The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a disappointment for Sony (NYSE:SNE). The film has brought in approximately $704 million so far, a fair sum, but far short of the company's expectations. Two months after release -- and momentum mostly depleted -- Spider-Man's latest outing stands as the series' weakest box-office entry.
The picture from director Mark Webb has also performed less impressively than many of the blockbuster season's other high-profile releases. Twenty-First Century Fox's (NASDAQ:FOX) X-Men: Days of Future Past is currently the year's highest-grossing film. Viacom has scored a hit with Transformers: Age of Extinction and will soon take that honor from Professor X and his mutant horde, all while Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Maleficent is showing great legs.
With at least four movies currently in the pipeline, the expanded Spider-Man universe is central to Sony's film division. Can the company turn the property around and establish a successful expanded universe?
Strong webs have strong centers
Sony's reboot of the Spider-Man series got off to a bit of a rough start with the new timeline's first entry. The initial teaming of star Andrew Garfield and director Webb brought in $758 million at the global box office, which, at the time, made it the lowest-grossing entry in the series. Hopes persisted that the drop-off was symptomatic of the movie kicking off a rebooted franchise and that the property would grow with future installments. With the Amazing series' second entry delivering commercial decline, it's difficult to imagine that future installments will offer significantly better returns.
Spider-man compared to other cinematic heroes
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the rare modern superhero movie that has failed to earn more than its immediate predecessor. Disney's Captain America: The Winter Soldier delivered approximately $712 million in global box-office sales, compared to approximately $371 million for the first film in the series. Thor: The Dark World charged up approximately $645 million, delivering a substantial increase over the $449 million total generated by the Norse god's first solo outing. Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past has earned approximately $725 million globally, while 2011's X-Men: First Class totaled about $354 million. Consider that Spider-Man used to be the biggest hero on the silver screen, and it's apparent that Sony has mishandled its most valuable cinematic property.
Sony bet big on Spider-Man's less-than-amazing sequel
The extent to which Sony believed in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is evident in the company's future release schedule. In addition to 2016's Amazing Spider-Man 3, the company also has plans to release spinoff movies Venom and Sinister Six. A fourth in-development Spider-Man movie is currently planned for release in 2018, but whether or not it's connected to the Amazing universe remains unknown. Sony's attempts at expanding its Spider-World make it likely that the mysterious film is planned as a continuation of the current series, even if the value of that strategy is being called into question.
Does a slumping Spider-Man increase the possibility of an Avengers crossover?
The underperforming Amazing sequel has once again stoked the fires of speculation and highlighted the possibility of a crossover with Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less than three years ago, a deal was completed that saw Sony sell the Spider-Man merchandising rights to Disney. One of the results of this arrangement has been that Spider-Man is better promoted by Disney and Marvel and featured in products like the Infinity video game series, while Fox-held properties like X-Men and Fantastic Four have seen declining support from the media conglomerate and its comic publishing wing.
Rumors have circulated that Marvel is considering the cancellation of Fantastic Four comic books, and the company opted not to create new toy lines in conjunction with X-Men: Days of Future Past. While Sony selling the "Spider-Man" film rights to Disney remains unlikely, the possibility of some manner of movie crossover looks to be growing with time.
What does the big franchise stumble mean for Sony?
Amazing Spider-Man 2 reportedly had a production budget of $255 million and a marketing budget of at least $180 million. That means Sony is looking at a small profit on the pic. This latest box-office misstep is a huge problem for the company's film wing. The division posted a profit in the last fiscal year, but releasing so many big-budget movies in a declining franchise opens the door for significant losses within the next five years.
For all its eagerness to expand the cinematic Spider-Man universe, Sony has failed to sell audiences on the franchise's principal player. Unless the studio gets creative and delivers a well-received product with Amazing 3, the series' decline is likely to continue, and Spider-Man spinoffs risk getting caught in a web of public indifference.
Keith Noonan has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.