The History of Marvel/Sony Dispute Over Spider-Man
When legendary comic book creator Stan Lee (RIP) published Marvel Comics' Amazing Fantasy no. 15 in 1962, he introduced a teenage character, Peter Parker, who was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him superhuman strength, speed, agility and the ability to stick to walls. Since then, Spider-Man has become one of the most famous comic book characters of all time. In this blog, I will discuss the history of Spider-Man and why Marvel cannot willingly use him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
When writer Stan Lee and illustrator Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in 1962, they immediately broke barriers in the comic book world by making the lead character a teenager. Although it was a risky choice, the character immediately caught the attention of a youth audience and achieved nationwide success. After its overwhelming success in the Amazing Fantasy story line, Stan Lee went on to create a whole independent series for Spider-Man where he served as the title character.
In the early 80s, during the decline of comic books, Marvel and DC (Marvel's biggest competitor) began to shift their focus to live-action films. DC had already made a big impact in Hollywood through its Batman and Superman adaptions but Marvel struggled to gain any success in the industry. In 1985, Marvel was on the brink of bankruptcy so Stan Lee decided to create a movie starring the beloved character but failed to receive interest from any major production companies. Eventually, Marvel sold Spider-Man to Cannon Films (a B-list production company) for $225,000 and a percentage of the gross profits from the film. The only condition was that Cannon Films had to create a movie within the next five years. If Cannon did not produce a Spider-Man movie by 1990, the rights to Spider-Man would revert back to Marvel Comics. Cannon Films immediately began to work to create a thrilling Spider-Man movie and even created a teaser trailer for the film. Cannon's goal was to create a movie with big name actors and even attempted to hire Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One of the main actors who was pursued to play the web-swinger was legendary action star (not at the time) Tom Cruise. Although the plans for this Spider-Man film seemed great on paper, it turns out that Cannon Films knew absolutely nothing about the character. The original script for Cannon Films Spider-Man focused on a mad scientist who purposely exposed Peter Parker to radiation which resulted in an eight legged human-spider hybrid. Needless to say, Stan Lee rejected the script and helped create a script that better suited the character's comic book storyline. The whole project spiraled out of control and led to Cannon Films demise. Having failed to produce a movie by 1990, the rights to Spider-Man were up in the air. Marvel was forced to go to court over the ownership of Spider-Man and did not gain the rights back until 1999.
Nine years after Cannon Films failed to produce its Spider-Man movie, a new buyer arose in the form of Sony Pictures. When Marvel Entertainment was approached with an offer to sell Spider-Man for $7 million, former CEO of Marvel Entertainment Ike Perlmutter raised a counter offer which would have included Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther and Ant-Man for $25 million. Imagine that! For just $18 million more, Sony could have owned the characters that would help Marvel go on to gross $22.25 billion in the box office!!! When the offer was brought to Yair Landau, he took the deal back to the brass at Sony who responded by saying "Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and only do a deal for Spider-Man." Just imagine what could have been for Sony!! Nearing bankruptcy, Marvel took the deal for $7 million and made the five year movie making deal that was made with Cannon Films.
All eyes were on Sony as they set out to create a film that will finally do the beloved web-swinger some justice. Three years later, in 2002, Sony released what I believe to be the game-changing superhero trilogy. Sam Raimi did an amazing job directing this movie and the casting was spot on. Tobey Maguire was the perfect representation of a dorky Peter Parker who goes on to do extraordinary things. Along with excellent casting, Sony elected to stay true to the origins of Spider-Man and threw in one of the most famous lines in Comic Book and movie history: "With great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man went on to gross $821.7 million. So, Sony pretty much killed this deal. The next two movies of the Raimi trilogy went on to gross $789 million and $895 million. By the time the trilogy concluded in 2007, Marvel had begun its journey to creating its own film empire with its 2008 release of Iron Man. Although the MCU was in full swing after the unbelievable success of Iron Man, Sony still owned the rights to Spider-Man, Marvel's biggest character. In order to hold the rights to Spider-Man, Sony had to continue to produce Spider-Man movies every five years. From this came The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 which starred Andrew Garfield. Although the two Amazing Spider-Man films performed well at the box office, grossing $757.9 million and $709 million, I do not think that these films come anywhere close to the Raimi trilogy. These movies were clearly made so Sony could keep the rights to Spider-Man.
So, after reading this rollercoaster story, you might be wondering how Tom Holland's Spider-Man became a part of the MCU since Sony holds the rights to the character.
After many years of extremely successful MCU movies, Sony and Marvel agreed to work out a deal that would help both companies make a ton of profit. The original Marvel/Sony deal over the last two MCU Spider-Man films saw Disney (which bought Marvel in 2009) getting an estimated 5% of first-dollar gross. Although it may seem ridiculous that Disney would take this deal, the deeper impact on the MCU made up for it. The first two MCU Spider-Man films made around $2 billion in the box office which went to Sony but Marvel was allowed to create the movie in a way that would help progress the overall MCU storyline. Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, the three additional MCU movies that Spider-Man was involved in went on to make a whopping $5.999 billion in the box office with Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Tom Holland is my favorite version of Spider-Man and I am so glad that Marvel and Sony were able to come to a deal. Marvel and Sony have now struck a new deal that will allow Spider-Man to be used in future MCU projects.
Final Word: Although it was a rocky path, I think that Sony made the right call by allowing Spider-Man to continue his involvement in the MCU.