Spider-Man is in danger, and there's a good chance that the Spider-Senses at Sony (NYSE:SNE) have risen to more than a tingle.
The iconic character's latest film outing has grossed approximately $705 million at the global box office. That's a less-than-spectacular sum, considering the resources poured into the project. Reports have suggested that the film had a budget in the neighborhood of $400 million, with sources like Deadline claiming that the movie cost as much as $455 million to produce and market globally. With these kinds of numbers, Sony is looking at breaking even or making a very small profit with The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Toward the end of June, a rumor began to circulate that Sony was no longer confident in its plans for the series. While this speculation might have previously been dismissed as industry scuttlebutt, it's starting to look increasingly credible. Writer Roberto Orci recently announced that he left The Amazing Spider-Man 3. He also made comments suggesting that the series' future is in jeopardy. What will happen to Spidey and spin-off films Venom and Sinister Six?
Is this the end of the 'Amazing' series and its expanded universe?
Last October saw Orci sign on to write The Amazing Spider-Man 3. He would be assisted in the task by his longtime writing partner Alex Kurtzman, as well as Jeff Pinkner, one of the writers who had worked with the duo on Amazing Spider-Man 2. Orci and Kurtzman have helped to pen some of the most successful box-office hits of the last decade, but the pair recently announced that they have gone their separate ways and do not plan on collaborating on future projects. Kurtzman is currently in line to direct Sony's Sinister Six, which is scheduled for a 2017 release. Orci is set to direct Viacom (NASDAQ:VIA) and Paramount's Star Trek 3.
While the parting of the writing duo makes Orci's non-involvement in the third Amazing film less surprising, the writer and soon-to-be director recently gave some very revealing comments on the project. When asked about the film in an interview with IGN, Orci said, "I don't know what their plans are for that franchise. I don't ever want to say never, but we have to figure out what their scheduling is in terms of when they want each movie. I've read probably as much as anyone else. There's a love for the Sinister Six, the idea of Venom -- there's an idea of Spider-Man's going to be one of these characters that's part of our business. He's such a popular character." Orci went on to reiterate that Sony has yet to figure out its plans for the future of the Spider-Man franchise.
Is Spider-man in good hands?
It's easy to see why Sony would be worried about the handling of its most valuable movie property. The two films in the Amazing series have failed to match the earnings of any film in the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy, and Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes in as the lowest-grossing film in the franchise. One possible solution that has been put forth is that Kurtzman's Sinister Six will be swapped into Amazing 3's 2016 release window. While such a move could pay off for the company, it would also be risk-heavy.
Kurtzman has never directed a big-budget studio picture before, and the broader Spider-series would be greatly harmed by another lackluster entry. That's not to suggest that having an inexperienced director behind a project spells certain doom -- Disney's Maleficent falls under that category and has made approximately $669 million -- but it's a questionable choice for a studio aiming to restore a faltering franchise.
Spider-Man's former writer aims for the stars
Now that Orci is officially off all things Spider-Man, he'll be able to concentrate on his directorial debut and attempt to reenergize Viacom's "Star Trek" property. While 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness currently has the series' highest worldwide box-office total, at approximately $434 million, the film failed to match its 2009 predecessor's $258 million domestic haul and was widely viewed as an underperformer.
Another Spider-Man misstep would be a huge blow to Sony
Sony's film timetable makes it unlikely that the company will choose to scrap the Amazing series and pursue another reboot. That said, moving Sinister Six into the 2016 release window and shifting the third mainline entry in the Amazing property is starting to look increasingly likely.
Unfortunately for Sony, this type of uncertainty does not bode well for the quality of its upcoming Spider-films and the strength of an expanded universe. Regardless of what the next movie released in the broader franchise happens to be, Sony desperately needs a hit.