It Doesn’t Make Sense For Disney To Buy Spider-Man Off Sony (Sorry) (2023)

By Thomas Bacon

Spider-Man fans are eager to see Disney buy the film rights to Spider-Man back from Sony - but that's really not going to happen.

It Doesn’t Make Sense For Disney To Buy Spider-Man Off Sony (Sorry) (1)

Sorry, Marvel lovers, but it doesn't make sense for Disney to buySpider-Man off Sony. The last year has been a troubled one for the wall-crawler with the relationship between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures breaking down right around the release ofSpider-Man: Far From Home. For a brief time, it honestly looked as though the MCU had lost Spider-Man.

Fortunately, a late-night drunk phone call with Tom Hollandpersuaded Disney CEO Bob Iger to return to the negotiating table, and the studios hammered out a new Spider-Man deal. This one appears to be time-limited, allowing forSpider-Man: Homecoming 3 and another mystery Marvel movie featuring Holland in a cameo or co-starring role. Disney now receive25 percent of the profits fromSpider-Man: Homecoming 3, but are expected to pay roughly a quarter of the production costs as well. In return, theMorbius trailer suggested Sony gets to use Spider-Man and his associated characters in their spinoff movies - essentially incorporating them into the wider MCU. Sony clearly came out the winners from these renegotiations - especially when you consider the MCU Spider-Man flicks will probably be forever absent on Disney+, leaving a hole in the streaming service's lineup.

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Related:Sony Definitely Won The Spider-Man/Marvel Deal

Sony's plans for their Spider-Man spinoffs continue apace. The studio recently announced another spinoff, in October 2021, shortly after the release ofSpider-Man: Homecoming 3. Naturally, there's been intense speculation about just what that film may be, but there's also been another interesting reaction online. A lot of fans are understandably frustrated at all the maneuvers and uncertainty, wishing Disney would just buy Spider-Man back outright. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.

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The Spider-Man Film Rights Explained

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It's important to begin by understanding just what's at stake here. Sony owns the exclusive film rights to Spider-Man and all his associated characters; there are also a couple of shared properties, namely Kingpin and Jessica Drew. In addition, in a curious twist that may or may not be significant, Sony also possess the rights to anyTV shows with episodes over 44 minutes in length. That means Sony's revenue streams encompass things like box office takings, network deals, promotional agreements, and distribution of the various Spider-Man movies. Sony doesn't own the merchandise rights, having sold those back to Disney in 2011 when they were struggling financially; they've learned that short-sighted decision was a mistake.

The Spider-Man Rights Are More Valuable To Sony Than Disney

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To Sony, Spider-Man is their biggest and most successful franchise.Spider-Man: Far From Homewas thehighest-grossing Sony film of all time,Venomgrossed $856 million worldwide and was a hit in China, and the studio won an Academy Award for the animatedSpider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.Sony views Spider-Man's associated characters as a gold mine of potential spinoffs;what's more, although many of these names may only be known to die-hard comic book readers,the studio is gambling on the fact superheroes have never been so big. They now have the opportunity of cashing in on the MCU's success, turning Tom Holland's Spider-Man into a thread loosely connecting their movies to the MCU.

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Contrast this with Disney. Disney bought Marvel Studios in 2009 for $4.24 billion, and in his biographyThe Ride of a Lifetime CEO Bob Iger notes they always knew that didn't include Spider-Man.That's not a major concern, though, because they understood Marvel owned the film rights for over 7,000 characters; this number has increased drastically as a result ofthe Fox acquisition, which has seen the X-Men and the Fantastic Four return to Marvel as well. Sony's 900 or so Spider-Man characters would be a nice to have, but they're hardly essential because it's not as though Marvel Studios is in danger of running out of ideas anytime soon. The MCU's Phase 4 is already introducing a staggering number of new heroes and franchises, both popular and lesser known, ranging from Blade to Shang-Chi. This explains why Disney came close to allowing the Spider-Man deal with Sony to lapse with Iger only persuaded to reopen negotiations when Holland reminded him of the human dimension.

Related:Yes, Sony’s Spider-Man Universe Is Building To The Sinister Six

Spider-Man is therefore more valuable to Sony than he is to Disney, and in practical terms this means Sony would naturally want more money than Disney is willing to pay. Making matters worse, it's safe to assume Sony owns the distribution rights to movies made during their production term in perpetuity; they did under a version of the contract that leaked in 2014, and it would fit with the factSpider-Man: Homecoming andSpider-Man: Far From Home aren't on Disney+. So Disney would presumably need to pay out even more in order to fill in the gaps in their back-catalog.

Disney Won't Want To Pay For Spider-Man Right Now

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Under Bob Iger, Disney has developed a certain reputation for acquisitiveness. In 2006 the House of Mouse bought Pixar for $7.4 billion, they purchased Marvel for$4.24 billion three years later, and in 2012 they bought Lucasfilm for$4.05 billion. Most recently, Disney cashed outa staggering$71.3 billion in order to acquirethe bulk ofFox's film and TV empire. The sums are eye-watering, and they've understandably led to a general assumption Disney will buy anything they're interested in and money is no object. The reality is very different; note that Disney only really conducts one major acquisition at a time, and there's a gap between the biggest purchases. The Fox deal is the biggest yet, andright now the corporate priority will be ensuring the $71.3 billion proves money well spent. As far as Disney is concerned, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige's job will be to make money out of Fox properties such as the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

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And then there's the launch of Disney+. All streaming services face exactly the same challenge; there's a critical balance between cost and content. In general, the more content a platform has, the more popular it will be; but it costs to make that content.Disney+ will run at a loss for quite some time, especially given it's currently rolled out in just a handful of territories. Disney's bosses understand that; in fact, corporate bonus schemes have been shifted to align with Disney+ subscription numbers rather than profits for the first time in Disney's history. But, again, this means this is not a time for Disney to be paying out - unnecessarily, in their view - for Spider-Man.

There is, however, one way Disney could eventually get Spider-Man back. The film industry is contracting, and it's generally believed Sony Pictures will be unable to remain competitive in the long term; after all, this contraction was a major reason even a giant like 20th Century Fox believed it had to sell up rather than continue to make movies. There have been credible reports that a clause now exists in the Spider-Man deal that means should Sony be sold off to another studio, Spider-Man will revert to Marvel. In this scenario, it would do so for free - and, ironically, this makes it even less likely Disney will choose to buy Spider-Man now rather than just wait it out.

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Key Release Dates

  • Black Widow Release Date:2021-07-09
  • Eternals Release Date:2021-11-05
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Release Date:2021-09-03
  • Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness Release Date:2022-05-06
  • Morbius Release Date:2022-04-01
  • Thor: Love and Thunder Release Date:2022-07-08
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Release Date:2022-11-11


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