How the Dead ‘Spider-Man’ Deal Fueled Sony’s Rebound

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What a difference a Disney deal makes

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Marvel Studios

If Sony truly ends up leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it does so in a far stronger position than it did before Tony Stark and Peter Parker shared the screen together. The news broke Tuesday that Disney, which owns Marvel Studios and the MCU, was ending its partnership with Sony, which makes the Spider-Man films. A person familiar with Disney’s thinking told TheWrap on Tuesday that the company considers the matter closed, and isn’t negotiating any further. Other sources told TheWrap that Sony believes the dispute is simply over a producer credit, and that negotiations are ongoing. The MCU’s Spider-Man, played to critical and popular acclaim by Tom Holland, has appeared in five films that have grossed just over $8 billion worldwide combined. Of those five, the two stand-alone films financed and distributed by Sony, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” have grossed nearly $2 billion worldwide, with “Far From Home” becoming Sony’s highest grossing film ever this past weekend with over $1.1 billion grossed. On top of that, Holland appeared in three superhero-loaded MCU installments that made billions more for Disney: “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” which grossed over $5.9 billion combined with $2.8 billion of that coming from “Endgame” alone. While it’s impossible to quantify how much Spider-Man’s presence in those films bumped up those numbers, it’s safe to say that Spidey’s unexpected demise at the end of “Infinity War” and the cultural spark it lighted created even further interest in “Endgame.” So Disney and Sony have certainly enjoyed a ride together, but for Sony, that deal couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. When the deal was made back in early 2015, Sony was in a tough situation. The leak of thousands of emails and yet-to-be-released films by North Korean hackers dragged Sony through months worth of embarrassing headlines, leading to co-chair Amy Pascal leaving the executive suites to become a producer. The box office that year was also poor, falling 23% year-over-year as domestic grosses fell below $1 billion for the first time in a decade despite the release of the James Bond film “Spectre.” 2016 was even worse. While “Civil War” revitalized Spider-Man after Sony’s critically maligned “Amazing Spider-Man 2,”  the top grossing film from Sony that year was the ill-fated, all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot that drew trolling and harassment against its cast. Sony Pictures Entertainment reported a loss of $719 million for the fiscal year. “It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that Sony was in a really bad spot,” Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap. “There were doubts over whether the studio was even going to be able to survive with the struggles it was having.” But then “Spider-Man: Homecoming” came, and with it a staggering $880 million global gross for Sony. As per the deal with Marvel, Disney only took 5% of that gross and all the merchandising revenue. Sony had a huge rebound year that put its annual North American grosses back above the $1 billion mark. It extended the contract of studio head Tom Rothman. Determined to use Spidey’s new momentum to launch a new wave of spinoffs, Sony found more success with “Venom,” a film that some critics panned but that audiences loved. It grossed over $850 million, including a studio-record $269 million in China. Then came “Into the Spider-Verse,” a film that had been planned before the Disney deal was made, but certainly got more momentum thanks to the MCU renewing interest in the webslinger. The box office profits were more modest — $375 million grossed against a $90 million budget — but the film allowed Sony Animation to do something that no animation studio had done for 13 years: beat Disney and Pixar for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. So four years after Sony made an unexpected bargain with the studio that is now taking over the box office, it is now going back to making Spider-Man films entirely on its own.  That means it won’t have the presence of Marvel Studios head and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige, who helped even on non-MCU Spidey films like “Venom,” sources told TheWrap. It also means that Tom Holland’s next go-around with the web-shooters won’t have the draw of being part of an overarching storyline. Certainly that was a major factor in “Far From Home” becoming the first Spider-Man film to gross over $1 billion. Fans were eager to see how Peter would cope with losing his mentor Tony Stark at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.” But Sony will still have everything else that made their recent Spidey films hits. Holland and his main co-stars, like Zendaya, will be back, as will “Far From Home” and “Homecoming” director Jon Watts. The “Venom” sequel will see Tom Hardy bring back his campy, bizarrely charming performance as both the hapless Eddie Brock and the ridiculous symbiote that inhabits his body. And a sequel and Spider-Gwen-focused spinoff to “Spider-Verse” are also in the works while the original film’s producers, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are developing a Spider-Man series for Sony Pictures TV. And outside Spidey, Sony has also found success with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which made nearly $1 billion in 2017 and is getting a sequel this December, as well as original films like “Baby Driver” and “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” and prestige films like Greta Gerwig’s upcoming adaptation of “Little Women.” A studio that three years ago was hundreds of millions of dollars in the red now has its future secured as it tries to continue developing its most popular franchise without the audience goodwill of Marvel Studios behind it. “Making that deal with Marvel and Disney was something Sony needed to do in order to survive,” Bock said. “It’s certainly a risk for them to go it alone, but I think Sony has learned their lesson on how to handle Spider-Man; and if we want to have choices and healthy competition in Hollywood, we need other studios to step up.” “Disney isn’t going to stop putting out hits anytime soon and if studios can’t keep up, their growing control over the box office is just going to keep getting bigger.”