Spider-Man: What Disney-Sony split means for his movie future
After two successful solo outings and three team-up films in which he stood alongside The Avengers, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man appears to be swinging out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In news that has stunned and dismayed comic book fans, Sony has confirmed discussions with Marvel-owner Disney have reached an impasse, meaning a deal that allowed the wall-crawler to appear in films starring the likes of Iron Man and Captain America is now dead.
Having one of the most recognisable superheroes in the world removed from the biggest franchise in box office history seems like an odd move, but the relationship between Peter Parker and the big screen is far from straightforward, with negotiations complex enough to warrant their own Brexit backstop.
Why is Sony even involved in the making of Spider-Man films?
Spider-Man is the most beloved character in the Marvel pantheon, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962.
But in 1999, during a period of financial uncertainty, Marvel sold the film rights to the superhero to Sony.
The rights have remained there ever since and Sony has released a number of Spider-Man films, including a trilogy with Tobey Maguire starting in 2002 and a reboot starring Andrew Garfield in 2012.
Although Disney bought Marvel in 2009, it has had to honour existing deals the firm had signed with other studios, including Fox owning the film rights for X-Men.
Most of the deals have since expired or – in the case of Fox – Disney bought the company that had them, but the Sony agreement has survived.
How has Spider-Man ended up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
After the second film starring Garfield flopped in 2014, a deal was done to allow the web-swinger join the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Sony would retain the rights and finance and distribute the films, but Marvel Studios would have creative control so that the hero slotted in neatly with existing characters and stories.
Spider-Man made his MCU debut in Captain America: Civil War in 2016, followed by:
- Spider-Man: Homecoming – 2017
- Avengers: Infinity War – 2018
- Avengers: Endgame – 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home – 2019
All were critical and commercial hits outstripping the reaction to previous Sony-released Spider-Man films, with Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all-time.
Why has the deal been scrapped?
Following Endgame, Far From Home soared past $1bn at the worldwide box office after releasing in July.
It surpassed Bond film Skyfall as the highest-grossing Sony release ever, so it seems strange that the company would no longer want the character to be part of the MCU.
According to Deadline, Disney wants to change the deal with Sony so that the two companies fund future Spider-Man films 50-50 and also receive equal box office receipts.
Disney reportedly only made 5% of the opening day revenue from Homecoming and Far From Home, but it takes all merchandising cash and benefits from being able to use Spider-Man in its own films.
What happens next?
British star Tom Holland has been playing Spider-Man since Sony and Disney signed their deal and is widely considered to have provided the best take on the character.
Holland reportedly has two films left on his contract with Sony and the company has said that while it is “disappointed” the Disney deal is dead, it plans to make more Spider-Man films.
But those films will not be able to feature or even reference any characters or key plot points specific to the MCU, which will make future storytelling with this version of Spidey an awkward endeavour.
Disney cannot mention Spider-Man in any of its future MCU films – even though the ending of Far From Home suggested he would have a big role to play in the years ahead.
The large amount of fan outrage means both companies may well return to the negotiating table, but for now both will be going their separate ways and the next Spider-Man film will be a strictly solo affair.