By Scott Mendelson (Forbes Magazine)
In the peace accords read around the world, Disney and Sony came to a brokered peace on Friday concerning the use of Sony’s Peter Parker/Spider-Man character (played by Tom Holland) within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Simply put, Disney will put up 25% of the budget for the third Spider-Man movie in exchange for 25% of the profits. Kevin Feige will then serve as a producer (alongside Sony’s Amy Pascal) for the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far from Home, a film which will be part of the MCU. Oh, and Peter Parker will appear in at least one other MCU movie, which I’m guessing will be whatever the next team-up flick turns out to be (Young Avengers: Galactus Dreams of Planets?).
It’s unquestionably good news for folks who liked Spider-Man’s interactions within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If we’re being honest, a Spider-Man 3 (version 2.0) within the MCU will probably make more money than one outside of the MCU. It may not be 25% more money (after all, Venom earned $852 million worldwide last year), but c’est la vie. It’s also a compromise in that Disney doesn’t get so much of Spider-Man that Marvel sees less of a need to create new superhero franchises. The bad news is that Disney now controls 25% (and gets 25% of the film’s respective global market share) for what will be, after Jurassic World and Fast & Furious wrap up in 2021, one of the last remaining mega-huge non-Disney IPs.
The other issue is that Sony loses the chance to show, once and for all, that they don’t need Marvel to make a good-to-great Spider-Man movie. Moreover, they can show, relatively speaking, that the credit for the well-reviewed, well-received and highly successful Homecoming ($880 million in 2017 on a $170 million budget) and Far from Home ($1.13 billion in 2019 on a $160 million budget) shouldn’t entirely go to Kevin Feige and the Marvel brand. That’s not to say Feige and whomever at Marvel lent a hand didn’t help. I’ve got 20 billion reasons, not even counting the Spidey flicks, to argue that they damn sure helped. But Sony has shown that they can make a pretty solid Spider flick without the MCU.
Sony has produced, counting Venom, nine Spider-Man movies between 2002 and 2019. Seven of them were unquestionably huge box office smashes. Only the Amazing Spider-Man films were questionable, but that was mostly due to budget and some unrealistic prerelease expectations. Amazing Spider-Man (which I very much disliked) was still the biggest-grossing straight reboot ($758 million in 2012) until Spider-Man: Homecoming. Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which I liked more than you) was a domestic bust ($202 million) but earned $709 million worldwide, or just under the $714 million and $710 million grosses of the $170 million-budgeted Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that same year. The problem was that the two Marc Webb flicks cost $235 million and $255 million respectively.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man earned strong reviews and $821 million worldwide on a $130 million budget back in 2002, good enough for it to be among the ten-biggest global grossers ever at the time. Spider-Man 2 earned rave reviews and $783 million worldwide from a $220 million budget. While Spider-Man 3 received mixed reviews and a relative down vote from fans, it still earned $890 million worldwide in 2007 on a $260 million budget. It was still the fourth-biggest unquestionably solo superhero flick (behind Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight sequels and Iron Man 3) up until Black Panther just two years ago. Venom earned $854 million worldwide on a $90 million budget and, even with poor reviews, contained enough unique weirdness to inspire curiosity for the sequel.
Even if you want to give Marvel half-credit (or more) for the last two MCU Spidey flicks, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse earned $375 million on a $90 million budget (which is huge for a superhero toon) and beat Pixar’s $1.2 billion-grossing Incredibles 2 for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. Considering that plenty of folks will argue that Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie of all time and/or one of the best superhero movies ever, that’s not nothing. At the very least, having Sony go solo on this third Tom Holland-directed Spider-Man movie could have proven, once and for all, that the successes of Homecoming and Far from Home were not wholly due to the Marvel/Sony collaboration or the association with the MCU continuity.
Fair or not, Sony doesn’t have the greatest reputation for crafting crowd-pleasing and generally winning franchise tentpole flicks. Granted, this is a relatively new problem since the whole “star+concept” formula died a brutal death. As such, Sony’s former glories of “Hey, it’s Will Smith as a love doctor in Hitch” or “Hey, it’s Harrison Ford as an ass-kicking U.S. president in Air Force One!” aren’t easily replicable in this brand-driven age. Nonetheless, Sony’s tentpole reputation is defined by The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the Ghostbusters reboot and Men in Black International. I hope Charlie’s Angels rocks and I hope Jumanji: The Next Level strikes gold again, but Sony produced and released two blockbuster Spider-Man movies and didn’t get a lick of credit for them.
Re-upping with Marvel for the third Spider-Man movie threatens to put Sony in a similar position. Yes, there is value in being smart enough to accept help when the chips are down, and that’s what Sony did in 2015. But now, with an uncertain tentpole slate over the next two years, it would perhaps have been more valuable to the long term picture for Sony to have made a slightly inferior (or just as good) third Spider-Man movie without Marvel partially to show that they could. Had they gone that route, for better or worse, they would have been set to receive 100% of the profits and 100% of the credit. Now they will get 75% of the profits, but potentially 25% of the credit.