3 Reasons Sony Will Destroy 'Spider-Man' (Again)

These days, the three companies controlling the Marvel Universe on the big screen -- Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , Fox (NASDAQ: FOX  ) , and Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) -- all have grand plans for expanding their own cinematic universes. Disney has carefully assembled the Avengers film by film, and Fox has kept the X-Men franchise chugging along for 14 years.

But Sony, which holds the film rights to Spider-Man, has struggled with expanding its own corner of the Marvel Universe. While Spider-Man is one of the most well-known superheroes in the world, his supporting cast hasn't been ideal for building a full-fledged cinematic universe. In fact, the villains of Spider-Man -- such as Venom, Green Goblin, and Electro -- are generally more widely recognized than any of the supporting heroes of the Spider-Man series.

Source: Sony.

Therein lies the problem. To build up its own cinematic universe to rival Disney and Fox's, Sony plans to launch two villain-centered films starring Venom and the Sinister Six to expand its Amazing Spider-Man universe. Unfortunately, Sony's bold plan is doomed to fail for three big reasons.

1. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 clearly missed the mark
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 grossed $703 million worldwide on a production budget between $200 million to $225 million, making it the least profitable Spider-Man film of all time. The film only grossed $200 million domestically -- less than half of the domestic gross of Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man.

By comparison, the two highest grossing films of the series were Raimi's Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), which respectively grossed $822 million and $891 million worldwide.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was also the lowest rated of the five Spider-Man films among critics, with a score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes. The most common complaints about the film were that it was too crowded, was too long at 142 minutes, and that it killed off Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy, arguably the most appealing member of the cast.

With setbacks like these, it's not surprising that The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is now rumored to be delayed a full year to 2017. Considering that The Amazing Spider-Man series is intended to be the crux of Sony's Marvel Universe, the delay could disrupt the production cycles of the Venom and Sinister Six films as well.

2. Films starring comic book villains are box office poison
It's admirable that Sony wants to take a different approach than Disney and Fox by making films about comic book villains, but this approach is a tough sell.

The Punisher is the closest that filmmakers have come to putting a solo Marvel "villain" on the big screen. The Punisher, who is more of an anti-hero than a villain, has been portrayed three times in film -- first by Dolph Lundgren (The Punisher, 1989), then by Thomas Jane (The Punisher, 2004), and a third time by Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone, 2008).

The Punisher (2004). Source: Lions Gate.

The first film was made on a tiny budget of $9 million to $11 million and was quickly forgotten. The second and third films, which were higher profile films from Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF  ) , were box office disasters -- the 2004 film grossed $55 million on a production budget of $33 million (likely a loss due to marketing costs), while the 2008 one grossed $10 million on a budget of $35 million. All three films were poorly received, with the 2004 film faring the "best" on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 29%. Lions Gate eventually gave up on the Punisher, allowing the rights to revert to Marvel last year.

Matt Tolmach, one of the producers of Sinister Six, recently claimed that "there's no such thing as a villain" during an interview at IGN. He also stated that the film would be a tale of "redemption" in which a villain "finds his way back."

But redemption or not, a villain's story simply isn't effective without a hero acting as a foil -- it's like launching a superhero film without any villains. It might be fun to watch Venom and Sinister Six destroy things -- but what's the point if Spider-Man is left out?

3. Creative cobwebs everywhere
That leads us into the third big problem -- Sony's cloudy creative vision for the Spider-Man universe.

Marc Webb will no longer direct the series after The Amazing Spider-Man 3. Andrew Garfield has also strongly indicated that the third film will be his last. Garfield also stated that he wants Peter Parker to pass the torch to Miles Morales (the new Spider-Man in Marvel's Ultimate Universe), hinting that Peter could be killed off in the third film.

Will Miles Morales take over as Spider-Man in the third film? Source: Marvel.

Meanwhile, the upcoming Venom film will be written and directed by Alex Kurtzman, best known as the co-writer of Star Trek, Transformers, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. However, Kurtzman isn't usually a solo writer or director. He mostly co-writes the films with his longtime collaborator Roberto Orci, and has only directed a single film to date -- the 2012 drama People Like Us. Sinister Six is being written and directed by Drew Goddard, who also only directed one film to date -- the surprise 2012 hit The Cabin in the Woods.

Putting two second-time directors on these two films is a huge risk, considering that the tone of both films has to be absolutely perfect to win over an audience unaccustomed to films starring villains.

