What the Disney-Sony spat means for the future of Spider-Man

A spat over the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man is a sign of the growing box office muscle of the Walt Disney Company, which ended a sharing arrangement with Sony Pictures.

Many more Spidey spinoffs are in the works, but don't hold your breath for Marvel crossovers

Tom Holland's Spider-Man has proven to be a roaring success, but the breakdown of a deal between Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures means he won't be appearing in more films with the Avengers anytime soon. (Sony Pictures )

For the first 10 years, Iron Man was the heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The franchise, made up of 23 films worth $22.5 billion US, began with the smug inventor personified by Robert Downey Jr. and ended with Avengers: Endgame's sombre salute. 

But Marvel already had an Iron Man inheritor waiting in the wings. A nice kid from Queens with the proportional strength of a radioactive spider. 

In the recent Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker stepped up to continue what Iron Man started, with Tom Holland perfectly portraying the character struggling to be worthy of Tony Stark's trust and his technology. 

Iron Man and Spider-Man appear side by side in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, the first solo film for the most recent incarnation of the classic character. (Sony Pictures)

If there's a single character that captures the essence of Marvel's super hero, it's Spider-Man. That's because what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created was a hero who was human first, a teen with remarkable abilities and a remarkable ability to connect thanks to the patented Peter Parker awkwardness and comedic quips. 

This is what made Spider-Man's entry in the MCU so special. Sure, Marvel fans already had Thor and Hulk, Black Widow, and all the rest to play with. But Spider-Man is the soul gem of the Marvel pantheon, a character with boundless enthusiasm and relatability. It's no surprise that some most meaningful (and funny) moments of two final Avengers films are centred around Parker. 

Now, like a scheme hatched by a supervillain, Spider-Man has been yanked from the ranks of the Avengers, thanks to a spat between two colossal corporations: Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures. 

Twitter was a wall of grief-filled GIFs as news broke that a unique sharing arrangement between the two companies that made the alliance possible had been halted. 

Part of what made the Spidey split so confounding is that the franchise had benefited both sides. It was Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige ​​​who first approached Sony Pictures about working on the next iteration of Spider-Man.

Marvel Studios is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. Feige is seen by many as the mastermind behind Marvel's success, someone who combines a producer's savvy for the big picture with a comic fan's love of the characters. 

With Sony still smarting from the underwhelming performance of the 2014 Spider-Man sequel, an agreement was struck.  

Stepping into the spandex after Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland brought a younger Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Sony Pictures)

Feige encouraged Sony to bring Peter Parker back to his roots — a radical reboot, with a new, younger actor, that would set aside the origin story fans already knew by heart. Thus, the new Spider-Man first swung into action, with Holland appearing in 2016's Captain America: Civil War

Millennial Marvel

In a world of super women and men, Spider-Man's greatest ability was seeing the world though the eyes of a teenager.

With Holland in the red and blue suit, Spider-Man was a Marvel hero for millennials, the kind of kid who would stop for selfie and watch his own fight scenes on YouTube. 

Spider Beats Bond

But perhaps Feige did too good a job, because Spider-Man: Far From Home has now replaced the James Bond film Skyfall as the most successful Sony title ever. And while Spidey was smashing records, Sony and Disney were trying to come to terms on the future of the character.

According to the industry website Deadline, Disney reportedly pushed for a new arrangement which would see them co-financing 50 per cent of future Spider-Man productions and taking 50 per cent of the profits. That's a dramatic change from the previous arrangement, which gave Disney five per cent of the gross box office revenue and all merchandising. 

The result: Sony balked. Barring any future negations, Spider-Man won't be popping up to pal around with Thor, Black Panther and the rest of the Marvel heroes any time soon. 

After news of the deal broke, Sony released a statement suggesting Feige would be too busy with Disney+ to give Spider-Man the attention he deserves. 

"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," Sony said on Twitter.

"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."

A web of Spidey spinoffs

So where does this leave Sony? The studio retains the rights to Spider-Man and multiple movies are in the works. 

Sony has already begun the process of building out its own Spidey Cinematic Universe with Venom, an edgy anti-hero from the late 80s comics. The 2018 film starring Tom Hardy was a surprising hit and director Andy Serkis is on board for the sequel. 

With Holland as Spider-Man, Sony retains one of comic's most iconic heroes and the rights to the hundreds of heroes and villains that appeared in the 57 years of Spider-Man stories.

But for fans, it's not a question of quantity, but quality. Will future Spider-Man films be just as amazing without Feige's guidance? The answer for Sony could be, which Spider-Man? 

Tom Holland's first appearance as Spider-Man was in Captain America: Civil War, where he is recruited by Iron Man. (Marvel)

Thanks the success of Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse cartoon, Sony has other options.

The film focused on Miles Morales, a young Afro-Latino hero who discovers a radioactive spider of his own. A box office smash, it proved audiences are ready for more modern interpretations of the character. 

With more Spider-Verse sequels in the works, how long before we see a version of Miles suiting up next to Holland?  

Hungry Mouse

Meanwhile, at Walt Disney Studios, the Marvel machine is already revving up for the next wave of films known as "Phase 4." There isn't another Avengers film currently scheduled, although Disney could make news at this weekend's D23 convention. 

Fans of the MCU will certainly miss Peter Parker's presence, but what rankled some was Disney's endless appetite. 

This is the studio that now controls the future of Marvel, Star Wars, Toy Story, Avatar and more.  

From Alvin and the Chipmunks to Deadpool, from The Simpsons to The Planet of the Apes, the Magic Kingdom now contains a stunning swath of intellectual property. 

In 2019 with 10 films, Disney controlled 37 per cent of the box office, earning over $2.7 billion US. Like the Death Star, Disney's has altered the gravity of the movie release calendar. Few studios dare to compete with its blockbuster potential. 

That leads back the fan frustration over the Sony/Disney split. With the house that Mickey built now far and away Hollywood's most successful studio, why the push for even more of Spider-Man's revenue? 

As a great man once wrote,  "With great power comes great responsibility."