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Marvel at the Theme Parks: The Return

Marvel Comics have maintained an ongoing presence in theme parks, for nearly twenty years now in various shapes and sizes, but with the superheroes now a hot property in film and TV, they have started to have a larger presence in theme parks around the world. Today, we shall revisit the theme park industry and get up-to-date on what new rides have been popping up around the world based upon our favourite superheroes.

In 1994, Marvel and Universal entered a contract to feature their characters in the Universal theme parks of Hollywood and Florida. This contract is a bit of a complicated agreement, and made even more so when Disney purchased Marvel in 2009. Marvel can pull out of the deal if they find Universal are misusing their characters, etc. According to the contract, Universal own the rights of Marvel usage in theme parks “east of the Mississippi River” for any property they are currently using. So, Disney cannot incorporate attractions based on the Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man, or the Fantastic Four in Walt Disney World, and the name Marvel can’t be used in Disney parks. Yeah, it’s pretty complicated.

Anyway, Universal wasn’t even gunning for Marvel to begin with but instead wanted the properties of DC Comics. Universal’s current usage of Marvel’s characters is restricted to Marvel Superhero Islands in the Isle of Adventures at Florida’s resort. Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the Fantastic Four have their own attractions, though the first two remain the more popular – being a hi-tech trackless dark ride, and a fast-paced rollercoaster. The whole land is stylised after a comic book with a simple design. It probably looks more impressive in person than via an image search. The Amazing Spider-Man ride is considered one of the best in the industry.

On the other side of the table we have Disney, current owners of Marvel, but because of the licensing agreement, their ability to use Marvel properties is extremely limited. Though costumed characters can appear, the restrictions hover over Disney’s Imagineers like a dark cloud. But, Disney have been clever, dancing around the corners of the contract, building attractions in parks unaffected by their agreement with Universal. Hong Kong Disneyland opened the Iron Man Experience, a simulation ride, and have major plans to build the first Marvel-themed land, free of the licensing, since there is no Universal theme parks in China.

Tokyo Disneyland is having numerous developments, most notably, the inclusion of a Big Hero 6 ride in Tomorrowland. Shanghai Disneyland which opened last year to rave reviews (mostly), treats Marvel and Star Wars with little fanfare beyond meet-and-greets, but perhaps they will have a bigger presence over the years.

What is really exciting is the potential for a Marvel-themed land in Disney California Adventure, the second park of Disneyland. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was closed down earlier this year and reimagined as Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, essentially using the same dropping elevator concept, but with our beloved space-faring heroes trying to escape the clutches of the Collector. Though there was scepticism over replacing such an iconic ride, the Guardians proved to be a big hit. There is an impressive Rocket Raccoon animatronic in the attraction, and the ride itself is filled with all kinds of Marvel and Disney easter eggs and references, even serving as a build up to Thor Ragnarok.

But, the biggest surprise was an Avengers-shaped sealed door on the exterior of the ride building – hinting that more Marvel friends are on their way. I’m still puzzled how this could be accomplished, given that pesky Universal contract. But I suppose only time will tell. And being just about the only property which Disney can use in America, the Guardians of the Galaxy will be getting a second attraction at Epcot in Walt Disney World, using a tie-in story that Peter Quill visited the park as a child. Disneyland Paris, often left out despite being one of the loveliest theme parks worldwide, is getting the first Marvel-themed hotel, though really it is a basic redecorating of the New York Hotel on-site but with Marvel characters. Though, that god-awful Walt Disney Studios Park could have some Marvel-shaped new life injected into it.

And as for the proposed Marvel theme park in Dubai announced ten years ago… yet that isn’t going to happen.

Are you excited for these new developments at your favourite theme parks? What Marvel characters do you think should get their own rides? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell