Editorials

The “Spider-Man” Debate: Who Has More to Lose, Sony or Marvel?

So, in case you haven’t heard yet only a month and a half after the debut of the highest-grossing Sony movie ever “Spider-Man: Far from Home”, the studio has reached an impasse in contract negotiations with Disney causing many to question the future of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. News of this apparent split-up has lit up the internet over the past 48 hours causing countless fans to take sides on the issue. Some fans seem to believe that Sony should bring Spider-Man into their “Spider-Verse” while others feel he was best as part of the MCU. This drama was also touched on by one of my personal favorite WordPress blogs, Keith & The Movies, earlier today where he broke down the drama currently unfolding. You can read his take on the matter by clicking here and seriously give his blog a follow because he does great work. But with all the buzz filling up my newsfeed I figured I would throw my hat in the ring and examine the situation myself and maybe get to the bottom of who has more to gain or to lose in this situation, Sony or Disney/Marvel?

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For those unaware, “Spider-Man” made his big-screen debut in 2002 with the original cinematic feature directed by Sam Raimi. A few years earlier in the late 90s Marvel was experiencing financial difficulties causing the company to sell the rights to some of its most valuable properties. This led to Sony purchasing the rights to Spider-Man in 1999 with the first movie becoming part of a comic-book film renaissance directly responsible for the current success of the genre. Along with Fox’s “X-Men”, “Spider-Man” put Marvel back on the map and a trilogy was born. Sadly the third movie, released in 2007, became one of the most infamous third films in cinema history and sidelined the franchise until 2012 when Sony released a reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Some reports indicated this was done in order to satisfy a contract clause so that Sony could maintain the rights while others stated it was due to creative differences and the longing to take the character in a new direction. The new film was released the same year as “The Avengers” and sought to establish an extended Spider-Man universe in its 2014 sequel that failed to satisfy audiences with its poor attempt at worldbuilding. So Spider-Man looked dead in the water again, until in December of 2014 when Sony’s computers were hacked and it was revealed that they had begun negotiations with Marvel to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Thus, began the third era of Spider-Man on the big screen. The character debuted in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”, was featured in both “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Endgame” and starred in two standalone movies produced by Sony and Marvel Studios, “Homecoming” and this year’s “Far from Home”, the latter becoming Sony’s most successful film ever earning over $1.110 billion worldwide. That brings us to where we are today. The agreement signed by both Sony and Disney, made official in 2015, gave Disney and Marvel full creative control over the direction of Spider-Man in the MCU. It also made Disney the sole beneficiary of films simply featuring the character as well as the bulk, if not all, of the merchandise associated with Spider-Man during his MCU tenure. On the plus side, Sony would earn most of the immediate financial benefit from Marvels’ Spider-Man films. Disney only earns 5% of first-dollar box office gross, which is basically the money made when the film debuts. Recent negotiations have Disney seeking 50% of that gross putting Sony it a precarious position: keep the partnership that gave the studio its highest grossing film or go their own way and effectively pull Spider-Man from the MCU and start the character over again. While it’s easy to assume this is all a bunch of drama that will soon be resolved at the negotiation table, let’s look at who has more to lose or gain here.

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Sony has no shortage of successful franchises to pull from. The likes of “Ghostbusters”, “Jumanji”, “Hotel Transylvania”, and “Underworld” have made up the studios many properties over the decades. However, in recent years Sony has had trouble sticking its landing. Sure, it has some hits like “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” but with misses like the “Ghostbusters” reboot and this year’s epic failure “Men in Black International” to its credit it also has some huge misses. Sony as a studio has struggled mightily to find a solid and undeniable identity with anything but Spider-Man. The wallcrawler has become THE most important property in Sony’s lineup over the past two decades from the Sam Raimi trilogy, to the “Amazing Spider-Man” duology, and now two successful Sony and Marvel partnership films in the MCU. Not only that, Sony is diving into its own Spider-Man universe using villains and characters from the wallcrawler’s comics. “Venom”, based on one of Spider-Man’s most famous villains-turned-anti-hero, was a HUGE success in 2018 and a Morbius movie is on the way for 2020. Sony Pictures Animation even released their own Spider-Man movie based on Miles Morales, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, last December winning the studio’s first-ever Best Animated Feature Oscar. So, it’s pretty obvious that Sony has invested a lot into keeping Spider-Man in its fold and giving up 50% of its opening profits to Disney does feel like a huge asking price. Even if Spider-Man was to leave the MCU he’s still Marvel’s most popular hero. Who’s to say Sony hasn’t learned its lessons and couldn’t do the character justice on their own?

