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Sony almost secured the rights to every Marvel property years ago

February 17th, 2018 by Dave Bowling Comments

It’s funny how these things work out, ain’t it?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most profitable movie franchises in history, eclipsing Star Wars, Harry Potter and even making almost twice as much money as the Bond films. Billions have been raked into the coffers of the House of Mouse over the last eight years, ever since Disney’s outright purchase of Marvel in late 2009. But it might not have been that way, were it not for a single, simple decision by management at a company not exactly known for its foresight.

In his upcoming book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, Variety reporter Ben Fritz mentions a deal that wasn’t made back in 1998, ten whole years before Iron Man would kick off the MCU. Y’see, at the time Marvel was on its uppers. The market for ‘rare’, collectors edition comics that the company had hoped printing half a dozen covers for every issue would make it millions, had, to quote The Simpsons, fallen apart like a Chinese motorcycle. New readers were being put off in their droves by decades upon decades of convoluted continuity that frequently made no sense even in context, and had been retconned to hell and back. This would later be addressed by the superb (in its early years at least) Ultimate Marvel imprint, but that was still two years away. The company had been through bankruptcy proceedings in its recent past, and at the time was negotiating with Columbia TriStar for the rights to produce a Spider-Man motion picture.

The journey of the film rights to Spider-Man from holder to holder were famously torturous, passing between different studios, production companies and directors, with big names like James Cameron attached at various points. But now Columbia had home video distribution rights and wanted the big screen rights too. Marvel’s then-new CEO, Ike Perlmutter, needed cash to keep his company afloat, so he made a very generous offer to Columbia’s parent company, Sony. As Fritz says:

In 1998, a young Sony Pictures executive named Yair Landau was tasked with securing the theatrical screen rights to Spider-Man. His company had DVD rights to the web-slinger but needed the rest in order to make a movie. Marvel Entertainment, then only a famed name in the comic-book world, had just begun trying to make film deals. The company was fresh out of bankruptcy and desperate for cash, so its new chief, Ike Perlmutter, responded with a more audacious offer. Sony, he countered, could have the movie rights to nearly every Marvel character—Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Black Panther and more—for $25 million.

Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? Twenty-five million dollars for the rights to characters that have brought in over thirteen BILLION. Sounds like the deal of the century, huh? Well, no.

Mr. Landau took the offer back to his bosses at Sony, whose response was quick and decisive, he recalled in an interview: “Nobody gives a sh*t about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man”.

So, yeah. Sony’s desperate attempts to milk every last penny out of their Spider-Man licence and their lack of creative vision of any kind when it came to following up the Amazing Spider-Man movies (or in fact those movies themselves) pretty much speak volumes. The less said about the upcoming Venom thing, the better. Had the bosses at the company responsible for inventing the Walkman, Blu-Ray and (embarrassingly) Betamax taken up Marvel’s incredibly generous offer, who knows where we’d be now? I’m fairly certain that we wouldn’t have Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark or Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and there’d be no way in hell that we’d have Black Panther and Captain Marvel either in cinemas or in the works. Maybe they would have put Iron Man into production in light of Fox’s success with X-Men, but who the hell knows? Without the competition of a Disney-funded Marvel, would Fox have ever run the risk of producing a Deadpool movie?

Ah sod it, I’ve just been to see Black Panther. It was brilliant. Long live Disney, and that’s something I never thought I’d say a few years ago…

The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Ben Fritz will be released on 6 March 2018.

Source: io9

Dave was born at an early age to parents of both sexes. He has been a self-confessed geek for as long as he can remember, having been raised through the 80s on a steady diet of Doctor Who, Star Trek, Red Dwarf and (sigh) Knight Rider. Throw the usual assortment of Saturday morning cartoons into the mix and we have something quite exceptional: someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of utter tosh; a love of giant robots and spaceships fighting; and the strange desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound while wearing his underpants over his trousers. The death ray is currently in the works and one day you shall all bow to him, his giant space station and fleet of funky orange space shuttles...