The end of August saw Disney drop a virtual splash bomb of announcements at their biennial D23 expo, saturing the headlines with news about Marvel’s Phase 4 slate, various upcoming Star Wars projects, two Pixar movies, and their family-oriented streaming service Disney+. Yet, the excitement they generated was dampened by the lingering cloud of another recent headline: the beloved Spider-Man’s financially motivated exit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The split was a result of failed talks between Sony and Disney to extend the deal which had temporarily allowed Spider-Man to enter Disney’s MCU in the first place.
In 1999, Sony acquired exclusive movie rights to the character, with Marvel retaining the rights for Spider-Man merchandising, comics, and cartoon television. Sony adapted the character several times for the big screen, finding overwhelming financial success with both the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy, and its less well-received but equally as lucrative Amazing Spider-Man movies. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios, acquired by Disney in 2009, was busy building a Spider-Man-free cinematic universe and finding unprecedented worldwide success of their own.
After the lukewarm reception of Sony’s 2014 Amazing Spider-Man 2, however, both companies reached an agreement to revive the web-slinger by incorporating him into the MCU. Sony would allow Marvel to use the character in non-Spider-Man MCU movies, and Sony’s solo Spider-Man movies would be connected with the universe under the guidance of Marvel producer Kevin Feige.
The benefits were numerous. Sony saw huge box-office returns thanks to the MCU’s enormous fanbase — the studio’s Spider-Man: Far from Home (2018) became the first Spider-Man movie to make over $1 billion worldwide — and Disney’s Marvel profited off of increased toy and merchandise sales.
In August 2019, the talks to extend this deal fell through, reportedly due to Disney’s demands for better terms from Sony. Deadline reports that Disney had attempted to negotiate a 50/50 co-financing deal that would have given them half the box office revenue in exchange for covering half the production cost, potentially a huge blow to Sony; their recent MCU installment, Spider-Man: Far from Home, made over $1 billion at the box office.
This story may or may not be true, given that Sony released a statement implying that Disney terminated the deal to allow Kevin Feige to focus solely on Marvel’s Disney-owned projects, tweeting, “The many new responsibilities that Disney has given [Feige] – including all their newly added Marvel properties – do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own.”
When the news first broke, the general public’s outrage was mostly aimed at Sony; in the past few weeks, that view has changed. Both Sony’s statement and Deadline’s report seem to cast Disney as the reason for the split. If Disney truly was strong-arming Sony for a large cut of box office revenue, the latter may have had no choice but to pull out of the deal, since the Spider-Man universe is one of their only reliably lucrative IP’s. The only chance that Spider-Man has to return to the MCU is if one of the studios backs down, and as it stands, that studio will probably have to be Disney.
If renegotiations do not work, fans may have to get used to Spider-Man once again being squarely under Sony’s control. And that reality may not be so bad. Of course, there are questions to be answered. Will Sony completely reboot the universe? Does this mean that Spider-Man and Venom will finally meet on the big screen? Most importantly, will the new, Sony-only movies be good? Right now, the answer is that the future, though uncertain, looks bright. Sony’s 2018 box office smash Venom managed to be an audience favorite despite mixed critical reception. More recently, Philip Lord and Christopher Miller’s animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Fans can also breathe a sigh of relief at the fact that it looks like Tom Holland will be continuing as Spider-Man under Sony.
When asked about his split from Disney, Tom Holland responded, “The future for Spider-Man will be different, but it will be equally as awesome and amazing, and we’ll find new ways to make it even cooler.”
Are these factors enough to ensure that post-MCU Spider-Man will be good? Maybe not. But they should give us hope that Sony has the potential to keep the Spider-Man franchise swinging, with or without Disney.