A Smaller Piece of Something Bigger
I could not care less about superheroes, but sometimes I have to feign interest as a professional obligation. The entertainment industry that I want so badly to work in has not been this dominated by a single genre since the golden age of the Western. So sometimes I pay attention to what goes on in the world of comic books. Yesterday was one of those days.
I’m fascinated by this falling out between Disney and Sony, over the rights to Spider-Man. Most people know that Spider-Man is basically the only Marvel superhero that Disney does not own, and basically the only valuable brand that Sony does own. It created a unique situation, because he’s the most beloved Marvel superhero of all time, and arguably much more valuable than anything Disney has. But even without Spider-Man, Disney turned a collection of minor superheroes into the most successful franchise in film history, making 22 consecutive movies without a flop. They clearly mastered the creative formula for monetizing these characters, so it made sense that Sony wanted to follow their lead.
A few years ago, the two studios cut a deal that would allow Disney’s Marvel executives to creatively produce Sony’s Spider-Man films, ensuring that they exist in the same continuity as the other Disney movies. In return, Disney received 5% of each film’s profits, and was allowed to use Spider-Man in their Avengers films. I was always impressed by the creativity behind that deal, and the way it benefited both studios.
But it’s a widely-known fact that we can’t have nice things. Yesterday, the two studios announced that they couldn’t agree to an extension of the deal, and Disney can no longer use Spider-Man in any Marvel films. They’re trying to spin a narrative about executives being too busy, but the reality is that Disney’s new terms were too steep for Sony. Rather than having Sony finance each Spider-Man film and take 5% off the top, Disney wanted an even split. Each studio would put up half of the money and take half of the profits. Sony balked, and now the arrangement is no more.
At first, I found myself siding with Sony on this. They’ve owned Spider-Man forever, and I could understand not wanting to give up half of their most valuable franchise. But as I slept on it, I’m starting to think they overplayed their hand. Nothing in Hollywood history has been as lucrative as Disney’s Marvel movies. It’s possible that half of any Spider-Man movie that fits into the Avengers storyline is worth more than 100% of anything they could make on their own. I understand the deal being an ego hit, but the reality is that Disney is the studio with 22 consecutive hits. Sony needs Disney SO much more than Disney needs Spider-Man. Disney was doing fine without the character, and they’ll keep doing fine. But there’s no evidence that Sony has the ability to make something as successful as an Avengers film.
It just made me realize that sometimes, it really is better to have a smaller piece of something bigger. 50% of a massive franchise is a big improvement over 100% of virtually nothing, but that’s where Sony is. The studio has a long history of losing money due to its failure to adapt to new trends. They always seem to be 10-15 years behind the times, and this is no exception. When the studio first started making Spider-Man films in the early 2000s, standalone action movies were all the rage. But the reality is that people only want to see movies that are part of a larger universe. By not realizing that, the studio is going to squander a ton of potential value in an attempt to reclaim its past glory from an era that is long gone.
Student, blogger, pragmatic negotiator