If you’re interested in how stories are told or how movies are made then you should really be listening to the Scriptnotes podcast. It never fails to be interesting, and in February talked over some interesting things about film rights in relation to several comic book movies. There’s a transcript of the show, if you don’t have time to listen, but you really should make time to listen.
They discuss the film rights to several properties but, from a comics perspective, the interesting part is where they focus on the deal between Sony and Marvel over Spider-Man (about two thirds of the way in).
From what I understand of the agreement between the two studios, Sony will retain the film rights to Spider-Man but are effectively leasing the character back to Marvel so he can appear in their movies. A likely outcome for this, for example, is that Spider-Man appears in Captain America: Civil War and the third Avengers movie, but the stand-alone Spider-Man movies would be made by Sony, featuring the same actor and with the movie a part of the MCU continuity. As a part of this cross-studio crossover, the Spider-Man movie will be produced by Amy Pascal (Sony) and Kevin Feige (Marvel).
This agreement is a win for Marvel as they can include one of their most important characters into the cinematic universe. It’s also a win for Sony, as the collateral from making a Spider-Man movie that ties in with the MCU, in terms of revenue, is huge.
All of this has been covered extensively over the past few weeks, but John August and Craig Mazin raise a point I found interesting. Film rights to a property expire; if a studio buy the rights to something and they don’t make a movie of it within an agreed number of years, then those rights revert back to the creator. If they make the movie, then they have exclusive option to renew the rights. This was exactly what happened with Roger Corman’s infamous version of The Fantastic Four. The rights were set to revert back unless a movie was made, so they made one. They made a Fantastic Four movie cheaply as possible and never intended to release it. This way they were able to retain the rights.
In the podcast, Mazin points out that this is probably why Fox will keep making X-Men movies forever so they will retain the rights to that property. It was also why Sony rebooted with The Amazing Spider-Man series, as they had to make more movies or the rights to do so would revert back to Marvel. Spider-Man is, clearly, a hugely valuable franchise and neither Marvel nor Sony want see the wall-crawler’s value depreciated by a succession of movies that aren’t not, critically or commercially, well received. The agreement between the two studios is a win for everyone; Marvel are producing blockbuster after blockbuster, and by having Spider-Man be a part of that process is a license for both sides to make great, profitable movies and for fans to finally see Spidey alongside The Avengers on the big screen.
Some people will argue this is just about making money, which of course it is. Hollywood is a business and no one’s putting up $150 million just because they’re a comic book fan. But this is about making money through making good movies; movies that fans really want to see. And who doesn’t want that?