Steven’s Soapbox: Sony, Disney and the Future of Spider-Man


The Internet’s collective hearts broke when it was announced and then confirmed that Sony and Marvel Studios would no longer share Spider-Man. Under this partnership, Tom Holland’s rendition of the famous web-slinger has appeared alongside heroes like Black Panther and Thor, and captured the hearts of millions as the heir apparent to Iron Man. Now that their five-picture deal is up, negotiations were underway, but everything fell apart just a few days ago. What happened, and should we be worried? Let’s take a closer look at this situation, and try to figure this out.

I. The Sony-Marvel Deal 

Before we go into this current situation, it’s important to know the complicated relationship between Marvel and Sony. Most people still don’t know that back when Marvel signed away the film rights to Spider-Man back in the late 90’s, Sony gained part of the rights to the character itself, not just movie rights. Now not only could Sony make movies about Spider-Man, but also the 900 plus characters in his catalog as long as they made one every five years and nine months. Each of the film deals Marvel made have their own quirks (Universal’s is a doozy about theme parks), but Marvel was facing financial ruin and was more than willing to make those sacrifices. 

   Damn you, gritted teeth!

Many years, and three highly successful and genre-reviving films later, Sony found itself in a much different spot. Marvel Studios had just been purchased by corporate evil empire Disney after The Avengers came out to blockbuster success, and Warner Bros.’ DC movies were going to be following suit. In an attempt to keep up with the trend, Sony tried to spin their new Amazing Spider-Man reboot movies into their own universe, but backfired horribly. Throw in a public embarrassment due to North Korean hackers and Sony was desperate for a win, leading disgraced executive Amy Pascal and new Sony chief Tom Rothman to contact Kevin Feige at Marvel about a potential deal. 

And what a deal it was! Sony would share the Spider-Man character with the MCU for five films, with Disney and Marvel getting all the profits on Disney-produced films starring Spider-Man and 5% off the top of every Sony-produced solo Spidey movie. Disney would also get 100% of that sweet, sweet merchandise money, and Feige would oversee the Sony films without having to ask the Mouse house for a cent to make them. It was a good deal for Disney, but it helped reinvigorate Spider-Man as a character and a franchise. It also allowed Feige to fold Peter Parker into the universe, making him a very crucial part of it. Yes, everything was great, until… 

II. What Happened, Then?

The last film on the five picture deal was Spider-Man: Far From Home, which finally gave the wall-crawler his first billion dollar picture and now stands as Sony’s most profitable movie ever. Their other Spidey-projects, Venom and Into the Spiderverse, had great success on their own, with Venom making $856 million worldwide and Spiderverse claiming the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Disney also found success of its own when the government slept on its job and allowed them to swallow 20th Century Fox, giving them back the rights to the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. When Disney and Sony execs sat down to renegotiate this deal, I had to believe that these recent events were on their minds, and this is where everything fell to pieces.

From what’s been reported (we don’t know 100% exactly what happened after all), the negotiations began and ended with Disney saying they wanted to partner 50-50 on Sony’s Spider-Man films, shouldering half the cost and netting half the revenues. This would not stop with just films starring the MCU Peter Parker, but any other Spider-Man films Sony had on their slate, like the upcoming Morbius, the Venom sequel and any Spiderverse spinoffs. Sony flat out rejected the deal and walked away from the table, though some reports suggest Sony made a counter offer that was also rejectedSo what happened here, when everything was going so well? Well, let’s take a look at both sides of the debate and try to figure out what might have been motivating them.

       Other than the blindingly obvious

III. Disney’s Side 

There’s one fact we all need to accept here, and it’s that without Disney and Feige, Sony would not have the success with Spider-Man that they do today. Because of Feige’s assistance, Spider-Man is a part of the biggest franchise in movie history, and an integral one at that. People wanting to see what happened in the aftermath of Endgame were what drove Far From Home to a billion dollars, not just the love of Spider-Man. Sure, Sony had to fight to get Tom Holland in as Spider-Man over Asa Butterfield (Disney’s choice), but all of Disney’s other decisions with Spidey have been just right!

So, playing devil’s advocate, why shouldn’t Disney get more cash? It’s their creative hand that has resuscitated the franchise, and since Spidey is doing big business it only follows that the primary cause of this success should get a little more money. 50% is too much, yes, but this was probably just a negotiating tactic. You always ask for more than you really expect to get and work down, haven’t you people watched Shark Tank?

