Spider-Man Movie Rights: The History Of Sony's Deal With Marvel

Spider-Man: Far From Home swinging over the Tower Bridge

It was a day that broke the hearts of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans everywhere; the day when the deal between Sony and Marvel Studios that allowed the Spider-Man franchise to hook up with the MCU was announced as defunct. Depending on who you talk to, factors on both sides of the fence were crucial to this massive failing, which felt all the more tragic considering the long road the character had traveled in his cinematic achievements.

The wild ride that saw Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland each occupying and vacating the web-slinging role through various periods of time started way before their time, and will undoubtedly continue to be interesting in this brave new world outside of the MCU. So as a quick study guide, we've provided a nice, simple history as to how we got to this very point in Sony and Marvel's shared relationship with Spider-Man, and where things might be going in the future.

To start us off right, let's go back to the halcyon year of 1977, where the earliest traces of Spider-Man and Sony's history begin to crop up at the movies.

Spider-Man 1977 Spidey ropes a bad guy

Spider-Man Swings Through Hollywood (1977 – 1999)

The early days of Spider-Man’s cinematic history actually have some early ties to the company that would lead the series to Sony’s stewardship. Columbia Pictures Television, as well as Columbia Pictures proper, released edited packages of episodes from the ‘70s The Amazing Spider-Man TV show for theatrical release. While this debut would be limited to international territories, it still started Peter Parker on his big screen odyssey, with other studios eager to pick up the baton in its wake.

As far as any proper theatrical motion pictures were concerned at this point, development hell was Spider-Man’s home between 1977 and Sony’s acquisition in 1999. The big players that tried, and failed, to get things off the ground at this point were B-movie workhorse Cannon Films and MGM in its pre-Sony partnership with Carolco Pictures.

If the latter had worked out, James Cameron would have given the world its first Spider-Man movie; a fact that was almost jokingly referred to in Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. But as it stands, MGM would trade its stake in the rights to Spider-Man in a negotiation with Sony that would lead to Spider-Man and James Bond both landing in their current, comfortable homes.

Spider-Man 2002 Teaser Poster with Spidey on a building

Spider-Man Comes To Sony (1999)

One deal was all it took for Spider-Man to become a subject of Sony’s film empire, but it was a hell of a negotiation that made it official. In a world where Sony wanted to remake Thunderball for the modern era, and MGM wanted to make a Spider-Man movie, both studios had their own claims to each other’s properties.

The solution to their woes was simple: MGM and Sony made each other whole by trading off their respective rights to the franchises they were competing with. Which left Sony with an all clear to bring Spider-Man to the movies for the first time ever. Through Columbia Pictures, Sony was now ready to take a spin with Peter Parker at the movies.

Development began on what would become Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, with Tobey Maguire in the lead role of Peter Parker. It would only be three short years before the world would see what Peter could do at the movies, and it would be a moment that would change comic movie history for the better.

Spider-Man Tobey Maguire looking at his suit in the apartment

The Tobey Maguire Age Of Sony’s Spider-Man (2002 – 2010)

Under the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire partnership, three films came to pass: 2002’s Spider-Man, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 and 2007’s Spider-Man 3. $2.5 billion dollars’ worth of worldwide box office rolled in with these three films, with the high water mark being Spider-Man 3’s $890 million showing.

In a world where both Spider-Man and X-Men were redefining what it meant to be a superhero movie, Sony had a hell of a money machine on its hands, with the last film of the trilogy introducing fan-favorite villain Venom to many eager movie fans. It felt like the studio was ready to branch out into what was once rumored to be a seven film cycle.

Which is why the first setback to the Spider-Man franchise at Sony is so crushing. With development on Spider-Man 4 collapsing into a heap of rubble in 2010, the film that was supposed to introduce John Malkovich as The Vulture and Anne Hathaway as Black Cat vanished as quickly as it was dreamed up. And just as quickly, Andrew Garfield’s tenure was being discussed as the new successor.

The Amazing Spider-Man Andrew Garfield looks back from his evidence wall in his Spidey suit

The Andrew Garfield Age Of Sony’s Spider-Man (2010 - 2014)

2010 saw Sony trying to get back into the Spider-Man saddle as quickly as possible, as development on a franchise reboot went into action. What would become 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man came to fruition, with director Marc Webb being announced as the director only a couple of days after the news broke that Sam Raimi would helm Spider-Man no more.

So instead of having Spider-Man 4 released on its intended May 5, 2011 release date, Sony would unveil The Amazing Spider-Man on July 3, 2012. As far as franchise developments are concerned, turning around a stable trilogy of films into a brand new reboot, with only about a year’s difference in release dates, was unheard of.

