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The real reason Spider-Man is leaving the MCU

The day Marvel fans have feared for years has finally arrived, as it's been announced that Spider-Man will be leaving the MCU. Walt Disney, owner of most Marvel properties and producers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Sony, owner of Spider-Man and his related Marvel characters' film rights, have been unable to come to an agreement on how to update the deal the two studios struck in 2015. So on August 20, 2019, Sony decided to exit the deal entirely, removing Spider-Man from the MCU and taking lead creative producer Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios off of production duty for Spider-Man films moving forward, according to Deadline.

So what does that mean for the current incarnation of Spidey? According to the report, Sony has two films lined up that would still feature star Tom Holland and director Jon Watts, though apparently Watts hasn't signed on yet. What the films won't have, however, is any connection to the MCU. It's hard to imagine the most recent Spider-Man film, Far from Home, without any links to Disney's Marvel movies. Tony Stark and the events of Avengers: Endgame hang over nearly every scene in the film, and MCU characters Happy Hogan and Nick Fury also play pivotal roles. But Sony, apparently, would rather go it alone by keeping Holland in the role while removing essentially everything fans have come to know about his version of the character. So how did we get here? Why is Spider-Man leaving the MCU now?

Was Spider-Man always bound to leave the MCU?

The 2015 deal was considered historic, as it brought two rival movie studios into a mutually beneficial — albeit practically unheard of — state of cooperation. Beginning with Spider-Man's introduction to the MCU in that year's Captain America: Civil War, the parameters of the deal allowed for Spidey to appear in Disney's MCU films while also enlisting Marvel Studios to produce the web-slinger's solo films for Sony. Sony would keep nearly all of the box office gross from the films they distributed, while Disney would keep the gross from any MCU films that featured Spider-Man as well as all merchandising rights to the character.

For a time, it seemed like all parties involved were happy with the state of the deal. The newest version of Spider-Man, the third in ten years, earned rave reviews and completely reinvigorated the franchise for Sony following the studio's two dreadful Amazing Spider-Man films. Disney also seemed happy with the deal, with Holland's Spider-Man quickly becoming one of the most popular characters in the MCU after scene-stealing turns in Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and the highest-grossing film of all time, Avengers: Endgame. But this relationship was doomed to fail from the start. Sony and Disney are not friends. They are rival studios, and at the end of the day, they don't want to help line each other's pockets.

Did Sony make Spider-Man leave the MCU?

While this news may have seemed to come out of left field, the writing has actually been on the wall for some time. Prior to the release of Far from Home earlier in 2019, reports surfaced that Sony was unhappy with their Marvel deal. According to these reports, Sony had baked into the deal a provision stating that if Far from Home did not gross at least $1 billion at the worldwide box office, then the agreement would be kaput and they would pull Spider-Man from the MCU. In a way, it seemed like Sony was hoping Marvel would fail since no Spider-Man film had even come close to making that kind of money before. So how did Far from Home do? 

As of this writing, Far from Home has swung past $1.1 billion, making it both the highest-grossing Spider-Man film ever and the first film in the franchise to cross the billion-dollar threshold. Not only that, but the movie recently passed the James Bond film Skyfall to become the highest-earning film ever put out by Sony. You'd think that Marvel producing Sony's biggest moneymaker of all time would be enough for the studio to want to keep them around, but apparently not. Sony apparently wants more. Is the studio looking for $2 billion? Maybe some of that Avengers: Endgame money? We don't know, but we do know that Marvel kept up their end of the bargain.

It's all about the (Uncle) Benjamins

The main driving force in Hollywood is money. That's just the way the business is, so naturally, one of the reasons why Spidey is leaving the MCU is due to money. Specifically, both Sony and Disney want more of it.

While Sony is getting most of the blame for ending the deal — mainly because many Spider-Man fans believe the studio's Marvel-free films to be vastly inferior to Marvel's offerings — Disney is not without blame. According to the original report, Disney was looking to update their deal with Sony by upping their portion of the box office take from five percent to a whopping 50 percent. Looking at that proposal, it's easy to see why Sony balked at the deal. Let's say, for instance, that Far from Home had been made under these terms. Under that scenario, Disney would have received $550 million from the film's box office to go along with their merchandise haul, leaving Sony with $550 million for themselves. That's over $150 million less than what The Amazing Spider-Man 2 made, and that film's poor performance is what caused Sony to seek out Marvel's help in the first place. Granted, under Disney's proposition, the two companies would also split the cost of production, upping the percentage of Sony's profits, but Sony would still be taking in far fewer dollars when it was all said and done.

