• The Hollywood Reporter on LinkedIn
  • Follow THR on Pinterest

Hollywood Heist: How a Burglary May Impact the Future Of 'Superman' (Analysis)

Did Warner Bros.' arch-nemesis make a legal error? And why superagent Ari Emanuel has been deposed in the billion-dollar battle for the Man of Steel

Superman Returns
Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection
'Superman Returns'

The billion-dollar battle over who controls the future of the Superman franchise is now in its second decade. But one story that hasn't been fully told is the heist of documents from Marc Toberoff, the legal adversary and arch nemesis of Warner Bros., who has been fighting the studio over rights to the Man of Steel for years.

The story might make a good John Grisham novel. After sensitive documents were taken from Toberoff a couple years ago and sent anonymously to Warner Bros., the heist became the subject of a probe by federal prosecutors, leading to a rather extraordinary decision Wednesday by a United States magistrate judge.

First, some background.

Toberoff represents the estates of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who for the past decade have been attempting to terminate copyright grants over their early work, which includes some of Superman’s defining characteristics, such as his costume, Clark Kent and his origin story. They've been very successful. For example, In March, a federal judge handed the Siegel estate partial summary judgment affirming Siegel's termination. The dispute may now be headed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Once that happens, if things go well for the Siegels and Shusters, they might be able to effectively control the Superman franchise (or at least a significant part of it) as early as 2013. Warner Bros. would arguably no longer be able to make new Superman movies, which would be unfortunate considering the studio is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a Superman "reboot" from director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan.

Next: Warners has a plan.