While currently being submersed in law school applications, senior year classes, and working two on-campus jobs, I’ve had a bit of time to think about how else I want to use this blog. I love writing in my cynical or hysterical style to share the randomness of my thoughts and life, but I also know that this blog can be used as a great outlet for expressing my ideas and opinions on slightly more important or interesting things. I’ve learned a lot over the course of my time at TCU, and mixed with my experiences in 21 years, I’d love to spread some knowledge.
That being said, I’ve come up with this idea called the ‘On My Soapbox’ series, in which I’m going to talk about current events and give my take. But I’m looking into current events that aren’t talked about much, the ones that only get attention in a headline and nothing else, or things that are completely misconstrued and misunderstood through social media. We are so quick to take something as truth today, that we don’t investigate further into what we hear. We claim ‘Fake News’ is an epidemic but we don’t do the fact-checking ourselves. So this series is devoted to understanding issues, as well as my place to share my opinions on them.
So today, I’m going to start with something I find incredibly interesting: intellectual property rights in the entertainment industry. More specifically, Spider-Man.
I was in the midst of sorority recruitment–literally between parties–when I learned the news that the contract between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures broke in regards to film rights for the web-slinging superhero. The internet immediately had a meltdown, starting the trend #SaveSpidey and taking sides with studios, with most of the hate going towards Sony. I’ll fully admit, I got involved with the humorous tweets calling for action. But after having fun with that, I made sure to look into what was actually going on. And looking into that, it’s really hard to put full blame on any studio or individual.
2014 – Success for everyone but Sony
In order to explain this breakdown, we have to go back to 2014. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had been released in theaters, and between poor critic reviews and a generally negative audience reception, the entire series was scrapped. In contrast to that failure, Captain America: the Winter Soldier crushed the box office and Guardians of the Galaxy brought a new sense of humor to the superhero world. Even X-Men: Days of Future Past succeeded in ratings and revenue. Marvel movies were thriving across different studios, and Sony was left in the dust.
And 2014 would not end well for Sony Pictures, as the company was cyber-hacked by what multiple sources believe to be North Korea (due to the intended release of The Interview). Emails were released, data was stolen, and the film lost its theatrical debut. Employees couldn’t access computers or files, and the whole ordeal cost Sony a lot of money.
2015 – Disney takes advantage of an opportunity
With the struggles going on during the new year over at Sony, Disney-owned Marvel Studios was getting ready to begin for production of Captain America: Civil War. And the idea of Spider-Man, rebooted of course, being introduced into the MCU here was desired all-around by the production team.
The deal was struck between producers Amy Pascal (Sony) and Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios, also president). The deal consisted of sharing the character for incorporation in the MCU. Now the foundations of this deal are KEY for what happens here in 2019. This was the agreement, in summary:
- With a new reboot, Sony Pictures would still 100% finance and distribute the film.
- Kevin Feige would take charge as Executive Producer and creative lead, and Marvel Studios would produce the film.
- Spider-Man would appear in 5 MCU movies, thus giving–once he was cast–Tom Holland a 5-movie contract, including two Spider-Man films.
- Marvel Studios would get merchandising rights.
- Marvel Studios would also get 5% Top Gross Dollar. I will explain this further down, as it is what I believe became the fundamental breakdown of this whole deal.
Then the world-wide search for the world’s newest Peter Parker began, and in June of 2015, Tom Holland was officially cast.
2016, 2017, 2018
In the following years, Tom Holland played Peter Parker on the big screen three times: Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War. The latter of the three ended in (spoiler alert?) his character’s demise, which was one of the most emotional scenes of the movie.
Overall, fans became attached to Holland’s portrayal of the web-slinging hero and spent the rest of the year anxiously anticipating news on Spider-Man: Far From Home.
2019: where we are now…
January 15th, Tom Holland got on Instagram live at 5:45 am (I remember, I got up for this #NoShame) and released the Spider-Man: Far From Home trailer and everyone began speculating the events of the movie as it was unclear whether or not it would occur before or after the events of Avengers: Endgame. This trailer broke Sony Picture records with 130 million views in 24 hours, peaking at 8th most viewed trailer in 24 hours. So the hype is real for this movie.
Then we have Avengers: Endgame come out in theaters. This movie, which would become the highest grossing movie of all time, had Peter Parker playing a big part even off-screen, as it can be inferred from the movie that his absence prompted Tony Stark to discover time travel. We also get direction at the end on what the Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel will be about with his return to 2023 and the you-know-what of you-know-who. And two weeks after the release of the movie, Sony drops the second official trailer, which surpasses the first with 135 million views in 24 hours, resetting the record.
And then July 2nd roles around and the movie makes $39.3 million opening day domestically, $110 million in foreign opening weekend, but then neared $650 million after 10 days, and eventually passed the $1 billion mark before the end of the month. It’s currently the 24th highest-grossing movie of all time.
