Why studio giants Marvel and Sony dropped rivalry for Spider-Man: Homecoming

The two entertainment giants have collaborated on what is likely to be one of the summer’s biggest blockbusters, which returns Spider-Man to the Marvel universe

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 10:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 July, 2017, 10:31am

Spider-Man: Homecoming sees one of the most successful superheroes in movie history return to his comic-book roots – but the film’s release is a landmark Hollywood event for a different reason.

The US$175 million blockbuster brings together two corporate leviathans, Disney-owned Marvel and Sony, in a rare example of cooperation between rival studios on a major film.

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“It was one of a handful of ‘This will never be possible but let’s dream about it’ moments at Marvel,” says Kevin Feige, the studio’s president.

Described by Marvel as the “crown jewel” of its comic-book empire, the company sold Spider-Man to Sony for a reported US$7 million in 1999, when superheroes had not yet become white-hot cinematic properties.

The web-slinger has become Sony’s own most prized asset over five movies from 2002-14 that grossed US$4 billion worldwide, making him the most bankable comic book character after Batman.

But the last of these, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), starring Andrew Garfield, was considered a financial and critical disappointment.

Sensing the writing was on the wall, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s then co-chairman Amy Pascal agreed in 2015 to allow Marvel Studios – after months of lobbying – to produce a new series of Spider-Man movies.

The result, starring 21-year-old British actor Tom Holland (The Impossible), is the first Spider-Man movie to exist in Marvel’s “cinematic universe”, a series of 15 interconnected superhero films.

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Featuring Thor, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and many other comic book favourites, the franchise has earned a staggering US$11.8 billion, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.

Pascal lost her job in the aftermath of the November 2014 Sony hack but was allowed as part of her severance package to stay on as a co-producer along with Feige of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The collaboration saw Sony paying Marvel an undisclosed producing fee, according to The Los Angeles Times, but keeping the profits and benefiting from being able to include fan favourite Iron Man in its movie.

Sony is returning the compliment by allowing Spider-Man to appear in Marvel’s upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, after a cameo in Captain America: Civil War , which amassed US$1.2 billion in box office receipts last year.

“It started with a lunch between me and Kevin, and I can’t believe we’re here now. It’s pretty exciting,” Pascal says.

There are precedents for such collaborations. Paramount worked with Warner Bros. on several movies, including Interstellar, Friday the 13th and Watchmen, with one distributing internationally and the other domestically.

Paramount also came on board with Fox when the budget for James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) began to spiral out of control, but such arrangements are the rare exception rather than the rule.

Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up the action directly following the epic battle scene of Civil War as Peter Parker returns home to his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), under the watchful eye of new mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).

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His attempts to fall back into his daily routine are disrupted by the Vulture (Michael Keaton), a new villain who threatens everything that Peter holds most dear.

Marvel’s vision has been to return Spider-Man to the character seen in the 1960s comics created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko – a teenage boy setting the world to rights alongside the Avengers.

Homecoming is getting rave reviews from the previews and looks like it will be a hit with fans, creating more social media buzz than any other upcoming release and tracking to open as high as US$100 million on July 7.

“The opportunity to finally put Spider-Man where he belongs, in the Marvel universe, really if anything just opened up the doors to so many new kinds of stories that we could tell,” director Jon Watts says.

“So if anything, I felt like we were being as true as possible, as anyone has ever been able to be, about Spider-Man and how he fits into this world.”