Spider-Man's movie adventures have been a headache for Sony for over a decade, but the character is too valuable to compromise on

Spider Man Far From Home SonySony

  • Sony and Disney were unable to reach an agreement over Spider-Man's future movie appearances, Deadline first reported on Tuesday.
  • "We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given [Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige] - including all their newly added Marvel properties - do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own," Sony said in a statement.
  • Disney wanted a 50/50 cofinancing stake in future "Spider-Man" movies, but with Spider-Man being Sony's biggest film property, Sony didn't budge on its current deal.
  • Sony hopes that "Spider-Man: Far From Home" director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland return for sequels. If they do, and a deal still hasn't been made, Feige wouldn't be involved and the movies wouldn't include any MCU characters.
  • Sony has owned the film rights to Spider-Man and 900 related Marvel Comics characters since 1998 and can keep them as long as it releases a "Spider-Man" movie every five years.
  • Sony struck a deal with Marvel Studios in 2015 after "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" underperformed at the box office, and the massive Sony hack revealed internal communications about the character's future at the studio.
  • Sony retained distribution rights, basically lending Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe while developing movies of its own, such as the box-office hit "Venom."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Spider-Man is caught in a tangled web.

After Deadline reported on Tuesday that Sony and Disney were unable to come to an agreement over Spider-Man's movie appearances, Sony released a statement blaming Disney. A Sony spokesperson said that it was the Mouse House's decision for Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige to not be involved with future movies.

"We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him - including all their newly added Marvel properties - do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own," Sony said. "Kevin is terrific and we are grateful for his help and guidance and appreciate the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue."

READ MORE: Sony blamed Disney for the 'Spider-Man' deal falling apart and said it hoped 'this might change in the future'

Disney wanted a 50/50 cofinancing stake in future "Spider-Man" movies, according to Deadline, but Sony would rather keep the deal as is, where Marvel receives up to 5% of first-dollar gross and all merchandising revenue. A source familiar with the negotiations told Business Insider that the Deadline report was accurate.

"Without a doubt the implications of whatever happens with this potential deal - or lack thereof - will be massive, ongoing, and profoundly effect the future of the MCU and Spider-Man's place within this all-important cinematic eco-system," Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, told Business Insider.

But how did we get here?

spiderman 2Columbia Pictures

Sony's big swings - and big misses

Spider-Man's big-screen journey has been a roller coaster, and this is just the latest in a series of headaches. To understand the current tug-of-war between Sony and Disney, you need to understand how the arrangement arose in the first place.

Sony has owned the film rights to Spider-Man and 900 related Marvel Comics characters since 1998, and can keep them if it releases a new "Spider-Man" movie every five years and nine months.

Sony kicked things off with a bang with Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" in 2002, and then its sequels "Spider-Man 2" in 2004 and "Spider-Man 3" in 2007. But "Spider-Man 3" left a bad taste in people's mouths. As reporter Ben Fritz wrote in his book "The Big Picture: The Fight For the Future of Movies," it cost nearly $260 million to make, and profits dipped 35% from "Spider-Man 2" and 64% from "Spider-Man."

Five years later, Sony rebooted the superhero in 2012 with "The Amazing Spider-Man." Andrew Garfield stepped into the role, replacing Tobey Maguire, and "500 Days of Summer" director Marc Webb took over from Raimi. With $758 million worldwide, the movie spawned a 2014 sequel, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2."

amazing spiderman 2 Courtesy Columbia Pictures

But the sequel was a disappointment critically and commercially. It made $708 million worldwide, which isn't terrible. But the two movies combined cost over $400 million to produce, before marketing costs, and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" fell short of Sony's expectations considering the studio wanted to launch its own Spider-Man film universe to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The groundwork was clearly laid out in "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" for a potential "Sinister Six" movie, which would be directed by "Cabin in the Woods" director Drew Goddard and bring together a cast of some of Spider-Man's most dangerous enemies.

READ MORE: Sony says it has 7 years of Marvel movies mapped out - here are all the details on what to expect

"Everyone had high hopes for this," a production assistant on "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" told Business Insider last year. "They were projecting for ['The Amazing Spider-Man 2] to at least make more money than the first one."

That didn't happen, and then the 2014 Sony hack revealed internal communications about "reinvigorating" the "Spider-Man" franchise and potentially having Marvel Studios produce. Sony could no longer ignore pressure to strike a deal with Marvel, from both the public and Marvel itself.

Fritz wrote in "The Big Picture" that Feige and other Marvel executives disliked what Sony was doing with Spider-Man and disapproved of rebooting the series. When Feige met with former Sony executive and longtime "Spider-Man" producer Amy Pascal in 2014 after "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" opened, Pascal threw her sandwich at him, according to Fritz.

spiderman homecomingMarvel Studios

Spider-Man gets back on track

Sony and Marvel Studios finally struck a deal in 2015. Marvel would be able to use Spider-Man in its cinematic universe, while Sony retained distribution rights and creative control. Pascal, who had shepherded the "Spider-Man" movies since the first in 2002, produced the MCU's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" with Feige. Sony distributed them.

That brings us to today.

With Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters (as it's called internally) back on track after the success of last year's "Venom" (it made over $800 million worldwide), and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" making over $1 billion this summer, both sides had something to lose.

Spider-Man is Sony's biggest property, so the studio has an extra incentive to maintain its control. Five "Spider-Man" movies make up the studio's top six highest-grossing domestic releases of all time.

Venom Tom hardySony

And after the success of "Venom" last year, experts told Business Insider that it was just the rebound that Sony needed.

"This is just the beginning of Sony's reemergence as a studio of box-office distinction," Exhibitor Relations senior box-office analyst Jeff Bock said in November. "They're not giving it up without a fight."

That observation is coming true. Sony proved with "Venom" that it could make a live-action Spider-Man movie without Spider-Man. Sony Pictures Television chairman Mike Hopkins told Variety in March that Sony has "the next seven or eight years laid out" for the "SUMC," including a "Venom" sequel and "Morbius," starring Jared Leto as the vampiric Spider-Man villain.

Spider-Man's renewed success was a victory for Disney, too, though. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" made nearly $2 billion combined (and counting) thanks to the Marvel Studios brand, and Disney clearly wanted to see a deal that better reflected its contributions to the character's revival.

Can Sony make a Spider-Man movie without Marvel?

Sony is hoping that "Homecoming" and "Far From Home" director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland return for two more Spider-Man movies, according to Deadline. Unless something changes, Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige would not be involved, meaning no MCU characters would appear or be referenced. That doesn't mean the new movies will flop, though.

"If the writing and execution is there, a solid Spider-Man movie - even outside of the MCU - is possible," Dergarabedian said.

Sony made the animated "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" last year, which was a massive critical hit and won the Oscar for best animated feature. It has also made well-received, and successful, live-action "Spider-Man" movies in the past.

But it's hard to ignore Spider-Man's redemption in Marvel Studios and Feige's hands. "Homecoming" and "Far From Home" showed Marvel Studios' power in attracting audiences. And Feige's involvement expanded beyond the MCU, as he was involved in "Venom's" production but did not have a producer credit, according to a source familiar with the situation (Deadline also reported this).

While Feige and Marvel seem to be out of Spider-Man's life right now, Sony was hopeful that a deal could still be made in the future in its statement.

"When you look at the incredible success that came out of the Sony/Disney collaboration on 'Homecoming' and 'Far From Home,' it seems almost unfathomable that some sort of deal cannot be ironed out," Dergarabedian said.
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