Plenty of individual superheroes have a large following, but Spider-Man definitely ranks among the most popular. Superhero movies had mostly been relegated to Superman and Batman in the 1970s through the 1990s, but then Spider-Man came along to put Marvel films on the map and change the modern superhero movie as we know it.
2002 saw the release of the first “Spider-Man” film with Tobey Maguire playing the web slinger. Of all of the films in the franchise, that first one still holds the record for most money made domestically with $403.7 million. The Maguire portion led by director Sam Raimi released two more films that each made a killing at the box office. The three movies combined for over $1.11 billion.
During that time, Spider-Man had belonged exclusively to Sony, who bought the rights from Marvel for just $7 million in 1999 when the comic book company was floundering. This was before Marvel decided to make a cinematic universe of their own beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008, and the Marvel Studios shortly thereafter was bought by Disney.
Disney had big plans for the future of the comic book franchise, but there was one key component missing. While Sony could’ve purchased several other Marvel characters to create their own universe, they only wanted Spider-Man, thinking the others wouldn’t be nearly as lucrative. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe raged on, there was still no Spider-Man, but they were finding plenty of success with what many considered “B” level characters.
Disney decided that they wanted to make Spider-Man part of the universe as they ramped up the intensity between the heroes, starting with “Captain America: Civil War”. At this time, Sony had already released another pair of films with “The Amazing Spider-Man” with Andrew Garfield. Disney was willing to make a deal with Sony for temporary use of their flagship character.
The original deal said that Sony wouldn’t receive any of the profit from Spider-Man’s supporting appearances in any of the “Avengers” movies or “Civil War”. For the standalone movies, though, Marvel wouldn’t receive any profits. What made the 2015 deal more interesting was that just four years prior, Sony was hard up for cash. They sold all merchandising rights to Disney, which was no small transaction. Because of this, Disney would still hold those rights even while leasing out Sony’s character for film. “We had sold some assets of the studio, such as merchandising rights of Spider-Man, to raise short-term cash in exchange for long-term cash flow when the electronics units were struggling,” said Sony CFO Kenichiro Yoshida.
After making his debut as a supporting character, Spider-Man became the star of his first Marvel movie in 2017 with “Homecoming”, which grossed $334.2 million at the box office, smashing the two Sony movies in the process. 2019 was then a big year, as Spider-Man appeared in “Avengers: Endgame” and had another standalone movie with “Far From Home”. It’s now the second-highest grossing Spider-Man movie to date.
Sony knew after seeing the two films that Spider-Man was a big part of Disney’s future plans. The two studios then got into a squabble over who would share the profit margins from future Spider-Man films. Both sides pointed fingers at each other over who wanted more money. Reports said that Disney wanted a full 50/50 split. Fans took side as a result and many were upset that Spider-Man would be in the Sony universe instead of Marvel’s.
That all happened suddenly in August 2019, but there were people that were confident that a deal could be worked out. The good news for fans came in late September 2019 when it was announced that Sony and Disney had finally come to an agreement. Disney will make more in the new agreement, and Tom Holland still gets to play Spider-Man. Reports say that the star actor even had a hand in getting the two studios to make amends, in typical Spider-Man fashion.