Garfield, along with co-stars Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Sally Field as Aunt May, would see The Amazing Spider-Man duology through four years of development, and about $1.5 billion in worldwide grosses. But that wasn’t enough to stem the tide of criticisms that weighed 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 down in a similar fashion to that of Spider-Man 3. Seen as an overstuffed superhero blunder, another ambitious spin on the Spider web led to a reversal of fortune. It wouldn’t take long to cancel plans for a Sinister Six spin-off and direct sequel to Marc Webb’s franchise, as Sony didn’t wait to start dreaming up the third age of Spider-Man films under its roof. An era unfolded that would see Peter Parker, in a way, coming home to Marvel Studios.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Tom Holland in his Spidey suit, amidst some wreckage

The Tom Holland Age Of Sony/Marvel’s Spider-Man (2014 - Present)

As early as December 2014 (a mere seven months after The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s release), conversations between Sony and Marvel Studios were rumored to have taken place. Thanks to the massive email hack that hit the studio around that time, those rumors were verified. It took some initial stumbling in negotiations, but in 2015, Spider-Man was confirmed to be entering the MCU with a debut appearance in Captain America: Civil War.

Casting Tom Holland as a teenage Peter Parker, five films featuring Spider-Man would come out of this partnership between 2016 and the present, two of them being solo efforts. Between the three Avengers movies, as well as Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Holland films have made an estimated $8 billion at the worldwide marketplace.

You’d think the most successful run of Spider-Man films, with the longest running actor in the role, would be a recipe for continued success, wouldn’t it? So did the rest of the world. And yet, all the money and fame in the world couldn’t stop the partnership from dissolving into an unsuccessful bid to re-up the agreement between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Nick and Maria facing down Spider-Man in his stealth suit

The Problems Between Sony And Marvel’s Spider-Man Partnership

Apparently, things weren't all wine and roses in the partnership that saw Sony and Marvel buddying up to make the current run of films that saw Peter Parker in precarious peril. Even former Sony studio chair/Spider-Man franchise producer Amy Pascal had her reservations that the deal would last past Spider-Man: Far From Home’s release, and she shared them as early as 2017.

It also didn’t help matters that Pascal and Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige didn’t seem to see eye to eye on how the independently successful Venom film would (or would not) cross over with Spider-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All looked happy and productive on the front, but there was already trouble brewing under the surface.

The ultimate breakdown came when negotiations between both parties came down to a handful of key matters: the extent of how future Spider-Man films would be co-financed, whether or not this deal would be applied to Spider-Man spin-offs not included in the MCU, and last but not least, producers’ credits. Which brings us to current history, which sees the Sony/Marvel partnership at an end, and a somewhat uncertain future on the horizon.

Spider-Man: Far From Home Peter Parker in his suit, in the canals of Venice

Sony’s Potential Future With Spider-Man

While it’s not certain that a deal could be made before the third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie goes into production, there’s still at least one more entry that Holland and director Jon Watts are planning to bring to the world. Though if recent reports are accurate, Marvel Studios may be trying to win Watts over to their side of the fence, in hopes of preventing him from working on the sequel to Spider-Man: Far From Home.

As for Tom Holland himself, while he’s upset over the breakup between Marvel and Sony, the actor believes that the future is about to become “bigger and better” under Sony’s current plans to continue the franchise. Even if it means only the folks in this particular studio’s sandbox can play.

In an odd example of symmetry, Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige echoed similar sentiments to those that Amy Pascal had shared a couple of years ago. Stating that the partnership “was never meant to last forever,” Feige seems resigned to the fate that recent events have dealt to the Spider-Man property.

There is a possibility that this Sony/Marvel breakup could just be a way to build the hype around whatever the sequel to Spider-Man: Far From Home will be. It wouldn’t be the strangest idea, nor would it be an unwise one. But given the history that already surrounds this particular partnership, there’s a case to be made that this was a split that was cooking for some time.

Hope will always spring eternal, as the rocky road through Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s tenures as Spider-Man have led to Tom Holland’s pretty well-regarded turn in the role. And now that Spidey fans have a Peter Parker that they’ve always wanted, they’ll fiercely cling to the hope that he’ll return with Marvel Studios along for the ride.

We’ll see what happens in the future, but for now Spider-Man: Far From Home will return to theaters this weekend, with brand new footage added to spice up your Labor Day weekend. If anything, you can go see this again, and remember a simpler time when the future looked oh so bright for Peter Parker.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.