Why Disney won’t buy Spider-Man from Sony


Spider-Man is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, superhero characters on the planet. Spider-Man is Marvel’s most recognizable hero with plenty of feature films, merchandise, and even theme park attractions featuring the web slinger. But Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man, and Disney is in no rush to buy them back.

Credit: Marvel

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Spider-Man, Everyone’s Friendly Neighborhood, aka Peter Parker, is one of the most beloved characters in the Marvel Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now, with many actors having played the iconic character (most recently directed by actor Tom Holland), Spider Man the films are one of Marvel’s top box office revenue heroes and enjoy global audiences.

It’s no secret that Sony Pictures owns the film rights to Spider-Man and that their current agreement with Marvel is about to expire with Spider-Man: No Path Home (2021). It’s also no secret that The Walt Disney Company rewards Spidey as their favorite child and attempted to secure more rights to the character in 2019, but ultimately renegotiated their new terms.

But, what most don’t realize is that Disney is now in no rush to buy back the rights to Spider Man from Sony.

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (2019)
Credit: Marvel

In the 1990s, Marvel was in deep trouble. Slowly emerging from bankruptcy and attempting to maintain a strong presence in American audiences with comic books and animated TV shows, Marvel was barely passing.

Before Disney bought Marvel in 2009 for $ 4 billion, famous figures like Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel were deemed “irrelevant” by most companies interested in claiming their stake in Marvel, including including Sony.

Then, in 1998, Sony bought the film rights to Spider-Man for $ 7 million. Marvel offered the rights to almost every one of their characters, including Iron Man and Ant-Man, for an astronomically low amount, but Sony was only interested in the Peter Parker story.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) in "Spider Man" (2002)
Credit: Marvel

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Their contract stipulated that Sony would release a new Spider Man film every few years, which gives Sam Raimi Spider Man trilogy with Tobey Maguire as the main character.

The deal also spurred the franchise’s sudden reboot with Andrew Garfield under the mask in The Amazing Spider-Man (2012). This time around, however, Sony realized that they were missing out on selling tickets. Spider Man 3 (2007) and both The Incredible Spider-Man movies lagged behind at the box office and didn’t mix well with reviews.

Then came the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which caused a huge problem (for Sony).

Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Avengers: Infinity War"
Credit: Marvel

Not knowing what to do with Spider-Man in 2011 and in need of a financial boost, Sony sold the marketing rights back to Marvel. Which, in the end, meant that Disney owned the marketing rights to Spidey.

Now, Marvel is able to sell and profit from Spider-Man toys, shirts, lunchboxes, and video games, while Sony only has box office revenue.

One year later, Avengers (2012) made his film debut and grossed over $ 1 billion worldwide, opening the door for more characters to be introduced into the MCU, including Spider-Man.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Captain America" Civil war"
Credit: Marvel

Related: Sony President Says There’s Actually A Plan When It Comes To The Spider-Man Universes

Sony then made a new deal with Marvel Studios and Disney, essentially “loaning” Spider-Man to the MCU. This new deal would give Sony full creative control over the solo Spider Man films, but Marvel Studios director Kevin Feige and his team are said to be the creative heads, taking care of the casting, production and marketing.

Financially, Sony kept 95% of box office revenue while Marvel kept 100% of merchandising profits.

Then, in 2019, Disney negotiated a 50/50 ticket taking with Sony, as well as sharing the film’s funding 50/50. A huge contract dispute erupts, and Marvel nearly lost Spider-Man again.

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017)
Credit: Marvel

Disney can’t just buy back Spider-Man, or buy Sony outright because of monopoly laws. Unlike getting the rights to the X-Men and Deadpool when The Walt Disney Company acquired 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios), Disney wouldn’t buy Sony just to have Spider-Man under its umbrella.

Disney could attempt to buy the film rights to Spider-Man from Sony, but Sony has no incentive to do so. Sony reportedly made billions in box office revenue over the course of Spider Man movies and wouldn’t dream of giving up their top earner given their recent economic downturns.

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Avengers: Infinity War"
Credit: Marvel

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In the end, Disney does not need to buy Spider-Man and does not necessarily want to. Sure, they would love to have full control over Peter Parker, but they don’t need to.

In 2014, Spider-Man’s global retail sales were $ 1.3 billion a year. This estimate predates Tom Holland’s two solo films, as well as Avengers: Endgame (2019). On top of that, it was double the global retail sales of any other superhero.

The deal with Spider-Man’s “borrowing” from the Marvel Cinematic Universe is aimed far more at increasing sales of Disney merchandise than generating huge amounts of box office revenue for Sony, so why have the added stress of box office success?

Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in "Spider-Man: Far From Home" (2019)
Credit: Marvel

Someday Marvel might own the movie rights to Spider-Man again, but for now, Disney seems to be willing to share Spider-Man. With the recent film licensing agreement with Sony Pictures which will bring Spider Man, Venom and other Marvel properties at Disney + from Sony’s 2022 releases, it looks like the two companies are here for the long haul.

Hopefully one day we’ll see more Tom Holland Spider Man movies after Spider-Man: No Way Home, scheduled for release on December 17, 2021.

What do you think of the Disney-Sony Spider-Man deal? Do you think Disney should buy out Peter Parker? Let us know in the comments.


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