The story of Peter Parker has been told for decades. A young man living with his aunt and uncle is bitten by a radioactive spider; his uncle dies, he is catapulted to superhero–dom, and he has to balance being a teenage hero, a good boyfriend, and a high school student. For his simple yet moving story, Spider–Man has become a piece of American iconography and is particularly vital to how the general public views Marvel comics. However, the Spider–Man franchise has sparked a media firestorm recently after news that the character would be leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Fans are shocked after becoming attached to Tom Holland's portrayal of the character over the past couple of years—so what exactly has lead us to this point?
Spider–Man was first seen on the screen in the 1970s in a 13–episode television series which ran between ‘77 and ‘79. The series was produced by Columbia Pictures Television and was the first full–length live–action television series based off of Marvel Comics. Columbia Pictures was bought by Sony in 1989, and Sony remains the owner of the rights to Spider–Man on the small screen. However, the film rights for Spider–Man were initially owned by MGM. In 1999, Sony and MGM were facing off; Sony was planning to make a James Bond television series, undermining MGM’s hold on the 007 film franchise, and MGM intended to make a Spider–Man film. The two then traded rights, leaving Peter Parker entirely in Sony’s hands.
The introduction of Spider–Man into the film universe was in 2002 with Sam Raimi’s trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, famous for the upside–down kiss and the scene where the direction of the wind and the Mary Jane’s hair don’t seem to match. Overall, Spider–Man was a commercial success and the beginning of what would become a notable revival of the superhero film in the 2000s, moving away from campy works such as Batman & Robin (1998) and The Fantastic Four (1994). While the style of Raimi’s films is certainly comedic, it enjoyed critical acclaim and marked a brighter, more quippy style of superhero film that would become emblematic of the Marvel universe moving forward.
Maguire's reign ended after a fourth film was dropped, but Spider–Man's character did not. In 2012, just as Marvel was in the middle of film trilogies such as Captain America and Iron Man, Andrew Garfield took over. This era saw an increase in film quality: There was real chemistry between co–stars Garfield and Emma Stone, and this new Spidey was seen as far cuter and more charismatic than his predecessor. However, after two films, Garfield’s version of the character was thrown away. Citing reasons of artistic differences, failing box offices, and hacked emails, Garfield was dropped from the role in 2014, cutting his time as Spider–Man short of a trilogy.
Raimi’s Spider–Man films began in 2002 before the MCU even released movies. Garfield's films, however, were released alongside Marvel hits such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the original Spider–Man films had been the catalyst for the MCU, Garfield’s films were now competition.
After 2014, however, Marvel and Sony came to an agreement. At this point, Sony had owned the rights to Peter Parker for 15 years, had created five separate films in his name, and generated almost four billion dollars at the box office in total. However, Marvel Studios was growing tired of their cinematic universe lacking its most famous superhero, and their desire to acquire Spider–Man grew.
In February 2015, a deal was struck between Disney and Sony: Spidey was allowed to appear in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but Marvel would only receive about 5% of the Spider–Man films' total box office revenue. Sony would still be the primary production company of the film, but Spider–Man’s solo films would be co–produced by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. The newest iteration of Peter Parker, portrayed by Tom Holland, was first shown in Captain America: Civil War, and has since become a staple of the MCU, particularly with his heartbreaking “death” in Avengers: Infinity War and his relationship with Iron Man.
Recently, Disney proposed that they should receive 50% of the revenue from the Spider–Man films, instead of the 5% they currently received. Sony refused. Unable to reach an agreement, Feige will no longer co–produce Spider–Man films and Spider–Man will no longer appear in the MCU.
This situation is sticky because Holland’s version of the character is now inexorably tied to the greater Marvel universe. Much of his character development, too, has been based around Tony Stark and the aftermath of his death. Marvel has cleverly boxed Sony into a corner by building up Peter Parker around other Marvel characters and then proposing a deal where Marvel gets a much larger percentage of the revenue than they did previously. Sony either refuses and is forced to overwrite all the previous development given to Peter and the events of the Avengers films, or they must agree to the new deal.
The fallout of this argument has left fans of Spider–Man infuriated. People are trashing Sony for destroying their precious Peter and ruining Holland’s career. Sony has undoubtedly been painted as the villain, while Disney and Marvel Studios are the injured parties.
However, what's important to remember is that Disney is a company seeking to maximize profits as much as possible—as is Sony. There is no moral code to these companies, and the issue at the base of it all is not Spider–Man's character or Tom Holland’s acting career—it's money. Disney is trying to get even more cash out of what they see as a profitable character while Sony seeks to hold onto the rights which it has held for so long. Those antagonizing Sony fail to realize that Disney is the one seeking a greater cut for their own personal gain. Ultimately, while we can mourn the uncertainty of a favorite character within the MCU, we must remember that the debate over Spider–Man is not truly about the character, but about two massive corporations seeking to grab as much cash as they can get.