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With that said though, Spider-Man has greatly benefitted from being in the MCU. Just the recognition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone was enough to bring fans to the theater to see the wallcrawler in action. It’s reasonable to say that the reason Spider-Man’s second reboot worked so well was that he was brought into the MCU fold. You could question if another reboot would have succeeded without the MCU name attached, but let’s look at the numbers. “Spider-Man” was released in 2002 earning $114.8 million in its first weekend on its way to earning over $801 million worldwide and $403 million domestically. No other Spider-Man movies has ever topped its domestic total. The sequel made a little less money domestically and internationally but became one of the most beloved sequels in modern movie history. The third film shattered the original’s worldwide total with $890 million but it’s lack of quality forced a reboot that even then saw both movies earn over $750 million and over $708 million respectively at the box office. Realistically, even in spite of the hype, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” only really performed up to par with its predecessors earning $334 million domestically in its debut and eventually grossing over $880 million worldwide, making it the third-highest-grossing “Spider-Man” movie before this year’s “Far from Home”. To date the MCU sequel has earned over $1.110 billion at the box office, but let’s face it a lot of its success isn’t due just to the wallcrawler’s name recognition but more due to the fact that it’s the immediate successor film to “Avengers: Endgame” and ushers in the beginning of the new phase of the MCU without the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers.

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With that in mind, you could easily argue Marvel has more to lose than Sony. Here’s why. Spider-Man has always been a draw to the theater. Whether it’s the wallcrawler himself or even just the association with the character, no Spider-Man film has ever failed to draw a crowd no matter how good or bad. Just look again at “Venom” which earned over $856 million at the box office worldwide despite middling reviews. Even Sony’s animated film, “Into the Spider-Verse” earned $375 million worldwide despite competing directly with Marvel’s version of the character. Spider-Man clearly seems to be a rare property immune to franchise fatigue, and that’s good for Sony and bad for Marvel. You see, that gives Sony leverage. They have proven that audiences seem to be dead set on supporting Spider-Man films and properties whether they are in the MCU or not. Sony already has two franchises established just last year where they can seamlessly insert the wallcrawler and still make a profit. With Marvel however, “Far from Home” clearly established Spider-Man as the future of the MCU setting him up as the new Tony Stark of sorts and leaving audiences on a cliffhanger meant to set up not one, but TWO reported sequels that were in development until this Sony/Disney battle halted that process. Disney leveraged the future of the MCU on Spider-Man the same way Marvel leveraged its own future years ago and, in both instances, Sony has held all the cards.

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In the end, I do believe a deal will be struck, but there is compelling evidence to show that maybe, even in spite of my own wishes as a fan, Sony might be better off taking Spider-Man back into their own hands. No, they’re not as good at making movies as Disney and Marvel Studios, but they’ve clearly stumbled upon a pot of gold, so to speak, with one of the most popular superheroes in history in their hands. In my opinion, they’ve thrown Disney a pretty decent bone by even giving them 5% of the first-dollar box office profit. But as part of the current deal, Sony sees nothing from merchandise or Spidey’s appearances in any non-solo film in the MCU. I personally believe THIS is where Sony will force Marvel to make a sacrifice to keep Spidey in the fold, using merchandise profits and other means of financial gain to recoup what they are losing by compromising with their biggest franchise. With the MCU now entering a new phase, Sony is flexing its muscles at the perfect time forcing Disney to reevaluate the deal in order to preserve the most popular hero it has left in its MCU lineup while Sony is betting on itself to squeeze everything they can out of a property that has defined its existence for two decades.

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Realistically though I think this feud will end with Spider-Man staying in the MCU, possibly appearing in Sony’s other series, and with more financial gain going Sony’s way while Disney and Marvel sit back and reap at least some of the benefits of having Spider-Man around. Clearly, Spidey being part of the MCU is a huge deal. Fans love seeing him and have invested a lot in his involvement in the franchise’s ever-growing narrative. If nothing else, it may be the fans who ultimately play a huge role in whether or not Spidey stays in the MCU as Marvel would certainly like to keep the association between the franchise and Spider-Man intact to continue to draw moviegoers to their future projects. But Sony knows what they have and I don’t blame them for playing hardball. A statement released from Sony just this morning insinuated that the book isn’t completely closed on a continued partnership. It’s also possible that this debate is not as dramatic as it has initially been seen to be. Right now though, it appears the fate of Spider-Man lies in these two studios finding a compromise while we, the fans, wait anxiously at what the next phase of the wallcrawler’s cinematic history will be.

4 comments

  1. You cover the history of the Spider-Man films and the behind-the-scenes machinations pretty well. There are also some valid points on Sony’s behalf. It does feel like Disney is trying to take advantage of Spider-Man’s popularity and playing hardball is the only option left for Sony. Still, it’s clear that both parties are to blame for this fiasco that went public and it’s stunning how intense the backlash is. You’re probably right that Spider-Man will stay in the MCU with some sacrifices on Disney’s behalf to be made, but it is worth it in the long run.

    Like

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