DC Comics may have set aside July 23 as a date for celebrating the history of its storied Batman character, but the day actually delivered much bigger news for the future of Spider-Man. Sony (NYSE:SNE) made headlines by announcing major release changes for upcoming films in its "Amazing Spider-Man" universe.
The company's updated movie plans delivered a telling swap: spin-off film Sinister Six has been moved to a November 2016 window, while Amazing Spider-Man 3 will now arrive in 2018. Why has this switch occurred? And what does it mean for Sony?
Sony slips in the superhero race
As Time Warner is gearing up to assemble an expanded superhero universe built around members of DC's Justice League and Disney is starting to more heavily promote Avengers: Age of Ultron, Sony's Spider-plans appear to be faltering. The decision to alter release windows comes after a disappointing performance for the second movie in the "Amazing" series. With its cinema earning power almost wholly depleted, the film has grossed approximately $706 million at the global box office. The notion that a movie could earn that much money and still be considered an underperformer may be surprising, but it's symptomatic of the superhero arms race currently under way.
Some reports suggest that Amazing Spider-Man 2 cost as much as $455 million to produce and market, yet the film failed to match the approximately $758 million bar established by its less-expensive predecessor. It's also failed to match any of the films in the Sam Raimi-directed trilogy, a series that might have gone on to a lucrative fourth installment had it not been for a variety of creative and contractual disputes. Now, Sony is making sweeping changes to its Spider-Man strategy.
Will Sony seek a new director for Amazing 3?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was intended to function as the springboard for Sony's expanded "Spider-Man" universe. The move to delay the third entry in the "Amazing" series to 2018 suggests that Sony believes Amazing 2 has failed in that respect, and that the studio needs more time to ready a mainline entry that can avoid the unfortunate trend of franchise decline.
Screenwriter Roberto Orci recently announced that he had left the project and issued comments indicating that the company was scrambling to get its Spider-act together. Orci's statements, in conjunction with news of the Amazing 3 delay, make it likely that Sony is dramatically reworking the film's script and considering big personnel changes.
Counting on the bad guys to save the day
Now that Amazing 3 has slipped to 2018, the task of driving the series forward falls on Sinister Six. The movie will be directed by Drew Goddard and revolve around Spider-Man's gallery of villains teaming up to achieve one end or another. To date, the only high-profile film that Goddard has directed is 2012's Cabin in the Woods. While that film's tone and execution suggest that the director is a good fit for the Sinister project, reenergizing a multi-billion-dollar franchise is a sizable undertaking for someone who hasn't spent much time in the director's chair. To give an idea of the jump Goddard is making, Cabin in the Woods is said to have had a production budget of $30 million.
Has Amazing Spider-Man 4 been squashed?
While the announcement of Sinister Six and Amazing 3 swapping release years is undeniably big news, the bigger takeaway may be that Sony is easing off its plans for an Amazing Spider-Man 4. Had the company stuck with its original release slate, 2018 would have seen the release of another untitled Spider-project. While the movie was not officially announced as the fourth mainline entry in the "Amazing" series, most reports pointed to that being the case. The release window for additional Spider-spinoff Venom remains unclear.
Where do Sony and Spider-Man go from here?
With Sony moving Amazing Spider-Man 3 to a 2018 date and reorganizing its expanded universe plans, claims that the series' second installment wasn't a disappointment can be mostly set aside. The company is now reliant on Sinister Six to preserve interest in the series and improve the value of the broader franchise, a risky proposition given that audiences appear to have a waning interest in the webslinger, and his associated villains are not similarly established commodities.
Sony's Spider-Man stumbles are very worrying for the company's film wing. They may also suggest that the property would be best served by some type of team-up with the heroes of Fox or Disney's respective superhero universes. With the swap in release dates, Sony will have some time to try to figure it out.