Sony Pictures' Chairman Tony Vinciquerra recently said Sony has seven to eight years of content planned in terms of its Spider-Man cinematic universe, but there's one big unknown: How the iconic webslinger will himself fit in the plans.
Back in 2015, Sony struck a deal with Disney's Marvel Studios that permitted Spider-Man to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. According to the terms of that deal, as reported by Vanity Fair (the deal has never been publicly disclosed) Spider-Man would be shared across Sony and Marvel productions for a total of five films.
Spidey has been in three thus far and Sony cannot incorporate the character into its own extended universe until the deal comes to a conclusion. That five-film cap will presumably be reached when two already filmed movies debut: "Avengers: Endgame" in April and "Spider-Man: Far From Home" in July (it is likely Spider-Man is in Endgame, though he has not been in any of the trailers released so far).
In return for agreeing to the deal, Marvel Studios has provided A-list characters for Spider-Man's recent solo outings that star Tom Holland: 2017's "Spider-Man: Homecoming" saw Robert Downey Jr. headline as Iron Man. The movie grossed over $880 million worldwide, according to Comscore. And this summer's "Spider-Man: Far From Home" will see Samuel L. Jackson don his eye patch once more to play Nick Fury. Marvel doesn't share in the film revenue but can see a revenue boost from merchandise sales related to the movies' characters.
Sony will face a big decision about how best to leverage Spider-Man when the current deal with Marvel is up — reserving Spider-Man exclusively for its extended universe, or keeping the teen hero aligned with Marvel. The absence of Spider-Man hasn't prevented Sony from creating its own extended universe.
Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto is filming "Morbius," which centers on a villainous vampire that Spider-Man is known for fighting in the comics, and will be released in 2020. More Spider-Man characters are expected to make it to the movies, including Kraven the Hunter, and a team up movie for Black Cat and Silver Sable, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The jury is still out on whether a Spider-Man cinematic universe without Spidey can pull off a string of successes like Marvel Studios has achieved.
"Most causal Spider-Man fans have no idea who he [Morbius] is," said Jeremy Conrad, a media influencer who has made a career out of critiquing big blockbusters. "I think most consumers just want Spider-Man to be able to interact with the Avengers, which we already have and don't care enough about the supporting Spider-Man characters to show too much interest in a shared universe with them and without Spider-Man."
Last year's "Venom" — which gave consumers an origin story for the infamous Spidey foe — was a big success, grossing $855 million worldwide, almost equal to the grosses for Holland's Spider-Man solo pictures. And next month's "Avengers: Endgame" is being marketed as the last straw for the original Avengers. Several actors contracts are coming to an end, including Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, who plays Captain America.
"It depends on the character, but there are very few who can be popular on their own and even then it's a challenge to divorce them from Spider-Man convincingly, such as Venom," Conrad said.
Marvel Studios and Sony declined to comment.
Spider-Man has been a box office hit for close to two decades, ever since Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" in 2002. Each film in the original trilogy grossed over $750 million worldwide. 2007's "Spider-Man 3" is the top Spidey earner, grossing $890 million worldwide, according to Comscore. While the rebooted franchise starring Andrew Garfield in 2012, titled "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," both grossed above $700 million, the latter film actually grossed the least of any live action Spider-Man film. That was one of the reasons for the Marvel deal.
After the 2014's film lackluster success, Sony agreed to reboot the beloved character into the Marvel cinematic universe, debuting Spider-Man in "Captain America: Civil War," which grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide.
"In some form or another, it's hard to imagine Sony won't revisit the character again. Whether or not that means waiting until Tom Holland's iteration in the Disney deal has run his course is anyone's guess right now," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for Boxoffice.com.
Disney is preparing for big changes, too. This week, the acquisition of 21st Century Fox was completed, meaning that Marvel fans could see the X-Men, among other characters, crossing with some of Marvel Studios' biggest names.
With the success of 2018's diverse, multi Spider-Man picture, the Oscar-winning animated film "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", Robbins thinks it's possible that two Spider-Mans could co-exist on the big screen for Sony in the future, in separate worlds. "Given the popularity of that film, it seems like only a matter of time before we see a live-action take on Miles or someone like Spider-Gwen," Robbins said.
"Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" cost $90 million to make and grossed over $368 million worldwide, with a critics score of 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Plans for a sequel were kickstarted weeks before the movie even hit theaters.
"Marvel itself has proven that it can create entire universes out of characters that existed somewhat in the shadows for decades and turn them into box office rock stars. Just look at 'Guardians of the Galaxy,'" said Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "This strategy can certainly work for 'Spider-Man' as long as the story and the characters are there. ... We actually need more superhero universes in order to keep the supply of interesting and fresh movies from this genre robust. New creation means no stagnation."
The comic book genre as a whole is seeing more spin-off films focused on supporting characters. Scarlett Johansson, who plays the avenger Black Widow will be getting a solo adventure in 2020. And DC and Warner Bros., now part of AT&T, are releasing "Joker" in October, starring Joaquin Phoenix in an origin story for the infamous Batman villain. "Suicide Squad," another Batman-villain team up picture, was not embraced strongly by critics but still managed to gross over $746 million worldwide. Its sequel is being directed by "Guardians of the Galaxy" director James Gunn, who was recently brought back on board by Disney after a controversial firing.
Without a clear role for Spider-Man in the Sony universe, questions will linger about supporting characters being strong enough to grow off the success of 2018's "Venom."
Media influencer Daniel Richtman thinks Spider-Man characters have all the potential in the world and that they will in fact make money. It's just a matter of each film's quality.
"Spider-Man has the best and most well known Rogues Gallery beside Batman. So I feel like they can make successful [stars out of] each of them (see Venom)," Richtman said. "Good movies? ... That's a different topic."