Why Sony Only Bought The Rights To Spider-Man From Marvel

Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.

The film adaptations of comic book characters have an interesting history. We are currently living in a golden age of interconnection that, at least in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, approaches what has been done in comic books for decades. That trend is expected to continue as more agreements are done and time passes, but that wasn’t always the case.

While we are currently enjoying the fruits of Sony and Marvel Studios’ collaboration to share Spider-Man, for a long period the Web-Slinger was on his own at Sony. This is owing to Sony’s purchase of the cinema rights to Spider-Man from Marvel years ago, after turning down practically every other Marvel property.

Marvel Entertainment was searching for a capital infusion in 1998, after the firm had emerged from bankruptcy two years previously. Yair Landau, a Sony Pictures executive, was attempting to get the big-screen rights to Spider-Man at the same time. Ike Perlmutter, the current Chairman and former CEO of Marvel, replied by giving Sony $25 million for the rights to practically every Marvel character, including Iron Man, Thor, Black Panther, and Ant-Man.

Yair Landau took the agreement back to Sony’s top management, who, according to him, answered as follows:

Nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.

Wow! In hindsight, we’re all fools, but Sony’s casual remark, as given to author Ben Fritz for the book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies (via Wall Street Journal), must be incredibly difficult for them to swallow now. Marvel went on to sell Spider-rights Man’s for $7 million on its own, and it’s difficult to argue that Sony got its money’s worth. The first three films were hugely successful commercially, and some of them were fairly terrific, but what could have been had to have left some people hating themselves even now.

We could be talking about Sony’s Black Panther and the Sony Cinematic Universe for a fraction of the price. In 2009, Disney paid $4 billion for Marvel, which today appears to be a bargain. It’s fascinating to consider that Sony might have had something similar for a cool $25 million.

There were cartoons for each, and I’m sure comic book sales figures supported who was the Marvel lineup’s A-squad. The claim that Spider-Man is the most popular Marvel character can still be made. While fans may now enjoy them, there was some concern at the start of the MCU that B-list characters like Iron Man and Thor would be forgotten. Sony’s dismissive attitude toward the rest of the Marvel franchise is now laughable, but it wasn’t always so.

We can only appreciate the possibilities of lesser-known characters starring in well-told storylines now that we have the benefit of hindsight and a decade of the MCU. After Sony bought the Spider-Man rights, it took another decade for Iron Man to hit theatres, and The Avengers didn’t fully reveal how big these Marvel characters could be until 2012. With Spider-Man in the MCU, producing his best standalone film in years and teaming up to face Thanos, Sony, Marvel, and the fans are all getting what they want.

With total worldwide box office earnings of 22.93 billion US dollars as of August 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe series was the highest-grossing film franchise. Sony may have lost $22 billion by refusing to buy all of Marvel’s characters and instead focusing on Spider-Man.