At this point, Sony Pictures has gotten all it can out of the Spider-Man movie franchise. Since the release of the original Spider-Man movie in 2002, the franchise, previously a juggernaut in the cinematic landscape, has fallen by the wayside. Since Sony’s reboot of the Spider-Man movie series with The Amazing Spider-Man, the films have not performed to expectations. Recently, Marvel Studios has been firing on all cylinders with its properties, and it is time for the Spider-Man film rights to return to Marvel Entertainment.
Things have changed a great deal in the last 10 years. Spider-Man is not the box office mojo juggernaut it once was. Five years ago, fans would not have believed that a time would come where movies featuring Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy could best the friendly neighborhood webslinger at the box office. Yet in 2014, that is exactly what happened.
The quality of the Spider-Man movies is suffering exponentially. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 received the most unfavorable reviews that any Spider-Man movie of all time–even worse reviews than Spider-Man 3. It also grossed the least of any Spider-Man movie that has ever been released. With a production budget of about $250 million, plus another $100 million or more for prints and advertising, that is unacceptable for a marquee franchise character like Spider-Man. That is disappointing business.
Sony recently announced the delay of over two years for the next planned sequel in the franchise. Instead of the summer of 2016, The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is now tentatively set for a 2018 release. Sony Pictures does plan to release a Sinister Six spin-off film in 2016. However, the question of how a big budget Sinister Six film without Spider-Man will work has not been answered. One wonders how audiences will take to a film featuring villains, some who have not been previously established, without a hero to play off of.
In recent years, Marvel Entertainment has reattained the film and TV rights to certain properties, including Daredevil, Blade and even Ghost Rider, from Sony Pictures. Now that Marvel has its own studio wing, the best company to produce Marvel movies is no longer Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox or Universal Studios. The best company for the job is Marvel Studios. The Iron Man property spent years languishing at New Line Cinema, until Marvel set up a deal to produce the film on its own. This begat Thor, Captain America and ultimately The Avengers. The Marvel Studios releases are now the big ticket event movies of the year. Marvel handles its properties better than any other studio, so it makes sense that the Spider-Man film rights should return to Marvel.
Spider-Man had his time and day in the sun at Sony. However, those glory days are now over. Sony has not been able to figure out how to best properly present a reboot. The Spider-Man movies are not as lucrative as they used to be. In addition, Sony no longer gets any merchandising money for the film. In 2011, Sony and Disney (the parent company of Marvel Entertainment) traded the film and merchandising rights for Spider-Man.; meaning, Marvel/Disney let go of all participation rights to the live-action Spider-Man films. In exchange, Marvel/Disney gets all the merchandising rights for Spider-Man. Essentially, Sony gets absolutely zero dollars from any Spider-Man merchandise. Merchandising is a huge chunk of change for properties like Spider-Man. It means that Sony is giving up a huge source of income for this franchise just to keep the film rights that are not as profitable as they used to be.
Previously, Disney made a distribution deal to get back the distribution rights for the Iron Man, Thor and Captain America films from Paramount. In the exchange, Disney gave Paramount a big payoff and some box office percentages off the top. It would be advantageous for Disney to meet with Sony during the break from the Spider-Man films and offer Sony Pictures a similar deal. Disney needs to make a concerted effort to bring the Spider-Man film rights back where they belong– at Marvel Studios.
Opinion by Jeffrey Harris