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Sony vs. Disney: The Spider-Man Story So Far

By David Neff

Yesterday, everyone was stunned by the news of Spider-Man returning back to Sony exclusively. As it stands right now, Spider-Man who was supposed to lead the MCU for the next phase of Marvel films is no more. So what happened? How did we get here and what does this mean for the future? Let’s take a deeper dive into this.

For starters, Marvel obtained the rights to feature Spider-Man in Civil War and The Avengers movies. On the flip side, Sony obtains all the profits from the Spiderman solo movies. Because of this, Sony also had to cast the role of Spider-Man which they nailed with Tom Holland. Holland suddenly became one of the most if not the most promising acquisition involved with the negotiations. He’s a Spider-Man that is universally loved with a clear focus on how growing into the role should be. At the time of Holland’s deal, he was to be signed for six appearances as Spider-Man. Three of them outside of solo projects in which Marvel obtains profit from (Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame) and three solo projects (Spider-Man: Home Coming, Spider-Man: Far From Home and a potential 3rd film).

Then Venom was a major success earning $856 million despite not having Spider-Man mentioned or even featured. This was followed by the immensely successful Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse which earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Film and collected $375 million. Spiderman: Far from Home was then the highest grossing movie in Sony Pictures history to the tune of $1.1 billion dollars. After the success of Far from Home, a renegotiation was to be made for the continued success of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Intially, the deal was that Marvel put up 100% of the production costs. In exchange, Disney receives 5% of “first-dollar gross,” of 5% of the ticket sales from the first of the release and retain the merchandising rights for the character. Sony, would reap the rest of the box office haul. Disney, who acquired Marvel in 2009, wanted 50% of the co-financial stake. Considering that Disney already owns the merchandise on Spider-Man, Sony couldn’t make a deal where they give up half of its most valuable franchise. Especially when Disney already owns the rights to most of the Marvel characters with outliers being Namor, Hulk, She-Hulk and others.

How bad is it? Well, let’s consider the Spider-Man: Far From Home storyline. Please a major warning, full spoilers from here on out. The five-year jump after Thanos’ snap revolved around Peter Parker dealing with the death of his mentor Tony Stark AKA Iron Man, and to determine what kind of hero he was going to be. The growth of the character was prominent to give a feel-good story on the importance of stepping into responsibility and how the categorize it into a manageable situation. However, a new wrench is thrown into the plans when a massive cliffhanger is revealed to all of New York. Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Furthermore, the twist that Marvel staples Nick Fury and Maria Hill weren’t actually themselves in the film, instead it was friendly Skrulls introduced in Captain Marvel. So in terms of continuity standpoint, Sony can’t use any existing MCU story. No references to Tony Stark, or 5 years after post-snap. The reveal may not be the hardest thing to do because it could be simply as running away from life’s problems when the ones you are close to are in danger. Is it cookie cutter clean? No but, it may not be the worst thing especially if they can integrate Miles Morales as Spider-Man into the picture.

So what does this mean for the future? Well, Spider-Man universe is all Sony-controlled. That’s over 900 characters that could see its own separate universe. Not to mention, the Spider-Man videogame became Sony Playstation highest grossing Playstation Exclusive. Sony bought the studio that developed the game, Insomniac Games on Monday. Tom Holland will work for Sony for the foreseeable future which now includes two additional movies unless he sees a way out. Personally, that would be a massive mistake as Sony needs to go to Holland and stay committed to a good story. It’s definitely possible and could see Sony making Holland the face of the future for Sony. The Venom sequel is underway with Andy Serkis directing Tom Hardy, Morbius with Jared Leto, rumors of Kraven The Hunter, Silver Sable and Black Cat are also being produced. In theory, a Sinister Six movie could be similar scale to Suicide Squad or even Avengers movie if done right. Could a soft reboot happen? Maybe, or a better idea, in my opinion, would be using a template of getting Spider-Man to San Francisco to team up with Venom. They also clearly have a way of doing this with Peter Parker going into hiding and could also work by having Miles Morales of Into the Spiderverse fame, being introduced in New York. Sony ironically, has a way to turn a potential negative into a net profit.

As for Disney? They have two years to figure it out. Clearly they feel that Kevin Feige will continue churning out success and there’s no reason to think why not with profits over $26.8 billion dollars made on 23 films. This is definitely a blow as it did appear that Spider-man was the heir apparent to lead the Avengers. Maybe, a backdrop of Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel, Thor, and Falcon is a better overall option. However, Disney has to understand that continuity affects their universe more than it does for Sony as they have an easy way to enter that fray. Phase Four of the MCU begins next year with Black Widow and The Eternals plus their Disney+ shows The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. By then, they should have a general idea of how to pursue Phase Five. In theory, the easiest way to do this would be based on the House of M comic. Using Scarlet Witch reality bending powers and making Scarlet the big bad, the idea of writing a different character performing everything that Spider-Man did is entirely possible.

Both studios will now have to work hard to set forth their future. Disney would seem to have an upper-hand in this considering their consistent world building they’ve created with the MCU. Sony has to see the mistakes made in The Amazing Spider-Man series and not repeat that. Even though the fans will suffer, I think it’s a smart move by Sony to see what they fully have in this Spiderverse, for better or worse.