The tangled web of Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be tearing apart, with Sony (who own the rights to the character) and Disney (who made the five films starring the Tom Holland version of the character) apparently ending their deal after financial disagreements.
Accordingly, headlines around the world have splashed that Spider-Man is definitively leaving the MCU and going it alone – but the truth may be a little more complicated than that, and requires a bit of a look back at Sony and Marvel’s original deal.
So what is the future of Spider-Man? Can Tom Holland’s Peter Parker be saved, and what would the MCU look like without him anyway?
Here’s our two cents on the whole farrago.
How did Spider-Man end up at Marvel?
To understand how we’ve gotten to where we are now, it’s useful to remember how the complex deal arose in the first place.
To put it simply, Marvel Comics sold an awful lot of its best characters’ film rights in the late 90s when it was recovering from bankruptcy, with Spider-Man ending up at Sony (who made the Tobey Maguire/Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy) and the X-Men ending up at 20th Century Fox, among other examples.
At that time, the prospect of Marvel actually making its own movies was unthinkable, so selling the movie rights made sense, and it wasn’t until many years later that Marvel Studios rose up (and was bought by Disney) and started making its own superhero movies based on characters that had either never been sold or that had reverted back to the company after other studios failed to make films about them.
Sony, though, was keen to keep its hands on Spider-Man – and after director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 failed to get off the ground they instead decided to reboot the franchise with new leading man Andrew Garfield, and develop their own cinematic universe based on the villains and other characters included with the character (including the likes of Venom).
However, after 2014’s sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which was supposed to kick off various spin-offs) performed below expectations, Sony put the kibosh on their plans and made an unprecedented deal – they would allow Disney and Marvel to use the Spider-Man character in Marvel movies and have a strong steering hand in the solo Spidey movies, but Sony would keep the lion’s share of the profits and handle the marketing.
And after around four years and billions of dollars made, that’s where we were – until this week…
What’s happened to Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man deal?
At first, the future looked bright. After exhausting the terms of their current deal, reports suggest that Disney and Sony had been trying to hash out a new deal to continue the agreement going forward.
According to Deadline among others, Disney was asking that the current set-up – where Disney takes just 5% of the “first dollar” profits, alongside all the merchandising revenue – be radically changed so that the studios shared the profits 50-50, a proposition Sony baulked at.
In a way, it’s not hard to see both positions. Earlier this week Spider-Man: Far From Home was revealed to have become Sony’s highest-grossing release of all time, pushing past James Bond movie Skyfall for a worldwide total of $1.110 billion.
Given how involved with the MCU (and specifically Avengers: Endgame) the film was, and given that Marvel supremo Kevin Feige was lead producer in having it made altogether, it’s not hard to imagine that handing over the vast majority of that profit to a rival studio would rankle with Disney, and make them want to reconsider the position.
From Sony’s perspective, deciding to offload hundreds of millions of dollars to Marvel and Disney would be similarly unappealing, especially when the success of Tom Hardy spin-off Venom (made solely by Sony) proves that they don’t necessarily need the MCU to make superhero money (specifically over $856 million worldwide).
Sure, Marvel’s latest Spidey movie made more than Venom – but 100% of £850 million is a lot more money than 50% of £1.1 billion. And who’s to say that if they turned Holland’s already-established Spider-Man (they still have Holland under a Sony contract) into a hero without an MCU connection, he couldn’t still make the big bucks anyway?
After this disagreement it appears that talks have broken down, with the likely result that if they can’t work something out Spider-Man is out of the MCU, and Marvel Studios President Feige will no longer be producing the solo Spider-Man movies.
Unless of course, there’s still hope for a last-minute rescue after all…
So is Spider-Man definitely out of the MCU?
Well, possibly – but possibly not.
At the moment both Disney and Sony seem to be trying to court the public uproar from fans following the news of Spidey’s MCU exit, giving opposing briefings to press that pass the blame for the deal breakdown between them.
