By: Darius Thornton
“With great power, comes great responsibility.” These words are synonymous with one of the most well-known fictional characters in history, Spider-Man. He’s literally everywhere, movies, games, cereal boxes, pizza boxes, Coke bottles, children’s birthday parties, action figures and way more. Over the last few years, it seems like we couldn’t get enough Spider-Man. He was dominating the big screen, with his appearances in the two hallmark films, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, his debut and extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War and his two wildly successful solo films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home. In addition, 2018’s Insomniac game, Marvel’s Spider-Man, sold over nine million copies and was met with critical praise. So, all in all, it’s a good time to be a Spider-Man fan. At least it was, before August 20th.
The agreement between Sony Pictures and Disney (Who owns Marvel Studios) that allowed Spider-Man and associated characters to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fell through after negotiations between the companies failed. It was first reported by Deadline.com, a respected Hollywood insider with connections close to the situation. According to numerous reports, Disney has been earning approximately five percent of the box-office profit from the Spider-Man films, but earn all the money generated from any Spider-Man merchandise that is sold. Disney also has the animated rights to Spider-Man, meaning only they can produce animated television shows featuring the character.
For some background, this all stems from a deal between Marvel Comics and Sony Pictures, all the way back in 1999. During the decade, Marvel’s comic sales were plummeting and they found themselves quickly heading towards bankruptcy. Desperate for money, they sold the film rights to many of the largest brands and characters, including the X-Men and Fantastic Four to Twentieth Century Fox, Hulk to Universal Studios and perhaps most significantly of all, Spider-Man and all characters affiliated with him, to Sony Pictures. Sony wasted no time in putting out an adaptation, with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire being released in 2002. The film was beloved by fans and critics alike and thus a trilogy soon spawned, with Spider-Man 2 being released in 2004 and Spider-Man 3 in 2007. All were wildly successful, both financially and critically, though the third was a bit more divisive. After plans for a fourth film fell apart, Sony quickly scrambled to develop a reboot with Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man in 2012. The film was a modest success and Sony quickly began planning several sequels and spin-off films. These plans quickly fell apart when two years later The Amazing Spider-Man 2 proved to be a financial and critical failure. This, coupled with a number of leaks, revealing Sony’s bizarre plans for the franchise, almost damaged the Spider-Man brand beyond repair.
This pushed Sony to make a tentative deal with Disney in 2014, allowing Spider-Man to appear in five Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, a saga of interconnected films featuring characters like the Avengers. It would give Marvel Studios complete creative control of the films, while Sony produced them. Tom Holland took the role of a teenage Peter Parker, who after obtaining his powers, sought to be just like the heroes he looked up to, particularly Iron Man. He also dealt with a lot of relatable teenage problems such as juggling responsibilities, high school, fitting in and crushes. This refreshing, new take on the character was beloved by many. Spider-Man was being set up as the new phase of the MCU, after the death of Iron Man in Avengers: Endgame. It appeared the character had a bright future, then August 20th happened and fans everywhere were outraged, understandably so. This resulted in the #SaveSpidey movement, a social media movement dedicated to getting Sony and Disney to reconsider and make a new deal.
There have been numerous conflicting reports about the exact cause of the breakdown in negotiations. The initial report from Deadline states that Disney wanted to obtain 50 percent, a full half of the profits from the box office as well as keep all the merchandising rights. Since then, it has been reported that Disney actually sought 30 percent, but Sony turned that down, while others say that is was Disney who turned down Sony’s offer of 30 percent. Whatever the case, the dispute led to Spider-Man being pulled from any future appearances in the MCU, at least for the time being. There have been many reports from various sources, credible and not, that discussions between both companies were simply at a low point, not ceased altogether. Cosmicbooknews.com even reported that there was a new deal on the table, reportedly featuring seven more movies with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. However, a recent interview report by Variety seems to dash these hopes. Sony Pictures CEO, Tony Vinciquerra, stated that the “door was closed for now” on a possible deal to get Spider-Man back in the MCU, due to Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios being “stretched thin” with creative projects. Disney has yet to officially comment on the situation, more than three weeks later.
Many fans are skeptical of Sony’s ability to make a competent Spider-Man film due to their past failures and mismanagement issues, even after their rousing success with the animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse last year. To add insult to injury, a massive cliffhanger from the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home may never be resolved, depending on some of the more unknown, tricky legal elements of the split. From a storytelling perspective, it will be very difficult for Sony to pick up from where the MCU left off since they are now legally unable to mention any of the MCU characters or events. Whatever the case, let’s hope Sony takes Uncle Ben’s advice and handles this new power responsibly.