Sony Very Nearly Had the Movie Rights to Almost Every Marvel Character Decades Ago

Image: Sony
Image: Sony

This year, Marvel Studio’s cinematic universe of superhero films turns 10—a milestone for a movie franchise that’s had such a fundamental impact on Hollywood, and shows no signs of stopping. But it only happened because of what turned out to be a monumental mistake a decade before Iron Man hit screens... a mistake by Sony, not Marvel.

Today the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating extract from Ben Fritz’s upcoming book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies, which includes a short section on what, in hindsight, might end up being one of the biggest miscalculations Sony Pictures has ever made.

According to Fritz’s book, when Sony was attempting to purchase the rights to make a Spider-Man movie in 1998—at the time, it only had rights for DVD releases—the company was offered a far more generous deal from Marvel’s then-new CEO, Ike Perlmutter. At the time, Marvel was just exiting bankruptcy, and in need of cash, had a much bolder offer for Sony:

In 1998, a young Sony Pictures executive named Yair Landau was tasked with securing the theatrical screen rights to Spider-Man. His company had DVD rights to the web slinger but needed the rest in order to make a movie.

Marvel Entertainment, then only a famed name in the comic-book world, had just begun trying to make film deals. The company was fresh out of bankruptcy and desperate for cash, so its new chief, Ike Perlmutter, responded with a more audacious offer. Sony, he countered, could have the movie rights to nearly every Marvel character—Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Black Panther and more—for $25 million.


But apparently Sony was not particularly interested in the keys to the Marvel Universe:

Mr. Landau took the offer back to his bosses at Sony, whose response was quick and decisive, he recalled in an interview: “Nobody gives a sh—about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”


The Spider-Man-only deal would of course, go on to happen, and Sony has held on to the webslinger rights since, even if now they’re playing ball with Marvel to get Spidey into Marvel’s now boomingly successful cinematic universe. Hindsight is a wonderful thing—and several other companies would make a bid for Marvel before Disney sealed a $4 billion deal back in 2010, so it’s not like Sony are the only ones with a bit of egg on their face.


But even then, there has to be a Sony exec out there somewhere looking at ginormous releases like Avengers: Infinity War and wondering what might have been. You can check out the full extract from Fritz’s book at the link below, but otherwise The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies hits shelves March 6.



James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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I am SUUUUUUURE if Sony had obtained the rights then the Marvel movies would still be as popular and lucrative.