The latest rumors suggest that Disney want to buy Spider-Man from Sony for $4 billion or more - and they're almost certainly wrong. Against all the odds, Disney and Sony have reached a new agreement that keeps Spider-Man in the MCU for a little longer - apparently thanks to Tom Holland's personal intervention. Spider-Man is swinging his way into Spider-Man: Homecoming 3, and from there he'll be leaping into one more crossover/cameo/event movie. Beyond that, the future is unclear.
The latest rumors claim that the House of Mouse still isn't happy with this, and that Disney is aiming to buy Spider-Man's film rights back outright. The numbers being quoted are pretty staggering, with Disney reportedly intending to offer between $4 and $5 billion for Spider-Man alone - more than they spent on Star Wars, and potentially even more than they paid for Marvel. Apparently the current plan is for Spider-Man - the world's most merchandizable and high-profile superhero - to become leader of the Avengers, while Captain Marvel takes command of A-Force.
Of course, these are only rumors, but they've got the Internet buzzing with excitement. Disney CEO Bob Iger's memoirs, The Ride of a Lifetime, include a comment that they were always well aware of Spider-Man's value. But will Disney really go so far as to offer $4 to $5 billion?
Spider-Man Movie Rights Aren’t Worth $4 Billion To Disney
The House of Mouse has earned quite a reputation for high-profile acquisitions under current CEO Bob Iger. It all began with the purchase of Pixar in 2006, for $7.4 billion. Three years later, Disney bought Marvel for $4.24 billion, and in 2012 they paid a further $4.05 billion for Lucasfilm. The most recent acquisition was, of course, the purchase of the bulk of Fox's film and TV empire - for a staggering $71.3 billion. Given this context, it's not hard to understand why many people believe Disney will just buy Spider-Man back from Sony.
There's just one problem; the situation is, quite simply, not comparable. Take, for example, the case of Lucasfilm; when Disney purchased Lucasfilm, they gained every revenue stream from Star Wars and (potentially) Indiana Jones. The deal was worth it because it included everything from merchandise to TV rights, from marketing to the movies. Marvel was a little more complicated, because there were a number of film and merchandise rights that had been licensed to other studios, and Disney execs factored this into the price they were willing to pay. In contrast, Sony only have very limited rights to Spider-Man; they sold the merchandise rights back in 2011, which they've admitted was a mistake. The only revenue streams still owned by Sony are directly related to the films and, curiously, to any TV shows with episodes over 44 minutes in length. That means revenue streams are limited to things like box office takings, network deals, promotional agreements, and home and digital release. Spider-Man may be a big deal, but there's no way these rights are worth as much as Star Wars to Disney.
Let's crunch some numbers to illustrate the point (h/t Marvel Studios News). Spider-Man: Far From Home grossed $1.13 billion in the global box office, making it the best-performing Spider-Man film to date. However, roughly half of that will have gone to the theaters, and the movie is believed to have cost $160 million to make as well. Subtract marketing, and the final profits were probably somewhere in the region of $400 to $500 million. Assuming Marvel continue to make Spider-Man movies at a rate of two a year post-acquisition, and that other Spider-Man films perform as well as Far From Home, it would take Disney almost 20 years to recoup the costs of a $4 or $5 billion purchase. And those are big assumptions.
Worse still, Disney is about to launch the Disney+ streaming service. While this is surely destined to be a great success, in the short term it's expected to cost Disney more than it makes, simply because of the production costs associated with the various digital originals. Indeed, Disney has actually moved its staff incentive schemes away from profits and towards subscriber numbers, suggesting they expect their profits to take a serious hit in the short-to-medium term as a result of the Disney+ launch. This current context means Disney is even more unlikely to cash out $4 billion or more on a franchise that won't pay them back for up to 20 years.
Sony Needs Spider-Man More Than Disney
Meanwhile, the truth is that Sony need Spider-Man more than Disney. For Disney, Spider-Man would be part of the already-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe; the MCU already has a lot of franchises integrated into it, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four will be a high priority for Disney in order to recoup the costs of the Fox acquisition. Potential spinoff Spider-Man characters like Venom, Morbius, or Spider-Gwen are therefore inherently less valuable to Marvel, because they won't have time to develop them as separate franchises.
In contrast, for Sony, Spider-Man is one of their best-performing franchises. Spider-Man: Far From Home was the highest-grossing Sony film of all time, Venom grossed $856 million worldwide and was a hit in China, and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse netted an Academy Award. The studio reportedly has plans for even some of Spider-Man's lesser-known characters, such as Nightwatch, Jackpot, and Madame Web. Sony will be able to make far more Spider-Man films than Marvel will, meaning the rights are consequently worth more to them than they are to Disney. If Disney were to make an offer, they'd naturally have to overpay - although probably not by $4 billion.
Will Disney Ever Get Spider-Man Movie Rights?
It's safe to say, then, that no $4 to $5 billion deal is on the cards to bring Spider-Man into the MCU on a permanent basis. What's more, because Spider-Man is more important to Sony than he is to Marvel, the odds of the two studios coming to an agreement are pretty slim. But it's important to remember that this doesn't mean the Spider-Man rights will never return to Marvel; there is still one way that this could happen.
It's generally believed that Sony will eventually sell off their film and TV division, for the same kind of reasons even the larger 20th Century Fox concluded it couldn't continue to compete in the modern market. Disney probably won't be the buyer - it was hard enough getting Fox past regulators, and purchasing Sony would certainly generate concerns about potential monopolies. Still, there have been credible reports that Marvel added a clause to their contracts with Sony that mean Spider-Man's rights can't be sold on. If that's the case, when and if Sony Pictures is sold, Spider-Man will revert to Marvel. It will do so for free - which, ironically, makes it even less likely Disney will pay $4 to $5 billion now rather than simply wait it out.