Was Spider-Man leaving the MCU Sony's plan all along?

Not long after their deal with Marvel was announced, Sony revealed that they would be using their peripheral Spider-Man characters to build out a separate Marvel film universe that would be unrelated to the MCU and to Spider-Man, since he was now an MCU character. This Spider-Man-free Spider-Man film universe kicked off with 2018's Venom, a movie about a Spider-Man villain whose comic book backstory is intrinsically linked to Peter Parker, but whose movie debut was not allowed to mention the web-crawler. The film was a success, and Sony soon announced more non-MCU Marvel films featuring other Spider-Man-related characters like Morbius the Living Vampire, Kraven the Hunter, Black Cat, and Silver Sable.

From the beginning, fans and critics alike wondered just how a Spider-Man movie universe would work without Spider-Man, and now we may have our answer: The universe was never supposed to exist without Spider-Man. What if Sony simply used Marvel Studios to rehabilitate Spidey's image, with the plan being all along to insert him into their own fledgling universe when the time came, knowing that the general moviegoing public doesn't pay much attention to which studio does what? It may sound like a conspiracy theory, but years-old comments like producer Amy Pascal's "accidental" suggestion that Spider-Man and Venom exist within the same universe now seem deliberate.

Disney made Spider-Man too important

The MCU may have shot itself in the foot by making Spider-Man a new face of the franchise. Since Disney was apparently planning for some time on trying to get more money from Sony for producing Spider-Man films, it boggles the mind as to why the studio made Spidey so important to the MCU. Tony Stark decided to save the world in Endgame partly because he hoped it would bring back Peter Parker after the kid got dusted at the end of Infinity WarFar from Home, which closed out Marvel's Phase Three, practically screams at the audience that Spider-Man is meant to be the new Iron Man. In other words, he is the hero who will lead the franchise into the future.

Spider-Man's importance to Disney reaches beyond the movies as well. Disney's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, CA is in the midst of building a new Marvel Land which will prominently feature the web-head. A new Spider-Man ride is expected to be the main attraction of the new land, which is now going to be pretty awkward since the character will no longer be sharing the screen with the rest of the heroes strolling around the park. 

By placing such a heavy importance on Spider-Man, Disney put themselves in a weak negotiating position against Sony, and now both the MCU and Disney Parks are going to have to figure out a way to move forward with Spider-Man no longer a part of Disney's movie family.

Sony thinks they don't need Marvel

Sony was in dire straits when they agreed to share Spider-Man with Disney in 2015, but times change. The studio, desperate for a successful franchise since losing the rights to Bond after 2015's Spectre, now believes they've found one with their Spider-Man-free Spider-Man universe. Venom, though it was thrashed by critics, made a ton of money

In addition to their Tom Hardy-led cash cow, Sony also somehow managed to craft a critical darling of a Spider-Man film without Marvel's help. The animated movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, also released in 2018, currently holds the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating of any Spider-Man movie ever made. Not only that, but the film also won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, becoming the first film in 12 years to beat a Disney or Pixar film in the category. 

With big successes both critically and financially in their own recent Spider-Man productions, it's become quite clear that Sony believes they can steward the franchise just fine without Marvel's help. Now, it's up to the studio to prove that theory, as they will apparently be without the help of Marvel Studios or producing wizard Kevin Feige from now on.

Could a deal still be reached to keep Spider-Man from leaving the MCU?

While the news certainly looks bad for Spider-Man fans right now, all may not be lost. This is a brand new and continually developing story, and both Sony and Disney are likely to gauge the public's reactions to the news before deciding how best to proceed. So far, it's safe to say the public sentiment has mostly sided with Disney, whether that's fair or not, so there's always a chance the negative press could influence Sony to rethink their strategy when it comes to Marvel. 

Indeed, Sony has been the first to publicly react to the reports, and surprise, they've blamed Disney for the breakup. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio claims the reason for the breakup is that Disney wanted Feige off the Spider-Man films, apparently because he's now too busy with the company's recent Fox acquisitions to be involved in another studio's IP. Sony makes no mention of money, which seems a bit silly, but they do at least claim to hope the situation "might change in the future."

Thankfully, there's a lot of time for this to all get worked out. The next Spider-Man film has no release date as of yet, meaning it's likely a few years away, and Variety has reported that talks could start up again between the two studios. So even though Spider-Man is out of the MCU for now, there's a chance that he could soon return without anyone even noticing he left.