The Foolish takeaway
Sony has a lot riding on the success of its plans for Spider-Man.

Out of Sony's eight business segments, Sony Pictures was one of just three (Mobile, Pictures, Financials) that posted a year-over-year gain in revenues in 2013. The segment also posted a 40% year-over-year gain in operating income last year.

Sony Pictures accounts for 11% of Sony's top line and 21% of its operating income. Therefore, the success or failure of huge film investments like Spider-Man, Venom, and Sinister Six could make a huge impact on Sony's financial performance over the next few years.

What do you think, fellow comic book film fans? Will Sony's efforts to expand its Spider-Man universe succeed, or will the series fall apart and result in yet another reboot for the entire franchise?

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Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On June 25, 2014, at 11:34 AM, AdamGalas wrote:

    Each new spiderman makes less than before. Originally, the Amazing Spiderman reboot was meant to be a cheaper, $100 million "twlight-esque" version but Sony lost control of its vision and it became a $200 million re-do of the Sam Raimi origin story.

    TASM 2 was even more expensive and I've read that Sony might go with a reboot, AGAIN, after the third film.

    In my opinion, Sinister 6 and Venom spin-offs are a hard sell, since they require spider man to appear and for good or ill, Garfield is Spiderman now. If Sony pumps out those two spin offs before the third and final one, then how can they do sequels?

    If they wait until the next reboot, well as you said, that's likely 2017, with spin offs likely dragged down by declining brand popularity. That is unless the reboot is magical and with Sony spinning its wheels just trying to hold onto movie rights, it almost certainly won't be.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 10:53 AM, trueLuminus wrote:

    The ONLY Reason Sony Will Destroy 'Spider-Man' (Again)

    #1 They don't respect the property.

    There; fixed. I don't know why anyone continues to make the argument about movies being too crowded, when it's been demonstrated time and again that there's virtually no such thing. Examples: X-Men, Avengers, Ocean's 11, 12 & 13, Nolan's Batman films, etc. The argument is weak. Stop. Just stop.

    The real problem are hack producers/writers who try to reinvent the wheel and/or who don't have respect for comicbook movies. The stupid "Otis Theme" present in ASM2 is a prime indicator of this. (For those who don't know, the Otis Theme is a cartoony theme played in the original Superman films whenever Otis, Luthor's sidekick, was on screen. Thus the term "Otis Theme" is applied to all such cartoony themes played when a silly character is on screen.) The key word here being "silly." If your villain is silly, that's it. He/she ceases to be a person I can take seriously. For example, the difference between Heath Ledger's Joker and Cesar Romero's Joker is the word "silly."

    ASM2 is hemorrhaging with problems and not a single one has to do with the amount of villains or Gwen Stacy's death. Really, if anyone is complaining about Gwen Stacy's death, they should have their critics status revoked just on principle alone.

    Give the property back to Marvel and ALL of these problems will vanish. 99.99% guarantee.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 11:06 AM, Nitpicker wrote:

    I think they should simply drop the idea of competing with Disney and Fox (and DC) on that level. They simply can't build a cinematic universe around 1 hero.

    They could probably keep doing great movies where he fights the next villain and the next villain and the next villain because, as the article states, those villains are very recognizable.

    So don't reboot him either. When you go bigger and bigger, it can always only be 2-3 movies and that's it. And to keep rebooting the character will also hurt the franchise.

    They should either sell the character to Fox or Disney. They could easily include him in their cinematic universes. In the comic book world he's been fighting along side both Avengers and X-Men, so that would work great.

    Personally I'd love to see him with Wolverine or fighting Hulk.

    But if they don't sell him, they should consider making him their James Bond. Because that is 1 hero who has succesfully put out a string of 20+ movies without a need to always go bigger and bigger and include more and more characters in each movie. He's simply been put into one good movie after another. He's even been portrayed by several people without it being a reboot, and it has worked well because he is still around and still a guy we look forward to seeing again.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 11:36 AM, Death215 wrote:

    I didnt even bother to see it.

    The reasons why i didnt bother to see it were:

    1. Way too much CGI. Every trailer looked like it was a video game not a movie. DIdnt even look convincing.

    2. Hate the fact that "to me" they went too young. Felt like it was a movie for teens.

    3. Hated that a lot of the classic villains from the comic books all where made into some nut jobs with cyber suits. Like robo rhino.

