INTERNATIONAL - A dispute between Walt Disney Co. and Sony Corp. threatens to end their co-production of “Spider-Man” films, according to people familiar with the situation, putting the future of one of Marvel’s most beloved characters up in the air.
The two sides haven’t been able to agree on new terms for their partnership, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Sony holds the film rights to the popular Marvel character, even though Disney acquired Marvel Studios for $4 billion in 2009.
A falling-out between two of Hollywood’s biggest studios would mean Marvel President Kevin Feige won’t be lending his touch to future Spider-Man films, and the character won’t appear in Disney’s Marvel films -- a series dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, that’s generated more than $22.5 billion globally.
In a statement, Sony said media reports about the dispute “mischaracterized” the discussions, but it acknowledged that Feige wouldn’t be lead producer on its next live-action Spider-Man film.
“We are disappointed, but respect Disney’s decision,” Sony said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Fans had speculated that Sony might have to reboot its Spider-Man saga now that it’s parting ways with Disney. But Sony is expected to continue with the series, which has starred Tom Holland as Spider-Man.
Sony cast the decision as a matter of Feige being busy with Disney’s now-enlarged Marvel empire. With the acquisition of Fox intellectual property earlier this year, the entertainment giant gained a trove of new comic-book characters, including the X-Men, that Feige may eventually weave into the MCU.
“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,” Sony said.
Some people familiar with the situation had described the clash as more of a financial issue. Disney has been requesting a 50% share of profits in the films going forward. Sony wanted to keep the current arrangement, in which Disney gets a 5% share of box-office revenue, according to the Deadline website, which reported earlier on the dispute.
The two Hollywood giants agreed in 2015 to work together on films featuring the web-slinging superhero after several of Sony’s Spider-Man films underperformed. The first feature in their collaboration, 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” captured $880 million in ticket sales worldwide, the best performance of the franchise up until then. A follow-up, this year’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” grossed $1.1 billion, a record for the series and for Sony.
Spider-Man, played by Holland, also was featured in MCU films such as this year’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the highest-grossing film of all time.