Why Marvel Studios Has Abandoned MCU Mega-Deals With Actors

By Aeron Mer Eclarinal Updated:
Marvel Popular actors and characters

Marvel Studios' grand plan of a shared universe has relied on audiences developing a connection to its heroes and villains, along with the actors and actresses who play them, through multiple appearances on-screen across many years. As a result, this meant convincing big names such as Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson to sign long-term contracts. Downey, alongside his Avengers co-stars Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, agreed to six-movie contracts, while Jackson and Sebastian Stan signed nine-movie deals

However, as the MCU enters a new chapter, this approach has been placed on the back burner for a more team-friendly strategy. For example, Oscar Isaac previously revealed that Moon Knight is a limited series and that his contract doesn't go beyond the Disney+ show's first season. As a result, if Marvel decides to bring Marc Spector back, renegotiation will be needed. 

Now, this big change has been addressed by a former Marvel Studios employee. 

Former Marvel Lawyer Explains Marvel's Approach to Deals

Marvel Studios Phase 4

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige previously confirmed that long-term deals are no longer a norm. Instead, the lead executive mentioned that new contractual deals could include unique opportunities like "theme park attractions," saying that talent who are "excited at the opportunity to do more things" is what the studio may be looking for now: 

“It varies, project to project, cast to cast. Really, what we want are people that come in, are excited to be in the universe, are excited at the opportunity to do more things, as opposed to being locked into contractual obligations.”

In an exclusive interview with The Direct, Marvel Studios' former production lead attorney Paul Sarker discussed his thoughts on why the studio opted to get rid of the long-term deals with MCU actors and actresses. 

When asked about this significant development, Sarker, who left Marvel Studios back in 2016, admitted that "it's challenging to have actors commit to the next, potentially, 10 years of their life." The former Marvel lawyer also acknowledged the fact that short-term deals, in Feige's perspective, are "more sellable:"

“So I mean, as you know, I've been gone for six years. So that change in direction is not something I really have first-hand insight into. What I would think, just purely speculation is, that it's challenging to have actors commit to the next, potentially, 10 years of their life. Right, like, yeah, you know, that's, that's, and I think, Kevin [Feige], from Kevin's perspective, it's more sellable, to have a shorter-term deal because it's not as huge a commitment like, oh, ‘Do I want to be, you know, Bucky for the next nine years, or whatever, however many years?’ And it's an opportunity of a lifetime. So maybe you're cool with that."

Sarker also explained that this new strategy is "more of a talent-friendly approach," making the method "a little bit easier to sell:"

"But the other thing is, I think Kevin, is more along the lines of like, his view is, we want people that want to be here. So we don't want you to feel like this is daunting, Oh, I gotta do this for the next 10 years. If you do 10 years’ worth of movies, we want it to be because you sort of wanted to and after each one, you want to re-up and do more. So I think it's more of a talent-friendly approach to having the shorter-term deals or fewer options, and I don't know for sure how much shorter they are now, because I don't do the deals anymore. But that would be the reason I would think is that it's a little bit easier to sell to town.”

Fans can listen to Paul Sarker's Better Call Paul on Spotify and Apple Podcasts every Wednesday, a weekly podcast that covers “the business of show business” and sheds light on how the entertainment industry really works. 

The Complications Behind Long-Term Deals

Paul Sarker's latest comment is a fitting way to explain the significant behind-the-scenes change at Marvel Studios when it comes to talent contracts. This significant development effectively gives MCU talent more flexibility as they pursue other projects while still being open to reprising their respective Marvel roles down the line. 

Elizabeth Olsen previously mentioned that being a part of the MCU has "[taken her] away from the physical ability" to do other projects that she wanted to pursue. This is a good example of the dilemma of being involved in a long-term deal. Although renegotiation of contracts will be (eventually) needed, this talent-friendly approach of offering short-term deals, as Sarker noted, would be more beneficial, as it is expected not to present any issues similar to Olsen's. 

More short-term deals also mean that presenting the deaths of certain characters on-screen will have a sense of finality. The Scarlet Witch's apparent "demise" in Multiverse of Madness inspired many theories online, and Olsen's remarks about her uncertainty over her Marvel contract have seemingly fueled the speculation even further.

Moon Knight's cliffhanger ending also led to an interesting discourse on how the titular hero would return, especially after Isaac's reveal that he only signed for its first season.

In addition, short-term contracts could serve as a more favorable way to attract more big names into the MCU.

Captain America star Chris Evans revealed that his nine-picture deal was daunting then, saying that such a commitment is scary. Ultimately, the Star-Spangled actor agreed to join the MCU with the help of both Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige and Robert Downey Jr. By leaning toward the short-term approach, the situation that happened with Evans in the past would be avoided, thus leading to smoother negotiations. 

All in all, Marvel Studios' plan to offer short-term deals would give the studio a more favorable response from talent, while still accommodating its shared universe approach by showcasing more exciting stories that would entice their veterans for a future comeback. 

- About The Author: Aeron Mer Eclarinal
Aeron is a news/features writer and Content Lead for The Direct who has been working for the site since March 2020. From writing about the inter-connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to having an extended knowledge about DC TV's Arrowverse, Aeron's expertise has since expanded into the realm of reality TV, K-drama, animated, and live-action shows from Netflix,  Disney+, Prime Video, MGM+, Peacock, Paramount+, and Max. When he isn't writing and watching all things MCU, Aeron is heavily invested with the NBA (go Celtics!) and occasionally watches thrilling matches in the WWE.