With Marvel Deal, Sony Opts to Lease Rather Than Sell Spider-Man

Instead of selling the rights to the web-slinging superhero back to Marvel, Sony eschewed the quick cash in return for the benefits of free exposure to a younger, rebooted Spider-Man franchise.
Columbia Pictures

Given the ho-hum performance of last year’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, speculation had been mounting that Sony might sell the superhero back to Marvel and Disney. Instead, it made a move no one expected: opting to lease the rights to the web-slinger to its rival for a single film.
 
It was a savvy move for a beleaguered studio still feeling the aftershocks of the devastating November hack that led to co-chairman Amy Pascal stepping down last week, moving from the executive suite to a producer role on Spider-Man and other titles. Marvel has been trying for years to wrest the Spider-Man rights back from Sony, offering billions, sources say. But Sony, franchise-starved as it is, eschewed the quick cash to keep its $4 billion franchise in-house.
 
Sources say no money changed hands between the two studios in the deal and it is instead seen as a quid pro quo transaction. Sony benefits from the free exposure of a younger, rebooted Spider-Man in a film from red-hot Marvel, while Marvel gets its hands on the most prized superhero in its lucrative universe. Also, since Marvel controls the merchandising rights to Spider-Man, the effect this move will have on sales could be worth more than any cut they would have seen.

Read more What's Next for 'Spider-Man'? 6 Questions About the Sony and Marvel Partnership  

"Sony would never have made this deal if they still retained the merchandising rights," said one producer in the comic book field. "Even a poorly performing movie could be saved by strong merchandise sales, and Spider-Man is one of the bigger brands out there."
 
Among the winners are Pascal and Marvel’s Kevin Feige, who together will produce the next stand-alone Spider-Man for Sony, which will bow July 28, 2017, one year earlier than Sony had planned to bring Peter Parker back to theaters (in July, Sony moved a Spider-Man movie from 2016 to 2018). And though Spider-Man will first appear in an unnamed Marvel movie, Sony and Pascal will have more influence over the actor cast in the iconic role because Sony retains final approval. The studio is currently looking for an actor much younger than 31-year-old Andrew Garfield, who most recently portrayed the superhero, as well as a writer for its reboot.
 
In addition to Garfield finding himself on the outside of the franchise, director Marc Webb will not be back to complete a third Spider-Man (the studio originally envisioned its Amazing Spider-Man oeuvre as a trilogy with Webb and Garfield aboard for all three). Amazing producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad have been downgraded to executive producers, with no real say in the creative direction of the franchise.

Either way, Sony needed to shake up its Spider-Man franchise, once considered the most robust comic book property in Hollywood but lately showing signs of franchise fatigue with just north of $700 million worldwide for last year’s outing. In fact, the franchise has been on a downward trajectory ever since the five-film franchise reached its height in 2007, with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 earning $891 million worldwide.
 
Meanwhile, Marvel and Sony are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the Marvel universe into future Spider-Man films. One knowledgeable source sees the move as a first step to Marvel reacquiring the rights to Spider-Man down the road, while another believes Disney is positioning itself to acquire Sony should it ever become available.

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