Take heart, Spidey fans. Your favorite web-slinging superhero may still be in line to receive the proper big-screen treatment he deserves. In this case, that could be a huge catalyst for investors in both Sony (NYSE:SNE) and The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS).
Despite the fact Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009, Sony still holds the film rights to Spider-Man. And it's no mystery Sony Pictures has made a bundle in its attempts to capitalize on those rights, generating nearly $4 billion in gross box office receipts from five separate films featuring the character since 2002.
Unfortunately, all is not well in Sony's neck of the woods. Despite estimates pegging The Amazing Spider-Man 2's production budget at an enormous $255 million, Sony's most recent effort received not only the franchise's worst critical response with a painful 53% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but also the lowest worldwide box office gross of any Spider-Man film, at $709 million.
Most notably, last year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed to capture the important hearts of domestic audiences; waning stateside interest in Spidey resulted in the addition of a modest $202.9 million to that total. It's unsettling that the largest box-office market in the world couldn't seem to care less about Sony's cinematic vision of this formerly bankable character:
Following Sony's widely publicized hacking debacle, The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog reported on leaked emails which revealed that executives from both Sony Pictures and Disney had been communicating as late as Oct. 30, 2014, regarding a number of mutually beneficial Spider-Man crossovers.
Most notably, the WSJ noted that Disney and Marvel had wanted to include Spider-Man in 2016's Captain America: Civil War -- which makes sense considering Spider-Man plays a key role in the corresponding Civil War narrative in the comics. But those talks broke down when Sony Pictures learned such a deal would involve granting complete creative control to Marvel -- and it wanted to essentially start from scratch with its own version of the web slinger.
According to a more recent report from Latino-Review, a source said the proposed deal previously on the table was a co-production agreement under which Marvel would assume creative control, and also finance 60% of the cost of future Spider-Man films, with Sony shouldering the remaining 40%.
This isn't over yet
Everything changed following the hack. Specifically, Latino-Review says, the higher-ups at Sony Pictures parent Sony Japan not only view their subordinates' handling of Spider-Man as "disappointing," but also want Sony Pictures to return to the negotiating table with Disney regardless of whether it involves giving up creative control.
And why not? There are literally dozens of superhero movies already planned during the next several years that pull from the vast character universes controlled by both Disney's Marvel and Time Warner's DC. It's not hard, then, to envision the moviegoing public continuing to sweep Sony's less-compelling Spider-Man universe under the rug in favor of Disney's and Time Warner's more-established, more-cohesive franchises. Disney, in particular, has arguably set an impossibly high standard with regard to confluent storylines, leaving Sony in the unenviable position of trying to keep pace.
In short, if Sony can't beat Disney, why not join forces and share in its success?
It seems doubtful Sony can make such a deal happen in time to include Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. We already know Marvel has Black Panther effectively filling Spidey's original role in the film, which should segue nicely into Black Panther's own planned late-2017 movie.
With so many other Marvel movies already in the works, from Doctor Strange in late-2016 to Captain Marvel, Inhumans, and Avengers: Infinity War Part I in 2018, something tells me it wouldn't be too difficult for Disney to make room for a new Spider-Man somewhere in the mix. If that happens, it's hard to imagine any scenario in which it wouldn't have massive positive implications for the financial performance of whichever film Marvel chooses.