It’s now hard to imagine a world where the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t dominating the cultural landscape and keeping cinema chains going by delivering a huge box office return every time. We must also think back to the hazy days when Disney didn’t own … well, everything. Marvel properties being split up between Sony, Fox, Universal and later – Netflix and Disney – is still making it difficult to form the coherent universe that Disney clearly wants the MCU to be.
However, there was a time when Sony could have owned it all. In the 1990s, superhero movies were practically non-existent. There were the Joel Schumacher Batman films, which were seen as a bit of a joke, and that was about it.
The first X-Men movie didn’t come out until 2000 and then we had the Ben Affleck Daredevil in 2003, Ang Lee’s Hulk also in 2003, and Fantastic Four in 2005. But back in 1996, Marvel Comics was massively in debt and looking for a buyer. This was when Sony first came knocking – but they didn’t want all of Marvel, they only wanted our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man.
Marvel offered Sony the rights to every Marvel character for just $25 million, but Sony only wanted Spidey for $20 million. They weren’t willing to stump up the extra $5 million for the “dregs” – little-known characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Thor.
The rest as they say, is history. Fantastic Four and X-Men wound up going to Fox, Universal got the Hulk (but only when alone) and Sony did eventually get the Spidey movie they so desperately wanted in 2002. And Disney bought the B-characters that no one else wanted – including Iron Man, Captain America and Thor – and formed Marvel Entertainment and later Marvel Studios.
Ironically, Sony is starting to make its own shared “Spidey-verse” now – with the likes of Venom, Morbius, Kraven the Hunter and Madame Web.
If you’re still trying to wrap your head around everything Marvel (and who would blame you), check out our guide to Marvel Phase 4.