Who owns the rights to Spider-Man?
Marvel owns the rights to the character, but intellectual property rights get complicated quickly. Print rights are different than film rights, for instance—Marvel can still produce Spider-Man comics, but the character Spider-Man can no longer appear in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.
Here’s why: In 1998, Marvel had just left bankruptcy, and the company began licensing rights to Marvel characters for film. Sony Pictures approached the company to purchase the film rights for Spider-Man.
Marvel executive Ike Perlmutter tried to sweeten the deal by offering Sony the film rights for other Marvel characters, including Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Black Panther, but Sony refused—the prevailing opinion at the company was that the other superheroes were too obscure to appeal to a mass market, former Sony Pictures executive Yair Landau said. That deal would have reportedly cost Sony $25 million. Instead, Sony purchased the film rights to Spider-Man for $10 million. Under that deal, Marvel also received 5 percent of any movies' gross revenue and 50 percent of the revenue from consumer merchandise.
Sony went on to produce a popular trilogy of Spider-Man movies directed by Sam Raimi. Meanwhile, Marvel Studios introduced audiences to its other characters with hits like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and, of course, The Avengers. While Sony Pictures' films were successful, the Marvel films were becoming a bonafide cultural phenomenon.
In 2015, Sony and Disney made a deal to share the film rights to Spider-Man.
That year, Disney—which had acquired Marvel Studios—negotiated a deal with Sony that allowed Marvel Studios to produce and manage Spider-Man movies. Essentially, Sony and Disney would share custody of the franchise; Sony would benefit from Spidey’s cross-promotion in other MCU films, and Disney would get merchandising revenue from the new Spider-Man franchise.
The deal worked out well for both parties. The first film under the arrangement, Spider-Man: Homecoming, grossed over $880 million worldwide while introducing the charismatic Tom Holland as the newest incarnation of the spider-bit superhero. Holland reprised the role in Disney-owned films, including Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Endgame. He also starred as the hero in this year’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, which grossed $1.1 billion worldwide—a major success for both Sony and Disney.
So, what changed?
When it came time to renegotiate the deal, Sony and Disney couldn’t come to an agreement. Per a report in Deadline, Disney wanted to share the box-office revenue for new Spider-Man films 50-50 (other sources claim that Disney asked for 30 percent). In other words, they didn’t just want merchandising revenue—they wanted a hefty take of the ticket sales.
Sony reportedly refused those terms and declined to counter with anything even close to Disney's original ask. As such, future Spider-Man films will be Sony properties and will not feature any characters from the MCU.
After negotiations broke down, Sony Pictures released a statement via a spokesperson insisting that Marvel producer Kevin Feige was simply too busy to stay involved with the Spider-Man franchise.
“Much of today’s news about Spider-Man has mischaracterized recent discussions about Kevin Feige’s involvement in the franchise,” the spokesperson said. “We are disappointed, but respect Disney’s decision not to have him continue as a lead producer of our next live action Spider-Man film.”
“We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him—including all their newly added Marvel properties—do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own. Kevin is terrific and we are grateful for his help and guidance and appreciate the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue.”
So, what’s next for Spider-Man?
Sony has two more films planned for Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, and given the franchise’s extraordinary success, it’s likely that additional films will follow. For what it’s worth, Holland doesn’t seem worried, although he did express his gratitude to Marvel in a GQ Style interview.
“I’m not shy about expressing how incredible the last five years have been with Marvel,” he said. “I’ve truly had the time of my life, and in so many respects, they have made my dreams come true as an actor.”
“Sony has also been really good to me, and the global success of Spider-Man: Far From Home is a real testament to their support, skill and commitment. The legacy and future of Spidey rests in Sony’s safe hands. I really am nothing but grateful, and I’ve made friends for life along the way.”