Ongoing story line:  Marvel-Par alliance


Paramount just added a lot more Iron to its diet.

The Melrose Avenue studio has signed an agreement with Marvel Studios that locks Paramount in as the worldwide distributor of Marvel's next five self-produced feature films. The properties earmarked for inclusion in the deal are "Iron Man 2" (May 7, 2010) and "Iron Man 3," as well as "Thor" (July 16, 2010), "The First Avenger: Captain America" (May 6, 2011) and "The Avengers" (July 15, 2011).

The partnership extends a 2005 agreement that saw Paramount agreeing to distribute as many as 10 Marvel films. In the original agreement, Marvel retained six key international markets and sold the rights to local distributors. After "Iron Man," Marvel's first self-produced movie, flew to $574 million worldwide in the summer, both parties decided to bolt down a more concrete agreement.

While other studios expressed interest in teaming with Marvel, Paramount landed all worldwide theatrical distribution rights on the five releases at a fee slightly reduced from the original agreement — Paramount will now reap an 8% distribution fee versus 10% in the previous arrangement. Marvel will have approval on Paramount's P&A budgets and reimburse Paramount for its expenses.

(The German rights to "Iron Man 2" are the only exception to Paramount's worldwide rights because Tele-Munchen already secured rights to distribute the film in Germany under an existing agreement.)

"Once we realized the next four movies, it became a priority to formalize the new distribution arrangement, and our first choice was to do it with Paramount," Marvel Studios chairman David Maisel said. "It made sense to try and continue the relationship."

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore agreed.

"Coming off of 'Iron Man's' incredible success this summer, we could not be more excited about extending our relationship with Marvel," he said.

Given nondisclosure stipulations, Maisel declined comment on the financial details of the deal.

"We were able to achieve better economics overall, which one would expect given the success of 'Iron Man' and the Marvel films," he said.

Paramount benefits as well by locking in several future tentpoles at a time when DreamWorks, its partner for the past three years, is on its way out.

The first "Iron Man" sequel already is in the works, with "Tropic Thunder" scribe Justin Theroux penning the script and Jon Favreau returning to direct. Marvel would not confirm whether star Robert Downey Jr. has closed a deal to climb back into the shiny red-and-gold suit.

Marvel is negotiating with Kenneth Branagh to direct "Thor," written by Mark Protosevich. "Iron Man" scribes Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergus are in talks to pen "Captain America," and Zak Penn ("The Incredible Hulk") will write the screenplay for "The Avengers," which will synthesize and play off of the story lines of the other films.

Marvel has been working closely with its writers to coordinate character cross-pollination, as it did when the character Nick Fury cameoed in "Iron Man" and Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) popped up in "The Incredible Hulk," which Universal released for Marvel in the summer. "Iron Man," "Thor" are "Captain America" will lead up to the release of "The Avengers," which will showcase the whole bunch together: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk.

"It's nice to have one partner to market all those films because we are emphasizing the films individually but also how they all come from the Marvel universe and sometimes characters pop over from one movie to another," Maisel said. "We want them to feel like you're watching a story that's evolving over time in addition to separate films, so it's nice to have those four films ordered the way they are and also to have one distributor and one marketer on these films."

In May, just days after "Iron Man's" heroic $100 million opening, Maisel's contract was extended through 2010 and Kevin Feige was promoted to president of Marvel Studios.

Marvel has a cast of thousands of comic book characters in its library that it can exploit for film projects and then extend and license into ancillary products such as video games, toys, TV shows and Web content.