Probably of no surprise to Marvel fans, Spider-Man: No Way Home has already proven to be a massive success. As of writing, the film has grossed $1.22 billion on a budget of $200 million, making it not only one of the most successful Marvel films, but also one of the highest grossing films of all time. Spider-Man is one of the most recognizable comic book superheroes and has been featured over many decades in films, theme parks, and of course, merchandise. As of 2022, Disney (NYSE: DIS) owns Marvel, which created Spider-Man as well as some of the biggest blockbuster films, with 3 Avengers films being in the top 10 highest grossing films of all time. However, with the billions of dollars being generated, it is not as simple as one owner getting 100% of the pie. And, as expected, there are many different interests in line.
What may come as a surprise to many, however, is that Marvel, and therefore Disney, is only entitled to 5% of the total profits generated by any Spider-Man movie at the box office. The reason for this is that in the 90s, Marvel was on the brink of bankruptcy and Sony Corp (NYSE: SONY) agreed to purchase the movie rights to Spider-Man, for less than $10 million USD! Interestingly enough, at that time Marvel was at such a low point that characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther were considered so irrelevant that when their rights were offered at laughably low amounts by today’s standards, not even Sony was interested.
So, how about Disney? What’s in it for them if Sony takes all the box office return? Well, the superhero and fantasy movie genre has always had a significant advantage over other genres; merchandising. With this respect, Disney now has all rights to merchandising and is the sole recipient of any post film sales in regard to the superhero. Since such a significant amount of the target audience comes from kids and comic book lovers, merchandising brings in a truckload of cash each year. It’s estimated that Spider-Man merchandise alone brings in over $1 billion USD of revenue per year for Marvel, and this does not require any of the risk or significant investment that is necessary to make a blockbuster film. So basically, the largest comic book superhero on Earth is being split down the middle between 2 huge international media companies.
Of course with an agreement like this you could imagine the creative issues that surface when one of the largest studios on the planet needs to essentially ask permission to use the largest comic book superhero on the planet in creative ways. In this regard, Sony has worked out agreements which essentially lend Spider-Man to Disney for the purposes of creating films. With this arrangement, Sony has creative vetoing power. It’s remarkable that in an industry dealing with such sums of money, that final creative power, are the result of a deal made over 20 years ago with a bankrupt company that barely resembles the empire of the Marvel cinematic universe in 2022. Naturally, Sony is going to continue to hold on to the golden goose that Marvel has created for them and try to get the most out of their agreement. This still doesn’t stop them from sticking their nose in, as any large multinational company would be inclined to do from time to time.
Most notable to me is when the animated movie “Into the Spider-Verse” was being made in 2018. Marvel was pitching the idea of having the 3 live action Spider-Man actors (Toby McGuire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland) do a quick voice acting cameo, but Sony made the executive decision to not allow the idea to go through. Sony decided against it, and I guess you could say that the idea was squashed.