Sony & the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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With, Spider-man: Far from home grossing over $ 1.082 Billion and becoming the latest Marvel movie to gross one billion. It’s time to discuss a significant movie decision from the late ’90s, that changed the movie industry today as we know it.

The Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) is a media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films. Marvel Studios independently produces the films.
The first MCU movie was Iron Man (2008), which began the first phase of films culminating in the crossover film The Avengers (2012). Phase two began with Iron Man 3 (2013) and concluded with Antman (2015). Phase three began with Captain America: Civil War (2016) and ended with Spider-man: Far from home (2019).

The franchise has been commercially successful and has generally received a positive critical response. It has inspired other film and television studios with comic book character adaptions rights to attempt to create similar shared universes.

Things weren’t always so good for Marvel though. In 1996 Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In desperate need of cash during this era, Marvel, begin selling off the film rights to some of its characters like the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. Marvel was in negotiations with Sony for the movie rights to the Spider-man character in 1998. During these negotiations, Sony got an exciting offer. According to the Wall Street Journal;

“The company was, fresh out of bankruptcy and desperate for cash, so it’s new chief, Ike Perlmutter, responded with a more audacious offer. Sony, he countered, could have the movie rights to nearly every Marvel character-Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Black Panther and more for $ 25 million.” The offer was taken back to the higher-ups in Sony, whose response was quick and decisive: “Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”

Marvel ended up selling the rights to Spider-Man to Sony for only $ 10 million-plus 5% of any movies gross revenue and half the income from the merchandise. It was a good deal for Sony still, but oh what could have been.

As of the last Marvel movie; the MCU movies starring those characters no one gives a shit about and Spiderman in a joint deal with Sony has grossed $22.535 billion. The Sam Raimi trilogy of Spiderman Sony movies did very well. Financially and critically. They grossed close to 2.5 billion total. The rebooted Amazing Spiderman movie series by Sony did not fare so well and led to a joint movie venture with Marvel and spider-man now included in the MCU.

Mistakes Were Made:

$ 22.535 billion and counting. Looking at things in a strictly 1998 time vacuum, the Sony executives weren’t incorrect in their assessment. If you weren’t into comics, you probably had never heard of Iron Man, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, etc. Spiderman was a known entity, so it made logical sense to secure only his rights. A reoccurring theme throughout this blog when talking about corporate mistakes is that companies fail to seize opportunities to cripple or take out a competitor permanently. (Excite, Blockbuster, Kodak). They are too focused on the here and now and not the future and what can be. Sony should have bought the rights, and hell just sat on them rather than pass entirely as it did. Did the thought of a competitor buying those rights or Marvel making movies even cross their mind?

At the time, Marvel was just a struggling comic book company. Marvel eventually got the idea of producing its live-action movies instead of licensing out the rights of characters to competitors. Disney acquired Marvel… and viola! MCU movies like the Avengers series and Black Panther movie became social events to see and dominated the box office upon their releases.

Strangely Marvel being forced to make movies with it’s “lesser-known characters” was a blessing in disguise. It forced Marvel to get creative with its storytelling and introduce the world to this reoccurring cinematic universe that the movie industry had not seen. Marvel movies became so big, and soon made Sony comic book movies look amateurish in perspective. Those characters no one gives a shit about were making a killing at the box office and murdering Sony’s offerings.

Other competitors like cough..cough Warner Bros/ DC have tried to emulate the MCU model and failed miserably. Marvel movies are like must-see events now where even its weaker movies still do well at the box office

The Spiderman Marvel/Sony negotiation is a footnote in cinematic history. It offers an exciting what-if, Sony had taken up Marvels offer to buy the rest of its characters? How different would the cinematic world look today?

Originally published at on August 12, 2019.

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