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Who Owns the Movie and TV Rights to ROM: The Spaceknight?

There are a few beloved toys from the 1970s that are still popular. While Pet Rocks faded into obscurity Star Wars action figures are making Hasbro millions. But one obscure toy from the 1970s is still making headlines. 

Over the weekend James Gunn sent out a tweet about ROM: The Spaceknight. 

"Alas I cannot as Marvel no longer holds the rights to Rom - just to some other Spaceknights and parts of the story created in the comics - otherwise, believe you me, ol’ toaster head would probably be in the Guardians by now," he tweeted.

What did he mean?

The History of ROM: The Spaceknight

In 1979 Scott Dankman, Richard C. Levy, and Bryan L. McCoy created the robot toy ROM. It was later sold to Parker Brothers. The company had achieved success as a board game developer and was trying to branch out into toys. The Six Million Dollar Man toys were a hit and the company wanted to capitalize on that. The toy was an electric marvel at its time with lights and sound. However, the lack of articulation and cheap production hampered its development and popularity.

A simple backstory for the toys was created with a good spaceknight and his enemies the evil Dire Straits. Parker Brothers created ROM but didn’t make any other supporting toys. That limited the play since Rom had no one to fight.

The toy foundered and failed to be the big hit the company thought it would be.

What Powers Does Rom Have?

In his human form, he has standard human strength. In his armored form, he has superhuman strength. How strong is ROM? He can lift around 70 tons.  ROM also has the ability to fly using a rocket pack and an arsenal of weapons. 

How Marvel Got ROM

To build up interest in the toy Hasbro licensed the toy to Marvel and comic creator Bill Mantlo weaved an intricate back story for him. Instead of a robot, he turned Rom into a cyborg from the planet Galador. On a far-off world, the spaceknight was a war veteran who sacrificed himself to become an armored warrior to defeat the Dire Straits. While the toy eventually stopped production the comics were so popular that they ran for almost a decade. 

Marvel produced many licensed comics over the years. But most were not part of the Marvel continuity. Rom was incorporated into the Marvel comic world. He fought alongside other superheroes like Power Man, Hulk, and The Thing. The license expired in 1986 after seven years of comic book success. Marvel lost the rights to Rom. But they still hold onto the rights to Galador and the spaceknights concepts created by the comic book company. 

Hasbro eventually bought Parker Brothers in 1991 and all the toy license properties too. Now Hasbro owns all the rights to ROM and the comic, movie, and television rights too. They licensed the ROM comic book rights to IDW and in 2016 they produced a comic for comic book day.

Paramount Studios' Cinematic Universe
Meanwhile, Hasbro achieved success with their live-action Transformers movies through Paramount Pictures. They saw the success Marvel had and began developing a series of movies based on the properties they owned. The first G.I. Joe movie did well so they began developing a series of movies on other properties. 

In 2015, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Hasbro Studios and Paramount Pictures had big plans. They were producing a series of live-action movies from licensed toy characters. Paramount planned to create a shared movie universe including characters from G.I. Joe, Micronauts, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, and M.A.S.K.

However, Marvel has the right to use the spaceknights in the comics. They included cyborg Galadorians in the Marvel comics without naming or using ROM. A Spaceknights mini-series ran from 2000-2001. ROM in his human form continued in the Marvel Comics Universe. He even attended Rick Jones' wedding in The Incredible Hulk #148 (1991). 

As recently as 2020 Galadorian cyborgs were included in Cable #1. But ROM and the Spaceknights can't be in the movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy movie director James Gunn thought the spaceknights could be in the MCU. "ROM, the story, is owned by Marvel Comics," Gunn explained to Screen Rant in 2017. "So the Dire Wraiths, you know, all that story is owned by Marvel Comics. The character and the toys are owned by Paramount, so you can’t have both. Now you can’t have the Spaceknight, at Marvel, and you can’t have the Spaceknights without the story. What always interested me was more the story of the Spaceknights. People who gave up their humanity to save their planet was always very interesting to me, so there may be something to do with that, but it won’t be with ROM."

But Marvel double-checked the contracts. In another interview that year Gunn reversed course. "I really love Rom: Spaceknight, as everyone at Marvel knows because they've given me Rom stuff…but we don't own Rom," Gunn told The Movie Crypt podcast. "I would love for Rom: Spaceknight to show up because I love his story, I love the way he looks, I love everything about him…"

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures moved ahead with their cinematic universe plans. The studio had a slew of writers working on a ROM script including Ready Player One writer Zak Penn. But the brand faltered after the failure of several Hasbro-based films like G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and Battleship (2012). It's been up and down with successes like Bumblebee (2018) and bombs like Snake Eyes (2021). 

But Paramount is still working to develop more movies on their properties. At the earnings call in 2020, they said they're working on more projects. eOne CEO Darren Throop said on an earnings call that his company was developing more than "30 Hasbro brands into potential film and TV content, with established IP like Transformers set to be featured in new films, animated series, and other projects". 

As it stands Marvel can't use Rom or the spaceknights in anything and Hasbro can't use the Rom storyline from the comics. Paramount can't leverage the rich backstory developed in the comics that people love. Similar to Universal's Hulk the two studios are in a stalemate. 

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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