By: BRENDAN McDANIEL
Hello, fellow college students returning from a not-at-all insane summer full of completely reasonable news and events! After taking some time off of reporting to post nonsense on Twitter and annoy my friends and family about how the world is both literally and figuratively on fire right now, I’m back and ready to bring you fresh hot takes on media and pop culture.
I’ve got a shiny new title for my recurring column, a whole host of things I want to talk about, and enough zero-calorie soda to keep me awake and writing for the rest of the semester.
If you’ve been on social media at all in the past few weeks, you may have heard about the sudden breakdown of relations between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios over ownership of the movie rights to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. When the news went public on August 20th, the internet proceeded to have a complete meltdown over the situation.
News outlets had an arms race to put out any sort of story on the subject, fans cried out for a boycott of Sony and in some cases for the firing of Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman, and #boycottsony has been trending on Twitter nonstop for the past few days as of this writing.
In fact, some of you may even have participated in the outrage, letting your voice be heard in the defense of your favorite film franchise. And while I’m sure you all would love to read a hit piece from me on the “decision” made by Sony to take Spider-Man away, I’m not here to legitimize your nerd rage.
I’m here to report and provide color commentary on things that are Not Quite News. Look, I know you all mean well with your outrage. I know you’re trying to help keep the MCU on course and show your love for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. But y’all need to knock it off with the Sony backlash.
Whining on Twitter isn’t helping the situation at all, some of you don’t actually know what you’re talking about to begin with and this whole mess may actually be contributing to the corporate nonsense that lead to the Sony-Marvel conflict in the first place.
First, a quick history lesson on what actually happened with Spider-Man. For the last three decades of the 20th century, Marvel Comics had been in a good deal of financial trouble as comic books had steadily become less and less popular since the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.
In order to remedy this, Marvel began selling off the film and television rights to its characters, Spider-Man included, in order to raise money and continue existing. This led to a number of low-quality films and television shows being made, all of which faded from memory on account of being just terrible, but it was enough to keep Marvel afloat for some time.
Spider-Man himself changed hands a bunch of times throughout the 80’s and 90’s, typically under agreements for movies to get made in a set period of time, until ‘98 and ‘99 when Marvel stopped being bankrupt and sold the rights to Sony, which lead to the production of the original Spider-Man film trilogy in the early 2000s under director Sam Raimi.
Following the success of 2008’s “Iron Man,” and of a handful of superhero movies following it, Marvel found that there was considerable interest in film adaptations of its characters. So much, in fact, that it led to one of the most ambitious projects in film history: an inter-franchise movie continuity called the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Once Marvel was bought out by the Disney mega-corporation in 2011, and the shared film universe project was proven to be successful with 2012’s “The Avengers,” Marvel Studios had the power and resources to begin re-acquiring all the rights it sold off when it was bankrupt and incorporating them into the MCU, in something resembling a real-life Avengers Initiative happening alongside its in-universe counterpart.
There was just one problem; it’s two most popular comic book franchises which fans would want to see adapted to the silver screen the most, Spider-Man and the X-Men, were owned by Disney’s competitors Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox respectively.
As Fox was finding plenty of commercial success with its X-Men films, Sony had no such luck with Spider-Man. With two film franchises already having gone down the drain, Disney-Marvel cut Sony a deal: start work on a new Spider-Man movie, but let Marvel use the character and films he appeared in as part of the MCU. It practically guaranteed a commercial audience for Sony’s Spider-Man films, and with Disney-Marvel taking a cut of only 5% earnings, Sony would reap nearly all the benefits of having a successful superhero franchise at very little risk.
For a while, it served Sony well. Spidey was a success on the big screen, it made a bunch of money for both corporations, and it set up everybody’s favorite web-slinging hero to take the lead the future of the Avengers.
This brings us to the events leading up to August 20th. Disney-Marvel approached Sony to renegotiate the terms of its contract regarding its joint custody of Spider-Man. It’s not yet known what the details of these negotiations were, or what exactly Disney wanted from the deals, but it seems to be to the effect of a 50/50 split ownership of the Tom Holland Spider-Man franchise.
Sony, for reasons currently unknown, declined the offer, and one of the two made a decision to pull the plug on the shared Spider-Man arrangement, which means that all the rights defaulted back to the ownership of Sony.
So here we are now. As a result of Sony now holding all the movie rights to Spider-Man, Disney-Marvel will have to either submit a deal that Sony is willing to accept or go forwards with the MCU without Spidey. Fans seem quick to blame Sony for the matter, believing that they are solely responsible for taking away their favorite superhero from their favorite superhero franchise, and completely derailing much of the groundwork laid by Marvel at the end of Phase 3 of the MCU during “Infinity War,” “Endgame,” and “Far from Home.”
As of this writing, there’s no word on what exactly will happen to Spider-Man going forwards, though Sony Pictures’ statement on Twitter suggests that Sony will continue work on Spider-Man films without Disney-Marvel involvement. This appears to have been interpreted by fans as Sony taking away Spider-Man from the MCU.
But I’m not real keen on throwing Sony under the bus for this. It is important to note that many of the details haven’t been made public yet, but something seems really off to me about this sudden collapse of relations. I have no doubt that Disney could very well have offered Sony an acceptable deal if they wanted to. Disney doesn’t actually need the money from Spider-Man; they just threw out $71 billion to buy out 20th Century Fox earlier this year.
For perspective, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” made only $1.1 billion. If you ask me, Disney’s refusal to grant Sony an amicable deal sounds like a bargaining tactic. Disney’s executives are not stupid, they know perfectly well that taking Spider-Man out of the MCU is going to cause a massive backlash.
Even if nerd Twitter doesn’t follow through on its Sony boycott, which I highly doubt it will, Sony just lost whatever percentage of people who would have gone to its future Spider-Man movies to stay caught up on the future heir apparent to the Avengers. That’s not nothing. It seems to me like Disney-Marvel is attempting to leverage negative PR against Sony to force it to comply with the company’s demands, which is not only ethically questionable as all get-out, but could set a precedent for other corporations to start using fan outrage as bargaining chips in the future.
I have no doubt that Disney-Marvel will also eventually approach Sony with a better deal, now that the PR nightmare has compromised Sony’s position. Throwing a fit about the Sony-Disney dust-up isn’t helping anything; it’s just letting a mega-corporation use you as a pawn.