    4. The story line seems blah at best.

    I can go on and on but it was a dud for me

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 11:59 AM, Nitpicker wrote:

    @trueLuminus

    I agree with a lot of your comments.

    I just want to say that I get the argument about crowding movies. Because you can point to specific reasons, that make the movies you mention work, and others not work.

    X-Men and Ocean's 11: They're all established teams and each individual member only exist as a member of his team. Wolverine is really the only solo character who also stands on his own now and then, but the rest are and have always been part of their teams. So it doesn't become crowded because each of them play an already established part of the equation.

    The Avengers is a tad different as many of its members are also strong solo characters. But they've got a long history as a team also. So it is established.

    In Nolan's Batman movies, he's finding a perfect balance between the characters. He doesn't try to make Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul or The Joker and Two-Face team up as equals. He makes one the main villain and gives the other a supporting role, or he uses them at different times during the movies.

    The overcrowding can occur in movies when you have equally strong solo characters also figting for screen time, and if you try to put them in a team together, that has never really been established before.

    I won't say this happens everytime. But it certainly can happen. I think that Spider-Man 3 struggled to find that balance.

    In a way, I guess, this can also be related to the respect of the property, as you mention. Because the established teams of those other movies are established within the property already. But when you start pairing up characters that are usually working alone, they clash, so that could be considered both an issue of crowding, but also an issue of property damage.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 1:04 PM, mobrocket wrote:

    @death215

    1. Its hard and expensive for human actors to do what spiderman can, sometimes impossible so you need CGI

    2. Too young? We are talking about spiderman right? Peter Parker isnt suppose to be 50

    3. If u watched the movie you would know about rhino and the scene in the suit was at the end of the movie... and how else would u do it, a guy in spandex with a horn?

    4. You didnt see the movie, reading on wikipedia isnt a fair way to judge it

    5. YOU DIDNT SEE THE MOVIE, how can you bash it without seeing it... you want to bash sony and its direction with spiderman... fine, but the last movie... get out of here

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 2:13 PM, dakillerwolf wrote:

    If you want to make a movie based on Spider-Man characters. Look at the Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Great story with lesser know characters. Bad guys in the hero roll with badder guys as the "villains". A caper flix with the lovable loser trying to get the one big heist, but they have superpowers. What's not to love?

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 2:38 PM, blizzs wrote:

    I would love to see spiderman in the Avengers movies, thats where he belongs now. In original spiderman does belong in the avengers.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 3:22 PM, Dthelounger wrote:

    Leo Sun, is this your life? Do you do anything other than give "3 reasons" why something will fail? Come'on man, post something that doesn't include "3 reasons" or "fail" and I'll be sure to get you nominated for some sort of award as most improved columnist.

  • Report this Comment On June 26, 2014, at 4:07 PM, alphariusomegon wrote:

    I stopped reading the article after the author implied that the Punisher ( 2004 Thomas Jane version) was colossal flop overall. Perhaps the Fool will notice that the 2004 version has gone on to become a cult classic within the marvel comic community and Thomas Jane is lauded for his portrayal of Frank Castle, whereas the other two are railed against almost universally for the failures of their movies. I might also remind the Fool how wrong they were the last few times they tried to get into movie critiquing and doomsaying their potential success. The first movie was the Avengers, which the Fool stated would massively flop. We all know now that it didn't, it exceeded all expectations, as did the next one the Fool tried to harp against, Captain America: Winter Soldier, which also proved the Fool wrong. Then there was Xmen: Days of Future Past, which is on it's way to proving the Fool a complete fool. They've also railed against the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, so I fully expect that it will also nail the coffin shut on the Fool's foolish attempt to play Siskel and Ebert. All that being said, A Venom movie would sell, based on his popularity in the comics. I'll give you the Sinister Six, that one I do question the wisdom of. Do us a favor, stick with what you know, Fool. Clearly, movies and how successful they will be at the box office are not it.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2014, at 12:12 AM, jwalters95 wrote:

    What is with Andrew Garfield wanting to change Peter Parker so much? First he wanted him to be gay now he wants him to be black.

  • Report this Comment On June 27, 2014, at 12:27 AM, chrispblaq1217 wrote:

    Spiderman should stay the way it is. Just change the direction for telling the story. When I was a kid reading the comics, my favorite was the team-up comics. I'm more then sure if they did a movie with Spiderman and The Punisher or Blade, add the Madam Web storyline , you will see good results. For the true comicbook fan this would be a real treat.

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