Disney-Sony Standoff Ends Marvel Studios & Kevin Feige’s Involvement In ‘Spider-Man’
UPDATED at 8:55p.m. PT with Sony response: Sony Pictures spent much of yesterday trying to spin Deadline about the prospective loss of Kevin Feige from future Spider-Man films. First the studio downplayed the idea he might be leaving; then insiders pinned his exit on added responsibilities from the Fox acquisition of the X-Men franchise, though they declined to make a statement. All this was reflected as factors in Deadline’s break of an important and widely regurgitated story. But sources maintain that Feige’s exit was about money; it was about Disney seeking the 50/50 co-fi stake as the price for Marvel and Feige’s continued guiding hand that resulted in the delivery of Sony’s biggest grossing film ever. Sony declined to meet those terms. It was an aggressive stance by Disney, which already owns the merchandise on Spider-Man, and a tough nut for Sony to swallow, giving up half of its most valuable franchise. But these talks had been going on for some time. Had Sony agreed to Disney’s ask, Marvel and Feige would not have withdrawn from the Spider-Man films, sources said.
Sony issued a statement late in the evening, not denying anything Deadline revealed yesterday, but reiterating its stance that Feige was too busy, which seems like spin. Deadline stands squarely behind its reporting. How important is Feige to the future of this franchise? We’ll find out down the line. Sony is planning two more installments, though it is an open question whether those will include Jon Watts, director of the first two films guided creatively by Feige. Watts isn’t signed on for the next film and isn’t a certainty to be back as he is being heavily courted for other jobs. Could Sony find itself vying against Marvel for Watts’ future services as director? Here is Sony’s late evening statement: “Much of today’s news about Spider-Man has mischaracterized recent discussions about Kevin Feige’s involvement in the franchise. We are disappointed, but respect Disney’s decision not to have him continue as a lead producer of our next live action Spider-Man film,” a Sony spokesperson said. “We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him – including all their newly added Marvel properties – do not allow time for him to work on IP they do not own. Kevin is terrific and we are grateful for his help and guidance and appreciate the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue.”
PREVIOUS DEADLINE EXCLUSIVE: Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige won’t produce any further Spider-Man films because of an inability by Disney and Sony Pictures to reach new terms that would have given the former a co-financing stake going forward. A dispute that has taken place over the past few months at the top of Disney and Sony has essentially nixed Feige, and the future involvement of Marvel from the Spider-Man universe, sources said.
This comes at a moment when the last two films Kevin Feige produced broke all-time records — Disney’s Avengers: Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time, and Spider-Man: Far From Home this week surpassed the James Bond film Skyfall to become the all time highest grossing film for Sony Pictures.
Sources said there are two more Spider-Man films in the works and the studio hopes to have director Jon Watts and Tom Holland front and center, though Watts doesn’t have a deal for the next picture and isn’t a lock to return. That isn’t helped by that fact that, unless something dramatic happens, Feige won’t be the lead creative producer of those pictures.
There is a lot of webbing here, but it all comes down to money, and it’s easy to understand why both sides refused to give ground. Disney asked that future Spider-Man films be a 50/50 co-financing arrangement between the studios, and there were discussions that this might extend to other films in the Spider-Man universe. Sony turned that offer down flat. Sources said that Sony, led by Tom Rothman and Tony Vinciquerra, came back with other configurations, but Disney didn’t want to do that. But Sony did not want to share its biggest franchise. Sure Disney would be putting up half the funding, but the risk is in how much you are going to make back in profit. Disney wasn’t at all interested in continuing the current terms where Marvel receives in the range of 5% of first dollar gross, sources said.
Now, it’s easy to say that Feige has enough on his plate, especially after taking control of the X-Men universe in the Fox acquisition, including the Deadpool franchise, along with architecting the next phase of the Marvel superhero universe and building movies and shows for Disney +. But I’m told Feige loves Spider-Man, arguably the biggest superhero character in the Marvel canon. He would have continued if Disney and Sony could have reached new deal terms.
Essentially this means that Sony will have to try to win a championship without Michael Jordan. After all, Feige’s first decade at Marvel is largely unblemished and his consistency has been nothing short of historic: even George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson haven’t seen everything turn into a hit, and so maybe only James Cameron has the success record that Feige has achieved. But Feige has done it all in the last 10 years, producing and overseeing 23 superheros, with not a flop in the bunch. They’ve all been number one openers that have collectively grossed $26.8 billion. Feige this year became the producer of the top grossing film ever for two studios — Sony and Disney — and he produced three of the top four highest grossing films this year in Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home. This after scoring the first ever Best Picture Oscar nom for a superhero film last year with Black Panther. I can’t think of a Hollywood producer/executive who has done anything close to this.
And the launch of the new iteration of Spider-Man was done brilliantly with Marvel’s support and help. It has been a boon to both studios. Tom Holland’s character was introduced in the Joe & Anthony Russo-directed 2016 blockbuster Captain America: Civil War, the film that set up the two record breaking Avengers films. Sony’s first rebooted Spidey film, 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, rode that Marvel wave and grossed $880 million worldwide, and then the webslinger was a key character in the two Avengers films, leading to the Spidey sequel that this week became Sony’s top grossing film ever.
Sources said Disney’s top brass for the past several months has sought new terms for Feige and the Marvel cross-pollination to continue. As the Spider-Man relationship grew, Feige and Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman spoke about the possibility of a wider involvement in the Sony-controlled Spider-man universe, which contains 900 characters.
It is understandable that the fiscally shrewd Rothman would balk at giving up half of Sony’s biggest franchise to Marvel. After all, Marvel already owns the merchandising on Spider-Man. Does the Mouse really need half of the movie universe also? Sony so far has decided that as valuable as Feige is, Disney is asking too high a price.
Sources said that Sony reasoned that they will be fine, without Feige. The creative template has been set on the Spider-Man films, and Watt and Holland are in place along with Amy Pascal, who became producer with Feige after she exited the executive suite after presiding over the previous Spider-man iterations directed by Sam Raimi and Marc Webb as Sony Pictures chief. And sources note that Venom was a problem picture and far from the polished product that grossed $856 million worldwide, until Rothman himself spent a good long time in the editing room helping to get it there.
The Venom sequel is well underway with Andy Serkis directing Tom Hardy, and there is Morbius with Jared Leto, Kraven The Hunter, and another spinoff with the characters Silver Sable and Black Cat. And a Sinister Six film that got shelved. Sony, which once felt the ticking clock of generating a Spider-Man film every three or so years to prevent a rights reversion to Disney, now has plenty of pictures to make. And the studio also won the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, a smash hit they made on their own.
No comment from Marvel/Disney, Feige or Sony Pictures.