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. (2/3)
— Sony Pictures (@SonyPictures) August 21, 2019
Notably, Sony has tried to suggest that the story has come from Disney’s decision to remove Feige from future solo Spider-Man movies due to his busy schedule (which seems like a stretch), and generally both studios seem to be doing a lot of posturing right now as they try to shift the bad PR to the other side.
All of which is to say that, given the uproar, it doesn’t seem unimaginable that one or both of the studios will back down and get back in the negotiating room. Even in Sony’s statement above they say “we hope this might change in the future,” and negotiating like this in the public eye isn’t unknown for Hollywood.
It’s unlikely Marvel ever really expected to get 50% of future profits, but started with an aggressive stance so they could work down to something more realistic, and frankly there’s enough money and fan goodwill on the table to make it worthwhile.
Also, neither studio would necessarily want the bad PR of taking Holland’s Spider-Man away from the MCU – and realistically, no matter what they say it seems almost certain that Sony would bear the brunt of the blame for the Spexit , especially if they tried to continue the franchise without Marvel.
Speaking of which…
What would Spider-Man look like without the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
If the deal really does break down, the future of Spider-Man’s solo films is the main thing in doubt. In what may (in hindsight) have been a slightly cynical move from Marvel, Holland’s Spider-Man has been unusually connected to other Marvel heroes like Iron Man and the MCU in general, and severing him from all that would be a bit of a blow.
With that in mind, it’s unclear whether the continuity of the solo Spider-Man films, including Far From Home’s shocking cliffhanger, could continue in Marvel-free Spider-Man films. Certainly, they might not be allowed to reference the Avengers, Spider-Man’s actions in Civil War, his aunt’s new boyfriend Happy (Jon Favreau), the Thanos snap, or even Peter Parker’s relationship with Tony Stark.
They could possibly continue following Holland’s Spider-Man after the events of Far From Home when (spoiler alert) his identity was revealed to the world and he was framed for murder – but they’d be forced to walk a very careful line where the MCU Spidey has to exist in a world where other superheroes don’t exist, but pretend he didn’t ever know anything different while also not acknowledging that they don’t exist given that his previous films explicitly showed that they do.
Confused? Yeah, well, it would be confusing. The only other solution as we could see it would be for Sony to zap Holland’s Spider-Man into their own separate universe somehow, where Tom Hardy is Venom, Jared Leto is Morbius and everything looks like a movie made in 2004.
Sony has Holland under contract for another couple of movies, so they could keep him for whatever version they choose – unless of course they just decided to reboot the whole thing, ditch Holland and start all over again with a new Spider-Man, like they did with Andrew Garfield. After all, if audiences were able to handle five different Spider-people in animated feature Into The Spider-Verse, who’s to say that couldn’t handle another live-action webslinger?
Either way, it’s bound to be a solution that could upset many fans of Holland’s take.
What would the Marvel Cinematic Universe look like without Spider-Man?
By contrast, it seems doubtful that Spider-Man’s removal from the Marvel Cinematic Universe would make a massive impact, especially given that it managed eight years pretty well without him before his first appearance in 2016.
Sure, it’d be a shame for him to not appear in future team-up movies, but none of the films currently on the slate for Marvel’s Phase Four would have featured him anyway, and there are no announced plans for future Avengers sequels at the moment.
If we’re watching Thor and Doctor Strange sequels, a Black Widow prequel, new series like The Eternals and Shang-Chi and a whole collection of Disney+ spin-offs, would we really be expecting a Spider-Man cameo? And even if we were, the absence of a character like Spider-Man – a solo hero who sometimes pitches in – is easier to excuse than it would be to excuse the complete absence of other Marvel heroes in Holland’s movies.
In future Marvel movies, we can just assume Peter Parker is off somewhere else doing his own thing – but in future Spider-Man movies, we’d always be wondering why Peter doesn’t talk to his old friends anymore. And for a friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, that’s got to hurt.
Spider-Man: Far From Home continues to air in cinemas in the UK