Booker Zhang is an IPilogue Writer and a 1L JD Candidate at the University of Manitoba.
On February 15, 2022, Spider-Man: No Way Home has hit $1.8 billion at the box office, becoming the sixth-highest grossing movie of all time. Building on the massive success of Avengers: Endgame, Marvel has rapidly become one of the most famous and profitable movie studios worldwide. However, Marvel suffered financial hardships in the early years and made tough decisions. One of them is to sell the Spider-Man film rights. In 1999, Marvel finished the deal with Sony and officially handed over its most famous superhero for $7 million, which created a list of complex copyright issues for the next 20 years.
In 2002, the first well-known Spider-Man movie was filmed by Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Entertainment. The film generated $800 million at the box office, redefining what it means to be a superhero movie and successfully saving Sony’s Picture Division from a deficit. The popularity of Spider-Man also made Marvel realize that they gave up a money machine. However, Marvel had no right to unilaterally retain Spider-Man’s copyright unless Sony decided to terminate the contract—which seemed unlikely to happen.
A plot twist occurred in 2008 after Marvel released Iron Man. The film received praise from critics. The American Film Institution selected it as one of the best films of 2008. The Walt Disney Company saw the potential and purchased Marvel in 2009. With solid financial support from Disney, Marvel has successfully promoted the “Marvel Universe” and earned a worldwide reputation. In the meantime, Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 released in 2014 was met with criticism, ending the reboot series.
In 2015, Marvel and Sony made an unprecedented deal that the two companies would share joint-ownership in Spider-Man’s copyright. Marvel would film the movie while Sony would take all the box office earnings and be responsible for the investment and distribution. There is no dispute that the new Spider-Man, starring Tom Holland, is a hit.
According to the deal, Marvel was only authorized to have Spider-Man in 5 movies, and Spider-Man: No Way Home indicated the end of the contract. To avoid spoiling, I will not go into details of the plot, but the movie did result in concerns about the future of Spider-Man. Marvel is currently seeking to retain complete control of Spider-Man through a lawsuit against Sony.
One interesting fact to mention is that Sony only has the film rights of Spider-Man, not the video game rights. Nevertheless, under the authority of Marvel, Sony released Marvel’s Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 — the best-selling video game in 2018. Until Marvel and Sony reach an agreement, Spider-Man’s copyright (like his fate) remains up in the air.