up to take down the crime boss Wilson Fisk. The movie was intended as a backdoor pilot to a Daredevil television series but was never picked up.

In the 1990s, Fox and Columbia Get Daredevil Rights

In 1997, Marvel Enterprises optioned the rights to Daredevil to 20th Century Fox. Chris Columbus was chosen to direct the film. But Fox let the option expire and the movie was never produced. 

Around this time Marvel was facing bankruptcy and Disney began negotiating for the rights. They couldn't work it out but Columbia Pictures jumped in and started developing the project. 

Columbia Pictures was sold to Sony on September 28, 1989, and they acquired the rights to Daredevil along with a few other Marvel characters. In 1999 Chris Columbus and Carlo Carlei co-wrote a script together, but it wasn't used. Mark Steven Johnson came in to write a new screenplay.

In the 2000s Daredevil Gets Foxed

Daredevil (2003) - Matt Murdock / Daredevil (Ben Affleck)

Unfortunately, the Sony years with Daredevil didn't last long. In 2000 Marvel and Sony couldn't agree on the Internet rights and Sony canceled the project.

That year New Regency negotiated with Marvel for the Daredevil character rights to produce a live-action Daredevil movie. 20th Century Fox handled the distribution. Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson that led to the infamous (although we like it) 2003 movie Daredevil starring Ben Affleck.

A spin-off of daredevil called Elektra starring Jennifer Garner was released and a Daredevil cameo was cut. The movie bombed, making only $57 mil after a budget of $43 mil, and the whole thing went back to the drawing board.

In the 2010s Marvel Gets It's Daredevil Groove Back

In 2011, the same year that Thor hit theaters, David Slade (30 Days of Night) signed on to direct a Daredevil reboot. But that project fell through. According to reports, in 2012, 20th Century Fox was open to allowing the rights to Daredevil and other related characters revert to Marvel.

They tried to negotiate an extension of the rights and becoming a co-financier but Marvel wasn't down with that. The next year, the Daredevil rights reverted to the newly created Marvel Studios. Studio president Kevin Feige confirmed this in 2013.

Drew Goddard pitched a Daredevil reboot film to Marvel, he demanded an R-rated film based on the gritty Frank Miller run of the comics. Marvel rejected the idea since all of the MCU are PG-13. Goddard left the project since he didn't want a "watered down version" of the character.

Marvel Studios decided that the character would work better as a television series and began shopping it around to networks.

In 2013 Netflix Brings the Devil of Hell's Kitchen

By this time ABC had been running a successful series with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Marvel decided the television space was the perfect medium for some of their smaller properties.

Reportedly Marvel developed a package for a 60 episode television series to Netflix, Amazon and WGN America. On November 6, 2013, Disney and Marvel announced that Netflix would be airing a new Daredevil television series based on the character starring Charlie Cox. The Daredevil show first aired in 2015, followed by Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, along with the mini-series The Defenders.

The shows were critically praised (with the exception of Iron Fist) and reportedly had high viewership. While none of the MCU actors showed up there were plenty of movie references including the "Battle in New York" and the Avengers.

Sadly it was announced this year that Daredevil and Luke Cage were canceled with Jessica Jones and The Punisher in limbo. The news shocked everyone, including the cast and crew who were hard at work on the next season of Daredevil.

The details of the Netflix deal have been unwraps since the beginning leading to a valid question that had never been answered. Since the show obviously includes Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-ins, why are none of the Netflix characters in the movies? Why haven't we seen Daredevil in Avengers Infinity War fighting Thanos? Not even a cameo?

Turns out there's a very specific clause in the deal that wasn't known before. Variety reports that the deal for the original four Marvel shows includes "a clause that prevents the characters from appearing in any non-Netflix series or film for at least two years after cancellation". That means, while the shows are in the same universe as the MCU they can't appear in the movies.

Marvel and Disney have a new streaming subscription service, called Disney+, and have already lined up MCU shows like Loki, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. But that deal means they can't move the characters to Disney+ until at least 2021. But Kevin Mayer, the Disney executive in charge at Disney+ said: "We haven't yet discussed that, but I would say that's a possibility."

All this led to me updating our popular Marvel Live-Action Rights chart to include a new Netflix bubble.

For now, Netflix still has the character rights under lock-and-key, but with the shows being canceled, it's only a matter of time before Daredevil and his friends are showing up in the MCU.

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What do you think of the historyof the Daredevil movie rights? Would you like to see Daredevil in the MCU? Let us know in the comments below!

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