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The two franchises are held by two separate companies. One, Sony, holds the rights to Spider-man 4-7, and are obliged to continue this line or give up the rights to the movies. The other, Marvel Studios, owns the rights to the Avengers and the subsidiary characters.

Under what circumstances might Spider-man join the Avengers? Are movie rights buys outs uncommon? Could a serenity/firefly-esque loophole be pulled off? Could the two studios 'team up'?

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Firefly -> Serenity wasn't a loophole. Fox sold the movie rights to Universal. –  user209 Jun 21 '12 at 18:28
    
@Keen but they couldn't call the film Firefly The Movie, for legal reasons. –  Pureferret Jun 21 '12 at 18:46
    
@Pureferret Which I'd bet is spelled out in the contract they agreed to when buying the rights. You're making it sound like some law prevented them, with handwavey vague statements. –  user209 Jun 21 '12 at 18:50
    
From @Oliver_C's link: I told Avi [Arad, Spider-Man series producer] and Matt that I realize it’s a business impossibility to share the characters, (“Thank you for understanding that” - Matt Tolmach [producer, The Amazing Spider-Man] to me)... –  Hugo Jun 24 '12 at 9:16

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Film corporation collaborations are not as uncommon as one might believe. This is especially true when dealing with music or music artists signed to one label that is under the umbrella of another corporation. Granted in those cases the film corporation really tries to pull music and artists from under it's own parent company labels but such is not ALWAYS possible.

Likewise when taking characters it always depends on what the film companies are willing to do. In that case it's always going to come down to money. Who gets what portion. This involves actors, screenwriters, and of course franchise owners.

The best example of this is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" which gave us the first appearance of "Bugs Bunny" and "Mickey Mouse" on the screen at the same time. And the blood between Warner and Disney over animation was always HIGHLY hostile. (More talent theft than you see between Google, Apple, and Microsoft)

So, while collaborations aren't rare; what they collaborate over can be far more rare.

So, to answer the question, sometimes it's a contractual buyout of the franchise/character. Sometimes it's a character loan.

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Heh, I never put that together before, Roger Rabbit and Mickey Mouse both being in that movie. –  DForck42 Jun 22 '12 at 16:04
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@DForck42 - at the time it was a big deal that these companies were collaborating, having spent 50 years so thereabouts competing. That's why Roger, Jessica & The Judge were invented as lead roles, as neither company was willing to have the other's characters in a lead role. –  iandotkelly Jun 22 '12 at 17:28

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