The Reason Why There’s So Little Marvel at Disney World

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The modern theme park business is a race for Intellectual Property – or IP. This includes characters from movies, books and/or television shows that gained a large enough following that people would pay significant portions of their travel budget just to be a part of that world. Think Harry Potter in Universal, Pandora in Disney’s Animal Kingdom or Galaxy’s Edge in Hollywood Studios. Universal’s new park – Epic Universe – is going to be almost entirely based on IP lands and attractions. It will have more Harry Potter, a Super Mario World, a How to Train Your Dragon World and also a Classic Monsters World. 

It can get confusing as the major corporations behind the theme parks snatch up rights for movies, video games and more. When Disney purchased Marvel, for example, it got massive IP for its movies, games and also most of its theme parks. But it didn’t get theme park rights – or at least all of the theme park rights – as some of them had already been sold. 

Which park has Avengers in Disney World?

None of them. If you want Disney’s version of Captain America, Spidey and the rest, you’ll have to go to the Avengers Campus at the Disney California Adventure Park. If you want to see a land with a Marvel theme in Florida, you will have to go see your favorite superheroes at Marvel Superhero Island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Marvel Store Exterior Disney Springs
Disney World does not have Marvel characters. However, Disney Springs has a Marvel Super Hero Headquarters store (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Why is there no Marvel at Disney World?

Due to a rights deal between Marvel and Universal Studios back in the 1990s, Universal owns the theme park rights to Spider-Man, Avengers, X-Men and the Fantastic Four east of the Mississippi River. This was before the Walt Disney Company bought Marvel. Technically, Marvel does exist at Walt Disney World, but not a lot of it. The Marvel deal with Universal was only for the most popular character families – the ones listed above. That leaves characters who exist outside of those families available to Disney in Florida – with a handful of caveats which we will discuss later.

A toy replica of the Cosmic Rewind ride vehicle in the Treasures of Xandar Gift Shop (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)
A toy replica of the Cosmic Rewind ride vehicle in the Treasures of Xandar Gift Shop (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

So which Marvel characters could we see at Disney in Florida? 

The Marvel comics universe goes back decades and is deep and wide. The main problem is that most of them aren’t popular enough to be a theme park draw – or they are not quite right for Disney World. For instance? I don’t think Daredevil would count as a member of the Spider-Man family. I’m pretty sure Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist wouldn’t, either.

So Disney would have access to the four members of the Defenders. However, despite a mixed run of TV shows on Netflix and a bad Ben Affleck movie in the early 2000s, Daredevil and crew likely don’t have a high enough Q-rating for the parks. Plus, they tend to skew a little dark. Over the years, Disney’s Marvel has tried to launch some of these other properties – like the Inhumans or the Eternals. However, only the Guardians of the Galaxy series took off.

Guardians of the Galaxy Entrance at Night
The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind ride entrance at night (photo by James Overholt/Heyaorlando.com)

So is there currently a Marvel attraction at Disney World?

Yes. And it’s a great one. The Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind ride in EPCOT features Marvel characters made famous in the Guardians movies. The ride is an indoor roller coaster featuring the wildly popular Guardians characters. It’s generally considered one of the best rides in Orlando

Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy? 

The Guardians are comprised of an ever-changing line-up of space beings who come together for various comic book adventures. They are like a space version of the A-Team. At first, the Guardians – debuting in 1969 – didn’t catch on. Current fans wouldn’t recognize most of the members of the first version.

Only Yondu makes a major impact though Sly Stallone plays Stakar in Guardians II. The current version of the Guardians includes Rocket Raccoon – named after a Beatles song – Groot, Drax the Destroyer and Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord as well as Nebula, Gamora and Mantis who have joined the team throughout the Marvel movies.

Hollywood Studios Entrance
You may get to see Marvel characters at Hollywood Studios during special events (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What other restrictions does Disney have on Marvel characters?

It’s complicated. First of all, they can’t be called Marvel heroes. Secondly, there’s so much overlap that many of the characters you’d think would be eligible are not. For example, Disney was able to have Dr. Strange appear at Disney World when the latest movie came out because even though he interacts with the Avengers, he’s not considered a part of the Avengers family. Also, Disney has hosted events with other Marvel characters. For example, we met Quill and Baby Groot at Hollywood Studios a few years ago. But there hasn’t been a huge meet and greet presence for guests to meet the Marvel characters. 

Comic Book Store Universal Islands of Adventure
A comic store at Universal’s Marvel Super Hero Island in Orlando (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Where do I have to go to meet Marvel characters? 

Marvel Super Hero Island at Universal Orlando isn’t my favorite of the islands, but the character meet and greets were quite good. However, like many of the characters at the Universal Studios theme parks, the costuming can be a little underwhelming. We met Captain America and Spider-Man and both were excellent. We also saw Wolverine and Rouge from X-Men, whose costumes could have used some improvement, in my opinion. Villains like Dr. Doom and the Green Goblin are also known to appear. 

Honestly, if Marvel characters are your thing, you might want to save up for a trip to California. In addition to the cool, flipping Spider-Man robot, Avengers Headquarters has offered quite a few Marvel characters to meet. In California, you may encounter superheroes such as:

  • Iron Man
  • Black Panther
  • Captain Marvel
  • Black Widow
  • Thor
  • Doctor Strange
  • Ant-Man
  • The Wasp
  • The Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Captain America
  • Shang-Chi

Is it worth it to go to California to see Marvel characters? 

It depends on what you want, but if you’re a Marvel fanatic? Make your way to the Disneyland resort – or Disneyland Paris or Hong Kong Disneyland – both of which have a Marvel-themed land. In Universal Studios, the Incredible Hulk coaster is great and Dr. Doom’s Fearfall is good – but it’s no Tower of Terror. The Storm Force Acceleration ride is essentially the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups and the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride – a 3D adventure that isn’t aging great – pales compared to the WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure in California. 

Thanos glove at disney world's guardians of the galaxy ride
The Guardians of the Galaxy ride is located in EPCOT (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What does the future hold for Marvel at Disney?

While Universal is focusing its resources on other brands like Harry Potter – which it owns – it’s not just going to give the Marvel characters to Disney for free. Retheming the Marvel land would be costly and it does appear to be a popular money maker in Islands of Adventure. 

It’s possible that a deal could be made with the rights to the Simpsons – which is another Disney property that Universal owns the theme park rights to – but it’s hard to imagine Universal would consider that an even trade.

Also, if Universal were to allow the rights to revert to Disney and Disney World built an Avengers assemble-type land in Orlando, you have to figure it would take a bite out of Universal’s gate.

Which Marvel characters do you wish you could see at Disney? Let us know in the comments.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

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