by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Last month, there were two topics that raged in the internet. The first is the still highly discussed issue of the Amazon forest fires, which has sparked interest in a great number of people to look for efforts to protect the rainforest. The second, occurring in the realm of pop culture and perhaps just as important to devoted fans, is the rift between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures regarding Spider-Man’s film rights.
To refresh your memory a little, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced that he and the studio would no longer be involved in the production of future Spider-Man films, including any ensemble films that would pit together the established heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The news came after Sony turned down a new proposed deal by Disney (who bought Marvel Studios in 2009 after the success of Iron Man), prompting the latter to back out.
The news instantly put social media on fire, with everyone talking on chat boxes and forums and with dozens of articles shared. This reaction is quite understandable, given how integral the character of Spider-Man is to the MCU now. But this disagreement between studios means more than Peter Parker unable to swing with the remaining Avengers.
What exactly did the proposed deal contain?
Sony has owned the film rights to Spider-Man since 1999, having bought it from Marvel when they were in dire need of money. Since then they produced the successful Sam Raimi trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, and the not-so-successful reboot with Andrew Garfield donning the blue and red suit. As such in 2015, Feige stepped in to make a deal to borrow Spider-Man and incorporate him into the MCU—this led to Tom Holland’s much-awaited appearance in Captain America: Civil War, two solo films, and the money-making Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
The original deal was that Marvel Studios could have Spider-Man in their films, have complete creative control over the character, and receive 5 percent of any solo film box office revenue and all merchandising rights. Sony on the other hand would finance the production, distribute Spider-Man solo films, and receive the remaining 95 percent of revenue. The new deal that Disney approached with was splitting the box office profits 50-50, with Feige continuing to head creative control. Naturally, Sony declined.
To put things in perspective, Disney is the biggest studio in Hollywood to date, having purchased competitors like Lucasfilm and Fox in the last decade. Sony is relatively smaller, with Paramount the only one below them when it comes to the “five major studios.” Spider-Man’s film rights is arguably Sony’s most prized possession at the moment, as it encompasses any character involved with the web-slinger, and not to mention the revenue they got from Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).
Using the latter as an example, which brought in $1.1 billion at the box office, Sony received $1.045 billion while the remaining $55 million went to Marvel Studios—one can see why Disney pushed for a new deal. Last year, however, Sony also produced two blockbuster hits in Venom (which brought them over $500 million) and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the latter winning the Oscar for Animated Pictures. In other words, Sony won’t let Spidey go.
What will happen to the MCU now?
In simple terms, with Disney pulling out of the deal, it means the MCU can no longer use Spider-Man in any of their films nor make any reference to the hero and its characters. That means losing a successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man (sorry Robert Downey, Jr.), no web-shooter in the Avengers (sorry Samuel L. Jackson), and no “summer fling” for Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and Happy Hogan (sorry Jon Favreau).
Spider-Man’s departure becomes even trickier given how both his solo films in the MCU implied plans for future installments. Homecoming’s post-credits scene saw Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture talking to Michael Mando’s Marc Gargan aka Scorpion, two of them key members of the super-villain team the Sinister Six from the Spider-Man comics. Meanwhile Far From Home left everyone in the world discovering Spider-Man’s true identity, which has everyone begging to wonder how Peter Parker will deal with the unveiling.
Not to mention the MCU has to make changes with loss of Spider-Man, who was intended to be one of the new Avengers’ main line. Sure Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Doctor Strange can hold themselves up, but having Peter Parker—a teenager from Queens—attracts even the youngest of superhero fans. Plus, the MCU is about to get bigger with Thor: Love and Thunder, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, The Eternals, and more films taking place outside Earth.
Will we ever see Tom Holland as Spider-Man again?
Even before the Disney-Sony disagreement, Holland’s contract states he has two more films to play Spider-Man. The British actor said himself after learning of the disagreement that he was “going to continue playing Spider-Man and have the time of my life,” noting that the hero’s future will be different but will be fun no matter how it will be dealt with.
Similarly, director Jon Watts, who helmed Holland’s films, is slated to direct another two. Holland is almost certain to return as Peter Parker, just not within the MCU. That is kind of a big deal given Feige and his Marvel team was pretty much the creative mind behind Holland’s Spidey, and now Sony will take full control.
There are other ways that Holland can appear as Spider-Man apart from solo films. It was recently announced that Andy Serkis would be directing Venom 2, slated for release next year. Tom Hardy is expected to return as the anti-hero, possibly to go up against the villain Carnage who was teased in Venom’s post-credits scene with Woody Harrelson. Now imagine Spider-Man entering the picture, battling alien symbiotes better than Maguire did in 2007’s Spider-Man 3.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is also expected to have a sequel, and after Jake Johnson’s amusing tackling of adult Peter Parker, imagine how awesome it would be to have a comic-animated version of Holland swinging across New York alongside Shameik Moore’s Miles Morales? Holland was supposed to have a cameo in Spider-Verse but it never pushed through—but now, the possibilities are much bigger.
Does the disagreement affect other mediums beyond films?
Yes and no. As mentioned earlier, Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man and all his properties. They previously had the television rights as well, but they sold it back to Marvel in 2009 roughly around the time Disney purchased Marvel Studios, meaning Disney can do whatever they want with Spider on the small screen.
Sony doesn’t own Spider-Man’s video game rights either. Marvel Games has superior control (ex. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3). During the time the Disney-Sony disagreement happened, however, Sony Interactive Entertainment purchased the decorated video game company Insomniac Games that made the highly favoredMarvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4.
Because of the purchase, Sony may plan to make more Spider-Man video games to bank on the success of Marvel’s Spider-Man, especially if Sony makes another console such as the PlayStation 5. But due to the disagreement, any future Spidey games won’t be allowed to reference anything from the MCU, so players won’t be able to unlock the suits Stark customized for Peter, or have any movie-themed adventures and characters as they play. The same applies for television, no MCU references.
What about merchandising?
Probably the only other thing that can draw in as much money as movies is merchandise. Who doesn’t love a Spider-Man figure on their desk, or a poster of Tom Holland on their wall (as Spider-Man, not from his GQ shoot)? Sony used to also have the merchandising rights Spider-Man, but this is one asset that Disney was able to buy from them.
In 2011, Sony sold the Spider-Man merchandising rights to Disney (who at that point already owned Marvel)—this was four years before they would come to an agreement in bringing Spider-Man to the MCU, so a deal may have been long in the process. With the merchandise rights, Disney can produce as many items as they want as long as they give back Sony an annual royalty fee of roughly $30 million.
Considering that Disney received $55 million from Far From Home, which means at the end of 2019 the entertainment conglomerate will only have $25 million (not including any other means of profit). Again, it really is no surprise why Disney approached Sony with a new deal, and why Sony declined because both companies know Spider-Man is a moneymaker.
What both companies need to realize though is that Spider-Man’s value is beyond the big bucks. Spider-Man was one of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee’s favorite heroes, and the popularity of the hero spread through Marvel fans and non-fans alike. Spider-Man has built a fan culture of its own, and it’s the fans that suffer from the disagreement. We just want our friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.