Stan Lee was the godfather of the Marvel universe. Lee and artist Jack Kirby were responsible for creating many of the heroes generating billions of dollars on the big screen today, including the Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. Even casual fans and those unfamiliar with Marvel know who Stan Lee is, thanks in part to his famous cameos.
To honor his service to the Marvel universe, Lee made cameo appearances in almost every major Marvel movie, film, and series over the years, at least until his passing in 2018. Lee's big-screen flybys became an iconic feature of the MCU, and sadly, his last opportunity came with 2019's Avengers: Endgame - a fitting point for his final cameo.
In the years since then, Marvel has remained cautious about how it uses Stan Lee's likeness after his passing. The company even shut down plans for him to appear in The Simpsons short The Good, The Bart, and The Loki due to a policy of leaving behind his cameos after his death.
But how Marvel Studios uses Lee's likeness may be about the change thanks to a new deal reached by the studio.
Stan Lee's Likeness Returns to Marvel
The Hollywood Reporter exclusively revealed Marvel Studios inked a 20-year deal with Stan Lee Universe to use the likeness and name of the comic creator in movies, TV, Disney theme parks, merchandise, and other experiences.
Marvel Studios, thanks to the deal, will now have the right to use Lee's name, likeness, and signature on the big and small screens, on top of images, footage, and audio recordings related to him. Disney theme parks, cruise lines, and park merchandise will now be able to use his name, voice, likeness, and signature.
According to the original report, insiders indicate the arrangement doesn't necessarily set the stage for Stan Lee's famous cameos to return to Marvel movies, at least in the traditional sense.
Stan Lee Universe was formed by Genius Brands International and POW! Entertainment in 2020 for the writer's non-Marvel creations, although they also held ownership of his likeness and name.
Genius Brands CEO Andy Heyward called the arrangement a "broad deal," explaining that it will ensure Lee can live on "through digital technology and archival footage and other forms:"
“It really ensures that Stan, through digital technology and archival footage and other forms, will live in the most important venue, the Marvel movies, and Disney theme parks. It’s a broad deal.”
Heyward went on to explain that decisions with regard to his likeness "will be welcomed" if they are handled "with taste and class:"
“The audience revered Stan and if it’s done with taste and class, and respectful of who he was, it will be welcomed. He is a beloved personality and long after you and I are gone, he will remain the essence of Marvel.”
How Will Marvel Continue Using Stan Lee's Likeness?
The Simpsons at one point considered creating a Stan Lee cameo for its Loki-centric short, several years after his death, using old audio clips. However, the plans were eventually shut down after Marvel Studios revealed its new policy that the creator won't be making cameos anymore now that he has passed away, so what exactly is this deal for?
Stan Lee previously made several cameos in Netflix's Defender Saga through images placed in the background of shots on posters and other pictures, either dressed as a lawyer or NYPD officer. Perhaps Marvel Studios intends to similarly include picture-based cameos in future projects, although it should be noted all of those in the Netflix series predate his death. Although Lee did recently appear on the Sony side of Marvel on a magazine cover in Venom: Let There Be Carnage.
Through its policy to avoid cameos from Stan Lee after his passing, Marvel Studios demonstrated its commitment to honoring the creator's legacy in a respectable way. Who knows how Marvel and Disney now intend to use his likeness, but theme parks look to have been a significant element of the deal.
Marvel Studios used Stan Lee's voice in a trailer released in May 2021 to showcase its upcoming film slate and highlight its return to the big screen after a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This may offer some indication the company is open to using Lee's voice in marketing and other capacities, maybe even at the parks themselves.
One way to use his likeness could be to deliver the Stan Lee biopic many have been clamoring for, depicting the rise of the Marvel legend and his long-time collaborator Jack Kirby. Screenwriter Alex Covery penned a script for a big-screen biography titled Excelsior!, and even landed a place on Franklin Leonard's 2020 The Black List - a list of the best-unproduced screenplays going in Hollywood.
Perhaps Marvel Studios could be the one to finally tell Stan Lee's story on the big screen in its first non-MCU production. After all, who better to tell the story of Marvel than Marvel itself?
Fans ought to get a better idea of how Marvel Studios intends to use Stan Lee's likeness in the months and years to come.