Success sometimes can be its own curse. That's the core of Spider-Man's famous "Parker Luck," and it's how Marvel Studios must be feeling after the $1 billion-plus box office of Spider-Man: Far From Home. The film that positioned Tom Holland's wall-crawler as the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have contributed to his potential removal from that very continuity.
There had already been speculation about what the sequel's commercial success might mean for the unorthodox, four-year-old cooperative agreement that allowed Peter Parker to be part of the MCU while Sony retained the film rights to Spider-Man. (Under the deal, Marvel co-produced the rebooted Spider-Man movies, while Sony financed and distributed them.) On Tuesday we may have found out.
Mere days after Sony announced Far From Home had become its highest-grossing movie of all time, news broke that the deal had unraveled, meaning Marvel would no longer play a creative role in the Spider-Man franchise, and Holland's hero would no longer be part of the MCU. Although there have been multiple possible reasons floated for the split -- the initial report indicated Disney's desire to share in the financing and profits, while Sony pointed to Disney's purported concern that Marvel's Kevin Feige was spread too thin -- it's interesting timing that the impasse became public on the heels of Far From Home's studio record.
THE SOLUTION (AND PROBLEM)
Marvel Comics originally sold the Spider-Man film rights in 1985, but they almost immediately became ensnared in a complex web created by murky contracts, bankruptcies (including Marvel's own) and lawsuits that wasn't untangled that wasn't completely resolved until 1999. That's when Sony purchased the rights, which a judge determined had indeed reverted to Marvel, for a reported $7 million.
The studio released the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy to massive financial success, although the commercial and critical disappointment that came with Spider-Man 3 ended that series. Sony attempted rebooted the franchise in 2012 with The Amazing Spider-Man, but following its 2014 sequel, the studio determined it was time to start from scratch, again. Within months, Sony and Marvel had announced their collaborative agreement, leading to the introduction of Holland as Peter Parker in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, followed the next year by the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
As part of the arrangement, Sony received a majority of the box-office earnings. Considering that the total box-office results were in the range of $880 million worldwide, that's a hefty win for the studio. Spider-Man: Far From Home was even more successful, earning $1.1 billion, and counting.
From Sony's perspective, it's easy to see how the Spider-Man brand seems perfectly capable of success without Marvel powering it. Venom has absolutely no connection to the MCU, and it still earned more than $850 million worldwide. And while Black Panther became the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture, Sony's Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse actually won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
The executive producers behind that film, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are working on a series of Spider-Verse TV shows as part of their exclusive deal with Sony. Spider-Man has never seemed so strong of a strong cinematic property, even during the Raimi era.
So when Disney reportedly requested to co-produce future Spider-Man films, and share the profits, 50/50, Sony apparently balked (According to Deadline, Sony never even returned to the negotiating table.)
The potential of Spider-Man could appear to outweigh the limits Disney was requesting. That means star Tom Holland will likely fulfill his commitment to one or two films, at least. But, barring a new deal, Marvel's Feige will not have any hand in the cinematic future of Spider-Man. The web-slinger will technically still exist in the MCU, but off in his own dedicated corner of the universe that will become largely untouched by the rest of the ever-expanding cinematic universe.
WHAT THIS MEANS
After the false start promised in follow-ups to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (including a Drew Goddard-helmed Sinister Six), Sony was eager to work with Marvel in charting a new, more successful direction for the franchise, even while it developed projects with ancillary -- although unconnected, for now -- characters like Venom, Morbius and Kraven the Hunter.
Spider-Man's place in the MCU, and his role in Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, substantially increased interest in the character's own films. But without the promise of that integration of the MCU, will Sony's web-slinger be able to thrive on his own?
For Disney, the risk is more readily apparent but less destabilizing. Spider-Man is the quintessential Marvel superhero, the perfect audience surrogate, and a springboard for exciting new villains and allies. The Sony deal gave Marvel Studios the chance to further integrate Spider-Man, and his universe, into the MCU.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe as a deep bench of characters, made deeper by Disney's acquisition of 21st Century Fox and the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool franchises that come with it. For the entertainment giant, which controls the merchandising rights to Spider-Man, the sudden removal of the hero from the MCU isn't so much a financial loss and a symbolic one. Virtually all of the major Marvel Comics characters are now back in the fold -- except for the most famous one.
The breakdown of the Disney/Sony deal isn't just a loss for fans of Spider-Man, but both companies as well. It's a lose/lose situation, which (ironically enough) is the perfect result of "Parker Luck" on a cinematic scale.