In light of Disney's recent acquisition, Empire Magazine has put together an easy to understand infographic explaining who owns what.
Which studio owns the distribution rights to a particular franchise can be very important to how the franchise is treated, and where that franchise can go thematically and technically. It’s this owner who usually chooses the producer and director of the film, and ultimately decides where the films should go.
Knowing the owner can also answer some plot and character questions, like "Why can Hawkeye be added to the Avengers, but Spider-Man cannot?" Often the answer lay in who owns the film distribution rights of the characters, as the graphic shows. Of course, it doesn’t contain every franchise that each studio owns, that would be too numerous to fit in one graphic. But, it tells of all the major franchises that are likely to have more films in them anytime soon.
A couple things to note:
First, Empire is a UK magazine, so where the rights differ between the US and the UK, the chart reflects the UK.
Second, the Indiana Jones franchise is owned in full by Disney, but Paramount Pictures had purchased the rights to an unknown number of future Indiana Jones films from LucasFilm, and Disney has stated that this deal is still in effect, and that they have no plans to make Indiana Jones films anytime soon – games and comics are another matter. This is similar to the way Disney now owns Spider-Man, through their acquisition of Marvel, yet Sony has the rights to the films – and only the films.
Third, Warner Bros. does not own Sherlock Holmes in total, they don't even own exclusive film rights. The Sherlock Holmes IP is in the public domain. Warner Bros. only own the version of Sherlock Holmes who is depicted by Robert Downey Jr. Anyone who wants to can make a Holmes film, as long as they don't use any of the elements Warner Bros. invented for their films.
Finally, the chart denotes the Terminator franchise as being “in limbo”, but that’s a bit deceptive. The franchise does have an owner, and that owner does plan more films, but they are an investment group, not a studio, so they won’t actually be making the film, and as of now, we’re not sure who will actually be the new Terminator studio, but the firm seems intent on keeping ownership for itself.
I have a feeling I’ll be referring readers to this chart occasionally as a reference. Hopefully, Empire will keep it up to date.