The Battle for Spidey’s Rights

Cole Beecher

The Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A universe that we have all come to love and enjoy. A universe currently made up of 23 captivating movies, each adding more and more to the storyline of beloved superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther, and more. However, the creation of this wonderfully coherent superhero story has not been without complications.  I am sure that many who have seen these movies would agree with me in saying that one of the most impressive facets of these films is their cohesion and how every action or detail in one of the many movies seems to have some kind of consequence or significance in another one of the 23 movies.  Each plot line and detail feels so intentional.  Yet, one unintentional conflict that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) did encounter was the rights for Spider-Man.

It is no secret that Tom Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man has been a hit to say the least.  Being a part of one of Sony Pictures’ highest-grossing films worldwide and well received by critics and audiences, Tom Holland is arguably the best Spider-Man of the last couple of decades—no offense to Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield fans.  But this success was not without strife and legal trouble.  This struggle began in 2009 when Disney decided to acquire Marvel Entertainment for nearly $4 billion.[1]  The media giant’s acquisition of the pioneer comic publisher came with immense benefits for Marvel shareholders and The Walt Disney Company’s content, for they would now have access to a slew of superhero characters.  Yet, the web-slinging hero was, some would say, held captive by Sony who had had the rights to Spider-Man since 1999 and was working on their third Spider-Man movie by the time Disney bought Marvel.[2]

In 2014, after the rise and fall of two different Spider-Man franchises, whispers of Marvel executives’ negotiations with Sony to take back Spider-Man became known to the public.  Sony had not seen great success with neither their release of Tobey Maguire’s third Spider-Man film nor the two Andrew Garfield films.  Meanwhile, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was in full swing and ready for the addition of Spidey.  By the time that Captain America: Civil War was released in 2016, Sony and Marvel had entered into a tenuous partnership with Tom Holland as the new hero.  This partnership essentially consisted of Sony sharing the rights to Spider-Man, with both Marvel and Sony producing the films while Sony reaps the profits but Marvel is permitted to use the character in its movies.[3]  It is no surprise that with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s storytelling prowess, Holland’s rendition of Spider-Man was the most successful. With appearances in a number of the Avengers movies and two stand-alone movies, Spider-Man’s reuniting with Marvel was nothing short of special.  Yet, negotiations between Sony and Marvel broke down earlier this year when executives could not come to an agreement on how the next Spider-Man installment would be financed.[4]  Thus, for another couple of months MCU fans were left periling at the fate of Spider-Man.

Nevertheless, there was a hero in the boardroom negotiations. Not some corporate trained lawyer to strong arm Sony’s executives nor to advise Disney and Marvel on what their next move should be, but the Spider-Man himself, Tom Holland. Holland was able to contact the CEO of Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger, and plead his case for why Disney and Marvel should continue to work towards an agreement that keeps Spider-Man in the MCU.[5]  Holland’s phone call seemed to have struck a cord with Iger because he says that afterwards he realized how much the Holland cared about the role and how much the fans enjoyed Holland as Spider-Man.[6]  

In sum, for the time being, Spider-Man remains a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to a series of negotiations and the swallowing of some pride. And, what makes this whole history fascinating to me is that it really gives a somewhat familiar face to the legal and business processes that are so prominent in all of the film, television, and arts that we consume.





[4] Id.