Earlier this week, news broke that negotiations have broken down between Disney and Sony over the rights to the Spider-Man character. By now most are aware that Marvel sold the film rights to Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony) a few decades ago, when the Comic publisher was staring down the possibility of shuttering for good. They also sold the rights, among others, to X-Men and Fantastic Four.
Fast forward to the present era and Marvel is doing juuuuust fine. The company is owned by Disney, who recently re-acquired X-Men and the F4, but Spider-Man remains a Sony film property. A few years ago a deal was struck that would allow Marvel Studios to develop for Sony a series of Spider-Man movies. Two solo-films were released, and the new iteration of the webslinger appeared in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.
Now everything is either in limbo or as dead as Uncle Ben, depending on which side you believe. Disney seems to think the deal is dead, Sony seems to think there’s still some negotiating to do. Both sides are using social media and press releases to push their angle and gin up support for their side.
It is here where I will go off on a rant.
Both sides are at fault here.
Disney was financing the Tom Holland Spider-man movies, through their Marvel Studios subsidiary, but they weren’t seeing any profit other than a “5% first-day gross.”
Sony, on the other hand, was getting 95% of the film profits, minus the advertising budget, but they weren’t reaping any secondary benefits like merchandise profits, because those have always been owned by Marvel (which is owned by Disney).
You can say all day long that Disney finally gave Sony a “good” Spider-Man movie, but that’s (A) not true as the first two Raimi movies are great, and (B) not important as Sony doesn’t care if a movie is good as long as it makes money. On the other hand, while many studios have been able to put out bad movies to at least some commercial success, Sony’s bad movies tend to flop hard. The only exception, most importantly, is Venom.
Meanwhile, Disney (and I suspect Alan Horn more so than Bob Iger) doesn’t want to spend money on a franchise they’re only getting 5% back on, even though Spider-Man in the MCU is an overall boost to the whole MCU. That’s kind of important with Iron Man and Captain America basically done and Thor probably on his way out after Love and Thunder is finished.
Both sides also believe they have leverage.
Sony thinks they had enough of a goodwill foundation to make another Spider-Man movie with Tom Holland and make money with it, even if the critical praise takes a hit. Venom being aggressively mediocre (at best) while still making almost $800mm is their justification.
Disney thinks fans will backlash against Sony and force them to bow to a deal that’s better for Disney: They want a 50% cut of the next Spider-Man film’s profits which, if you applied that to Far From Home, would have netted Sony about half a billion; that’s far less than what they reaped for Venom. Even if Disney pitched in half the advertising and still footed 100% of the budget, Sony still would only have made about $800mm or so from the Far From Home, or about what they were getting from the Andrew Garfield movies.
Don’t forget Amy Paschal (who orchestrated the Disney deal) is no longer with Sony. Tom Rothman (who ruined the X-Men and Fantastic Four at Fox) is the new head man at the studio. In his eyes, Sony has no reason to play nice with Disney, and certainly no reason to give them 50% of the only revenue they can collect from the Spider-Man character.
One of two things will happen:
1. Disney and Sony will work out a new deal, maybe giving Disney a bigger cut of the film’s profits, but nothing close to 50%. Maybe 10%. This will happen if Disney feels the PR turning against them for demanding too much from Sony. Right now they’re banking on goodwill and the excitement to see the Fox properties finally “done right” to motivate fans to petition Sony into making a deal. If those fans don’t come out strong against Sony or in fact, if they turn against Disney for being greedy, they’ll back off and make a much smaller deal.
2. Disney and Sony will not work out a deal. Even if public sentiment turns hard against Sony, they’re not giving up half the profits of a Spider-Man movie. That property is one of the very very few they have that’s a tent-pole. James Bond is gone. MiB: International bombed. They have a terrible track-record of horror/low-budget genre movies to make cheaply for big returns. They’re struggling and Spider-Man is their cash cow. Even a mediocre film that makes 800mm is better than what MiB: International or Ghostbusters gave them, and it’s almost twice what Disney’s 50/50 deal would have netted them.
So what does it all mean?
If a deal is reached, then we’ll all forget about this until the next time the contract is up, and then again and again forever because Sony will have to go bankrupt before give up their rights to the property. Having said that, considering Sony’s track record, going bankrupt is not out of the question, either.
If a deal is not reached, Tom Holland will return to playing Spider-Man, having two movies left on his deal (with Sony). In those movies there can be no mention, not even in passing, to anything MCU-related. So no Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, Avengers Tower, The Snap, Stark Tech, etc. Expect a movie with someone like Kraven, setting up a Sinister Six film for Holland’s last outing, then maybe Sony tries to re-sign him for a movie featuring Venom, etc (don’t put it past Sony to just rush ahead to a Sinister Six movie in 2021 with Venom throw in too). Meanwhile, there’ll be no mention of Peter Parker or Spider-Man in the MCU, but that’s a much easier thing to cut out on Disney’s side now that Tony is dead.
Cutting the MCU out of Spider-Man will hurt Sony creatively, but they don’t care about what’s creative. Cutting Spider-Man out of the MCU will be easy creatively, but they have tons more characters to play with. It’s the fans who will suffer.