Less than a month after becoming Sony Picture’s biggest movie ever, it’s announce that Spider-Man is out of the MCU as negotiations between Sony and Marvel/Disney fall through. Tom Holland confirms at multiple conventions that he is not done playing Spider-Man and Sony Pictures announce that they’re working on even more movies with Holland and a Spider-Verse. And now I’m writing an article about it.
Now, let’s look at the entertainment industry as a whole. By the end of 2017, when Disney put in the offer for 20th Century Fox, Disney came to own 27% of the film industry, with the next competitor being Warner Bros. at 15%. Today, Disney is nearing 35%. That is an incredible share of the market, and I fully intend on doing another Soapbox about the implications of the monopolization of the entertainment industry, but for now, we’ll stick with our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
So why did the deal fall through? Here’s what we know previous to the negotiations:
- Disney finished the acquisition of 20th Century Fox in early 2019.
- The 20th Century Fox deal brought over a new universe of Marvel Characters, including the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
- Kevin Feige has been the creative lead of the MCU since its fruition and is intended to head these new projects as well.
- At Comic-Con, Marvel Studios announced and presented these following movies: Black Widow (2020), The Eternals (2020), Shang Chi: the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021), Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (2021), and Thor: Love and Thunder (2021). There were also 5 Disney + shows that were announced as well.
- Sony Pictures is in the process of making the Venom sequel and expanding the universe with the Spider-Man related characters that they own the rights to.
And here are more things that have come to light:
- Kevin Feige unofficially assisted Sony Pictures on Venom.
- Sony Pictures wanted Venom to be a part of the MCU but Marvel Studios refused.
- Sony has been trying to work a cross-over between Venom and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man.
And here’s where everything goes down:
- Sony was happy with the current deal that they had with Disney in regards to the Spider-Man franchise.
- Disney came to the table to negotiate 50/50 financing on the next Spider-Man film.
- Someone walked away – reports have come forth that it could have been either studio.
- Marvel Studios’ writers and producers, as well as the cast, have called for Spider-Man to be returned to the MCU.
- The daughter of Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, and franchise writers have spoken and sided with Sony.
Here’s My Take
This is where I see both sides of the story. Spider-Man is Sony’s #1 franchise with Spider-Man: Far From Home being Sony’s biggest movie ever. So now, Disney, the largest company in the industry, is trying to take a financial stake in their success? That seems pretty unfair.
At the same time, Marvel Studios got 5% top dollar gross off the film, which was about $50 million. Pretty good, for a movie that they didn’t financially make. However, in the premise of economics (I’m a microeconomics tutor, I know this stuff) there is a high opportunity cost for Marvel Studio’s involvement with Holland’s Spider-Man franchise. Not only is it the time and energy Kevin Feige, their #1 man, is putting into another studio’s movie and not their own newly acquired franchises, but there’s also the use of Marvel Studios-owned characters whose storylines and development are being changed by these Spider-Man movies. So if we viewed this issue from a more holistically economic perspective (which we aren’t), $50 million could be a rip-off on how much Marvel Studio’s was actually giving up. Then again, Disney is continuously growing and probably has that money to spare.
So it’s a tricky situation, and I’m not entirely sure who has the grounds to claim victim, but there is shared “blame” in the failed negotiations. Would I love to see Peter Parker’s story grow in the MCU? Absolutely. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of compromising the independence of one of the few large-scale production companies outside of the Disney realm. I don’t think Disney should get a 50% cut in revenue when there’s so much at stake for Sony, but I don’t think Sony can succeed without the integration of MCU storylines. Trying to write-out a background that has already been established and explored is a recipe for disaster.
I do have to say, Marvel Studios deciding to work on other projects rather than negotiating to continue enhancing this project is a loss. If you think about it, Spider-Man has had three live-action adaptation sequences in less than 20 years. It speaks to the iconic and beloved nature of Peter Parker, but I don’t think a fourth reboot would succeed.
The Plot Thickens
In the process of the week I’ve dedicated to writing this article, there are inflamed rumors of Apple looking to buy Sony Pictures, which would mean, from contract of the original sale of Spider-Man rights in 1998, that Spider-Man live-action film rights would return to Marvel. So who knows what’s going to happen.
There are also rumors that Disney is going to put in an offer for the Spider-Man franchise completely. Which would throw all of this off balance.
And, on an interesting note, reports have come in that Disney isn’t feeling too confident in Captain Marvel and Brie Larson after losing Spider-Man, because they planned to use Tom Holland’s adorable charm to show a different side of the fierce heroine that brought in a lot of backlash earlier this year.
This is a mess, but I’ll keep you all posted on how this all goes down. Are you #TeamSony, #TeamDisney, or Team ‘wow this is all going up in flames very quickly’?
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