Your friendly neighborhood Sony-Man: Sony and Disney at an impasse over film rights

“He’s not defined by his [physical] power, he’s defined by power and responsibility… he’s defined by balancing his life between being a high school or college student and being a superhero,” Drew Cochran, a music performance major at UAA, said.

At the moment, Sony and Disney are similarly involved in an elaborate balancing act, one that could mark the fate of the successful franchise.

A small snapshot of Alexandra Craig’s comics collection displays a variety of Spider-Men. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Craig.

Back in 2015, Sony Pictures, the owner of the film rights to Spider-Man, and the Disney-bought Marvel Studios, the owner of the comic book rights to Spider-Man, made a deal that Disney producer Kevin Feige would head-up two of Sony’s Spider-Man films.

In exchange for the fame this would bring to Sony, Sony would give Disney merchandising rights for a yearly royalty payment, and would also allow Disney to use Spider-Man in its own Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

However, this agreement came to an end this year. When the time for renewal rolled around, Disney requested additional proceeds from the next Spider-Man movies. When turned down, Disney proposed less involvement from Feige. Sony turned this offer down, according to The Guardian.

“Spider-Man has always been a key member in a lot of universes… if they were to cut that off… it could hurt a lot,” aviation management major Matthew Lastimoso said.

If the two studios do not reach some sort of agreement to continue sharing Spider-Man, this means that Sony will have the sole movie rights to this character, but they will not have the movie rights to other characters that Spider-Man has interacted with in recent films.

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In addition, Marvel will not be able to include Spider-Man in their own films, preventing him from appearing in more ensemble films like “Avengers: Endgame.” This would, in essence, destroy Spider-Man’s ties to the MCU.

Lastimoso explained the issue from the perspective of a long-time fan. Spider-Man is a major character in multiple timelines in the comics, and so this split between studios cuts off a lot of opportunities for ideas that appear in the comics. In fact, in one potential timeline in the Marvel universe, a version of Spider-Man is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Lastimoso said.

Other UAA students had their own ideas on the conflict.

“I totally understand the idea of Sony backing off and saying ‘no, he’s ours.’ But at the same time, it also kind of seems like it’s in both [Disney and Sony’s] best interests to keep Spider-Man going in the MCU because it still has the promise to make boatloads of money,” Cochran said.

Cochran pointed to the recent box office success of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” — Sony’s highest-grossing movie of all time, earning $1 billion within 24 days of its release.

Alexandra Craig, who is working towards a bachelor of arts in music at UAA, believes that Sony’s severed connection to Disney opens up opportunities for both studios.

UAA student Alexandra Craig maintains a collection of Spider-Man comics with her husband Hugh Hutchinson. Photo courtesy of Alexandra Craig.

“For now, it’s probably a good thing so [Marvel] can… focus more on ‘the new things that are happening like ‘The Eternals,’ which is so exciting, and the ‘X-Men,’” Craig said.

In addition, this gives Sony a chance to include and develop characters that they still own — classic Spider-Man villains such as the Sinister Six, as well as side characters from the studio’s Oscar-winning hit, “Into the Spiderverse,” Craig said.

Thus far, neither studio has commented on this issue, except for Sony’s statement citing Feige’s busy schedule as a reason for turning down Disney’s proposal, leaving Marvel fans wondering what is going to happen next — is this the end of Spider-Man’s involvement in the MCU?

“He’s already an established character with so many ties to Tony Stark that you’ve already built that bridge. If you burn that bridge, you can smell the smoke,” Cochran said.

However, Craig saw the “burnt bridge” as a positive.

“I don’t mind if they decide to keep him out [of the MCU]…there is still hope for Spider-Man,” Craig said.

Perhaps Spider-Man, like every dedicated student, will make a comeback despite the challenges set in his way.

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