    Sony could’ve used Mr. Wonderful, tbh

And let’s not forget that Kevin Feige has a lot on his plate right now, and his time is admittedly very valuable. If Sony isn’t willing to pony up the money to make it worth his time, then there’s no reason he should be expected to help them out, right? Disney doesn’t fully own the rights to Spider-Man, so the Avengers, Guardians, Fantastic Four and X-Men should be the first ones to receive his attention. Let’s take a look at the other side’s perspective, though…

IV. Sony’s Side

Let’s face a hard truth: Spider-Man built Sony Pictures and is the only real franchise that the studio has going. Jumanji was a surprise hit, but we can’t call that a real franchise just yet, and the Ghostbusters reboot flamed out so hard they have to reboot it again next year. So for Disney to waltz in and start demanding 50% of Sony’s Spider-Man profits is not only a bad proposition, it is a deal that absolutely nobody in Hollywood would take. Why the ever-loving hell would you surrender half of your only big property to the largest studio in the game?

Disney is, to be nice, a very predatory company. They love to crush their opponents just as much as they love selling happiness, from punishing the LA Times for exposing their misdeeds to stopping a Hasbro-Dreamworks merger out of spite. If they were to just ask for 50% of the solo Spider-Man movies it would be more understandable. Sony still has Venom and Spiderverse sequels they can make all the profit on in that scenario. But that’s not what Disney wanted. They wanted everything that Sony owned that was even tangentially related to Spider-Man, intending to take even more from their supposed “partner.” Because without Spider-Man Disney just can’t live, right? Even with 100% of the merchandising money?? That’s not an equal share, that’s just plain robbery.

                     *cough, cough*

It does suck that Feige will no longer be producing these movies (for now), but Sony has watched him work for two films. If they don’t know how to replicate that going forward, then that’s on them. But to suggest that Sony should just roll over for Disney and let them have their way with Spider-Man is just begging for an entertainment monopoly at this point. It’s bad business, it’ll ultimately be bad creatively (good luck getting a good Venom or Carnage under Disney), and it’s just bad for the industry as a whole. Disney needs someone to tell them to eff off every now and then, and Sony just happened to be the one to do it this time. 

V. So, is Spider-Man Really Gone? 

Ha! Of course he isn’t! C’mon people, do you really think Disney and Sony are gonna walk away from all the money this makes? That’s even more absurd than Disney’s 50-50 proposal! This is a negotiating tactic, and even though they’re not at the table it doesn’t mean they’re both not trying to pressure the other. And us fans, especially the crazy ones starting petitions, trying to boycott Sony and just acting stupid in general, are the weapons they’re using against each other.

              Disney and Sony, at the fans

Disney needs Spider-Man primarily because Feige made the logically questionable decision to tie a character on loan from a rival studio so integrally into the MCU. Going by Far From Home, Spider-Man was supposed to be a pretty important character moving forward, not just because he’s Tony Stark’s heir but because of his other ties to SHIELD and the Avengers. To just suddenly remove him with no explanation would be a leap I don’t know if most general audiences could take, especially when they realize it was all because of greed. Disney is strong, but with next summer finding them facing down a real fight from the other studios, and with a slate of questionable quality and potential bad press, they need a surefire thing like Spider-Man.

And Sony, while it may have the slight advantage over Disney here, still needs Feige to deliver billion dollar slam dunks. Yes, Venom did really well, and even the bad Spider-Man movies have made very respectable amounts of money. But you can’t have a franchise like Spider-Man not hit that billion mark. Having Spider-Man not in the MCU also presents serious logistical problems for Sony, and robs them of the chance to spread that MCU love (and hopefully profit) to its other Spidey-movies. Sony knows how valuable Spider-Man is, as even outside the MCU he is arguably Marvel’s most popular hero. There’s been God knows how many animated shows (with another one coming), his comic sales are very strong, and his recent PS4-exclusive game did ridiculous business. But for that success to continue to the movies, it’s best to keep up the MCU connection.

I don’t think we’ll have long to wait before we hear news about Spider-Man returning to the MCU. Both studios know how much money they’re losing, so it’s all about waiting to see who will cave first. Sony has the powerhouse team of Lord and Miller on their side to keep them in good shape, but Disney also has the magic formula of instant cash flow. Stop worrying, people, it’ll all be fine! Take it from your old pal Steven, we will see Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe again. So stop acting like damn fools! Comic fans don’t need this right now!

       Or do we wanna wind up like this? 

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