Forget creative differences. It seems the breakdown between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sony Pictures that has thrown the future of Spider-Man up in the air is all over money.
What does it mean for audiences? Plenty.
Let’s set the scene first. On Monday, it was announced Spider-Man: Far From Home had passed Skyfall to become Sony’s most successful release with global box office receipts of $1.635 billion.
The movie, which collected $37 million is Australia, repositioned Spider-Man as a key figure in a major new plot arc after the end of the seven-year Thanos storyline.
So beloved was it and its wall-crawling protagonist played by Tom Holland that the movie is being re-released on August 29 with four extra minutes of footage.
But just days after its record-breaking achievement was announced, it seems super likely that Holland and his alter ego will vanish immediately from the MCU.
That would leave a big problematic hole.
Marvel was already dealing with the loss of pivotal characters Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) in this year’s Avengers: Endgame.
Holland’s Spider-Man had broad appeal and potential after swinging into five MCU films, the first being 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
That appearance was courtesy of an unprecedented 2015 deal between Sony and Marvel, which allowed Spider-Man to spin his magic in Marvel Studios films including Avengers: Infinity War.
The landmark collaboration came after the disappointing box office showing of 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield in the titular role.
Marvel president Kevin Feige and his studio’s team were credited with giving new life on the big screen to the 56-year-old character created by Stan Lee.
Sony has had the film rights to Spider-Man since 1999, when Marvel was clawing back from bankruptcy and “licensed out a number of its characters to film studios,” said The Hollywood Reporter.
Since then, it worked hard to gain back film rights to most of its characters. Spider-Man is the most popular not held by the studio.
Given that history, who is the bad guy in the latest brawling studios scenario?
Put baldly, Marvel’s parent company Disney “requested a bigger piece of the films going forward,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Sony turned down the suggested deal, instead asking for an extension of the existing agreement.
Reports say Marvel received a “modest” five per cent of first-dollar gross, with merchandising revenue thrown in.
Sony film studio chief Tom Rothman and Feige “have been talking for months”, The Hollywood Reporter said.
“In the end, neither party was willing to cede enough ground to come to an agreement.”
That impasse led to the disintegration of the partnership and saw Feige removed from his producing role on any future Spider-Man movies by Sony.
But while the divorce is definitely happening, Sony has reportedly vowed to carry on the Spider-Man story without Marvel Studios.
In an exclusive statement to The Hollywood Reporter, the studio blamed Disney for the split and said it is “disappointed” Feige will no longer act as lead producer on the film franchise.
The studio said Feige may just be too busy given Disney recently got its hands on extra Marvel characters through its acquisition of 21st Century Fox.
The loss of Spider-Man is seen as more of a problem for Marvel than for Sony, which could just erase all mention of the Avengers from future Spidey movies.
Sony has the rights to other characters linked to Spider-Man including Venom, played by Tom Hardy in the panned 2018 film of the same name that raked in $1.262 billion globally and has a sequel on the go.
The studio also has Jared Leto set to play vampire character Morbius.
Those characters could potentially meet up with Spidey in future projects.
The next MCU movie to be released will be Black Widow in May 2020.