The Tangled Web of Sony and Disney: Spider-Man’s Past, Present, and Future in the MCU

Like every superhero origin story, the Disney-Sony deal to share the Spider-Man franchise is full of ups, downs, twists, and turns. From a shocking withdrawal from the MCU to a triumphant surprise return, late August through late September was quite a ride for Spider-Man fans. The stage was set for the Disney and Sony conflict all the way back in 1998.

The Origin Story

1998 was a low year for the comics industry as a whole, and Marvel Studios was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. In a last-ditch effort to stay afloat, Marvel divvied up and sold the film rights to several major characters and franchises to Fox, Sony, and Universal.

Spider-Man and his related characters were bought by Sony, with the stipulation that a movie must be made every 5.75 years, or the rights would revert back to Marvel. Marvel retained the film rights for the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc., because at the time, they weren’t popular and were worth almost nothing.

Fast forward several years to the 2009 Disney acquisition of Marvel/Marvel Studios and subsequent birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Kevin Feige’s gamble of taking the relatively unknown characters that Marvel had the rights to and giving them feature films had paid off enormously, taking the company from the verge of bankruptcy to one that was pulling in millions and billions every year. Despite the advantage of owning one of the most popular superheroes of all time, Sony was having mixed success.

The first two installments of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise were enormously successful, only to have the third flop. The Amazing Spider-Man series struggled to gain footing, the third being scraped altogether. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had the additional problem of being sandwiched between Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in theaters.

The Team-Up

After the infamous Sony hack of 2014, it was revealed that Sony and Disney executives had been in contact discussing potential ways for Spider-Man to join the main Marvel Cinematic Universe. The talks had begun in October of 2014, a few short months after the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a lackluster debut. The deal was publicly announced on February 9th, 2015. It consisted of three solo movies and three additional appearances in the MCU.

In this deal, Sony would put up 100% of the funding for the solo movies and would get the final creative say during production. In return, they would net 95% of the profits. They also got a portion of the profits for movies where Spider-Man appeared but was not the lead. Disney would receive 5% of the first-dollar gross on the film and all the merchandising rights. They also got additional money if the film reached certain box office milestones.

It was a mutually beneficial deal for both Sony and Disney: Sony got to play in the MCU sandbox (and jump on the profit train), while Disney got access to one of the most popular superheroes of all time.

The Big Battle

After seeing Spider-Man: Far From Home rake in over $1 billion at the box office, Marvel and Sony sat down to renegotiate the terms of their deal. Disney wanted to put up 50% of the financing for the next Spider-Man film and receive 50% of the profits in return. Sony unsurprisingly said no. Spider-Man is by far raking in the most money of Sony’s current projects, and they were understandably reluctant to let any of that go. Neither side was willing to budge. On August 30, 2019 it was announced that negotiations had failed completely and that Spider-Man was out of the MCU.

The public outcry was enormous. Fans and even stars and directors of other Marvel movies lobbied the companies to return to negotiations. Avengers: Endgame co-director Joe Russo commented that the split was a “tragic mistake”. Sony issued a statement via Twitter in response, noting that they were “disappointed,” but respected Disney’s decision (Sony’s full statement)

Behind the scenes, Spider-Man himself Tom Holland was making appeals to both Sony film chairman Tom Rothman and Disney chairman/CEO Bob Iger according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was being employed by both studios for different projects at the time.  

Unexpected Victory

After nearly a month of mourning by fans, shocking news broke just after 8am on September 27th. Disney and Sony had quietly returned to the negotiations table in previous days and announced a new deal that would keep Spider-Man in the MCU for at least two more movies: one solo film, and one additional appearance. The specific financial aspects of the deal were not publicly revealed (Disney and Sony joint statement)

“I am thrilled that Spidey’s journey in the MCU will continue, and I and all of us at Marvel Studios are very excited that we get to keep working on it.” said Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios)

“I could not be happier we will all be working together as we see where his journey goes. This has been a winning partnership for the studios, the franchise and the fans and I’m overjoyed it will continue.” Added Amy Pascal (Pascal Pictures/Sony).  

The companies both highlighted that the outcry from fans on social media was a huge factor in returning to the negotiations table, along with Tom Holland’s behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

What do you think? Are you disappointed the independent Sony Spider-Man Universe has essentially been scrapped now that he’s returning to the MCU? Are you hoping to see more Spider-Man characters make the jump into the big universe? Let us know in the comments below!

-Hannah Butler

4 thoughts on “The Tangled Web of Sony and Disney: Spider-Man’s Past, Present, and Future in the MCU

  1. I’m thrilled that they’re going through with a third movie. Spiderman is just way to good to let it die like that. I wasn’t too worried though, I didn’t think the people on social media would have ever accepted never getting the final Spiderman movie.

  2. I agree, I think spider-man has way too big of a following for someone not to keep it going. I think I am personally a big MCU fan so for them to include him in there a little more isn’t a problem for me at all. I think they could easily make the jump with more characters into the MCU and it would have little effect on most MCU fans.

  3. I can admit when I first heard the news, I was a person who blamed Sony right away and hated them for breaking their deal. Now looking more into it and after getting all the facts I think it was more on Disney for breaking it off. I’m glad that they came to an agreement though. Spider-Man is huge for both Sony and Disney, so I think this will help both of them in the future and I hope they continue to make deals together. Great Post!

  4. I’m going to be honest- I’m not the biggest superhero movie fan. In fact, I’ve only ever seen the Avenger films and the Raimi Spiderman’s that you mentioned in this article. But that aside, I am pleased to see Spiderman back in the MCU. His presence added yet another unique element to the Avenger films, making the cast of crime-fighting heroes even more dynamic and powerful. It was also clear all over Twitter that people were FURIOUS about Disney’s previous decision, so it seems like all sides are happy… at least for now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *