Cairns on Cinema - The latest on this whole Spider-Man/Marvel Cinematic Universe dispute

Cairns on Cinema

John Cairns

As summer box office season rapidly winds down in North America and elsewhere, I wanted to touch on the big news story that erupted over the last couple of weeks.

That is this whole blowup between Sony and Disney over the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the breakdown of negotiations over Spider-Man and his involvement. This is like what happened in the NBA with Kawhi Leonard leaving the Raptors, only bigger.

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Before I delve into this ongoing mess, let me back up a bit. The casual movie fans reading this are probably confused as to why there is a dispute about Spider-Man’s involvement in what is supposed to be a Marvel movie. After all, Spider-Man is a Marvel Comics character, just like Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men and these others.

You would think one studio would have rights to all the Marvel characters. The reality is that years ago, Marvel had actually licensed out film rights to various different studios for their various Marvel characters – to New Line, Lionsgate, 20th Century Fox, Universal, and on and on.  

In the late nineties, Marvel licensed Spider-Man’s movie rights to Sony, who started releasing Spider-Man movies though Columbia Pictures. The series quickly became a huge hit.  

To make a long story short, the Marvel characters, one by one, ended up returning home (to paraphrase a title of a certain Marvel movie). Marvel ended up buying back the rights to most of the characters they had licensed.

The key moment came earlier this decade when Marvel Studios was acquired by the Walt Disney Company. Disney ultimately ended up with distribution rights to the major characters that made up Marvel Studios’ franchise known as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (which we’ll refer to as “MCU” for short). Characters included Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and many others.

But one character was missing: Spider-Man. This just so happened to be Marvel’s top character (apologies to Iron Man).

Spider-Man’s rights were still tied up with Sony. They still held the licensing rights to the character, as long as they continued to release one Spidey movie within every five years, which they did.

This was a frustrating situation to everyone involved. The fans wanted to see Spidey in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were huge marketing opportunities to have Spidey involved. Disney wanted their piece of Spidey, too, because Spidey meant $$$. Sony, who also liked Spidey’s $$$, weren’t as keen.  

What ultimately happened was that all parties involved got together to hammer out a deal to essentially bring these characters under one roof, as part of one franchise. A deal was finally struck between Sony, Disney and Marvel Studios to include Spider-Man in the MCU.

Sony would allow Spider-Man/Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, to appear in Captain America: Civil War, and in two of the Marvel Avengers motion pictures – Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. All three movies would be released by Disney and produced by Marvel Studios’ head Kevin Feige.

Holland would then come back and play the title character again in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Spider-Man: Far from Home. Feige would again be the producer for these movies, but this time, Sony would be the distributor.

That was what the deal amounted to. The rest, of course, is cinematic history.

Avengers: Endgame is now the global box office champion of all time, toppling Avatar’s record this summer at $2.798 billion. As for Sony, they were big winners with Feige’s and Holland’s involvement in their two Spider-Man movies. The latest one, Spider-Man: Far from Home, returned a domestic haul of $380 million and a global haul of over $1.1 billion.

Marvel fans got to see Spider-Man alongside Captain America, Iron Man and the rest of their heroes. Everyone won.

And now, everyone has lost.

Here’s what went down in late August. Sony and Disney were at the end of their MCU deal. Unfortunately, talks broke down on the issue of Spider-Man’s inclusion in future MCU movies. The stories I read had Disney demanding a 50/50 co-financing stake in the Spider-Man franchise, which was a huge stumbling block. 

This was Disney – the most powerful movie studio in the world, number one at the global box office – throwing its weight around yet again. Except this time, Sony stood up to Disney’s demands. They took their ball and went home.

What it all means is that Spider-Man stays with Sony, and will not be part of the MCU. Similarly, Disney and the MCU won’t be involved with Spider-Man. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige won’t be involved in producing any more Spider-Man movies. The line of bull we are hearing is that Feige has too many responsibilities to be involved in another studio’s movie.  

Business is business, and the studios have their reasons not to get a deal done. The ones who are really up the creek here are the Marvel fans. They are inconsolable. But it may not be over yet.

I keep seeing stories online full of rumors about how the various sides are on the verge of reviving a deal. 

From my standpoint, common sense suggests they all ought to figure something out.

A massive amount of money is at stake. You’d think Spider-Man’s inclusion in any Disney-released MCU movie would be worth an extra $50 or $100 million or so to the gross, minimum. As for Sony, their entire Spider-Man movie franchise was on the way down before becoming involved with the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now it’s headed in the right direction again.

Cooler heads should prevail at some point. Then again, this is Hollywood.




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