Rejoice, nerds, for Spider-Man will finally appear alongside Iron Man, Captain America, and your other favorite heroes in film. Sony and Marvel will collaborate on a new vision for the character (otherwise known as a reboot), and he’ll appear in a Marvel Studios film (probably Captain America: Civil War in 2016) before Sony releases another of its own Spider-Man movies in 2017.
Marvel has always maintained its rights to the Spider-Man comic book character. But the character’s rights on the silver screen now belong to Sony, which barred Spider-Man from partaking in what’s known as Marvel’s “cinematic universe.”
Marvel sold off the film rights to its characters to various studios during hard times in the 1990s. Sony bought Spider-Man, and the web-slinger has been by far the studio’s most lucrative franchise ever since. Marvel eventually bought back most of the rights to its characters, but Sony held onto Spider-Man (the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, who were sold to Fox, also stayed put). (Here’s a helpful infographic from Screen Rant showing which studios currently own what characters.)
Marvel’s outlook changed after Disney bought the company in 2009 and helped turn Marvel Studios into a powerhouse for superhero films. Sony has resisted lending Spider-Man back to Marvel, given that he’s the studio’s only major superhero and its largest revenue generator. But at this point Sony’s current Spider-Man franchise is a bit of a mess—the latest film made the least amount of money in the franchise and was vilified by fans and critics alike. Add that to the seemingly never-ending fallout from the studio’s hacking scandal, and mending fences with Marvel finally seemed like a good idea.
With Marvel’s help, Spider-Man is likely to become an even more lucrative franchise for Sony. Sony hopes that if the character’s appearance in a Marvel film goes well (which, if Marvel’s recent films are any indication, it almost certainly will), that success will bleed into Sony’s standalone Spidey movies in the future.
Marvel obviously benefits from re-uniting its most beloved heroes, but the loser in this situation seems to be poor Andrew Garfield, who played Spider-Man in Sony’s last two films but will not be returning for the Marvel appearance. Garfield was a good Spider-Man trapped in a mediocre franchise and has apparently fallen victim to the messy, complicated logistics of intellectual property and studio dealing. Is this all because he got into the Phoenix final club?
Marvel fans shouldn’t expect Fox’s X-Men or Fantastic Four to follow Spider-Man’s lead. Marvel and 21st Century Fox seem to be much more at odds than Marvel and Sony ever were.