So what's going on with Spider-Man? Many theme park fans are asking that question after a whole bunch of seemingly contradictory stories hit the news during the past week.
The Disney Parks pavilion at this weekend's D23 Expo in Anaheim includes a section devoted to Spider-Man and the attractions themed to that character coming to the Avengers Campus lands at Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios Paris. But earlier this week, the news broke that Sony is withdrawing Spider-Man from Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Without Spidey in the MCU, some fans asked, can Disney go ahead with Spider-Man rides in its theme parks?
Narrator: It can.
As the owner of Marvel, Disney owns the Spider-Man character and can do with it whatever it pleases... subject to existing contracts with other partners. One of those contracts is with Sony, which obtained the movie rights to Spider-Man years ago, before Disney bought Marvel. After watching Disney basically print money with the MCU, Sony decided that it wanted a taste of that action, so it made a deal with Disney to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, allowing Marvel Studios to co-produce Sony's Spider-Man films and permitting the character to appear in Disney's Avengers movies.
The move paid off for everyone, with Sony's latest Spider-Man film, Spider-Man: Far from Home, becoming the highest-grossing film in Sony's history. And Disney's Avengers: Endgame — which includes Spider-Man — is now the highest-grossing movie of all time (not adjusting for inflation).
Disney and Sony now are engaged in a very public — and occasionally nasty — negotiation over the future of the character's movie career. Disney basically wants a bigger taste of the action, given what Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios have done to boost the property, but Sony doesn't want to give Disney any ownership of what's become its most lucrative movie franchise. So Sony announced that it was pulling Spider-Man from the MCU and will go it alone on future Spider-Man films.
But that has nothing to do with Disney's ability to use Spider-Man in its theme parks. Disney's only limits there stem from Marvel's contract with Universal, which gives Universal the right to use Marvel characters, including Spider-Man, at its theme parks in Orlando and Osaka, Japan. That contract also prevents Disney from using any of the characters used in Universal's parks at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney, which is why those resorts are not getting an Avengers Campus.
The Universal deal also is a large part of the reason why those new lands are being called "Avengers Campus" and not Marvel Land. Universal's deal gives it the exclusive use of the "Marvel" brand name inside theme parks. (Disney can use the word as part of a character name, such as Captain Marvel, however.) With the Marvel brand off the table for these theme park lands, Disney went with the next-most-valuable brand name in its super hero portfolio, which was "Avengers."
All this means that, going forward, there are effectively three versions of Spider-Man:
Each company retains the ownership of its Spider-Man "look" and stories, so Universal can't update its Orlando character with the Stark Industries costume from the Avengers films, and Sony can't reference anything Peter Parker did with the Avengers in its movies, either. Nor can Disney build a clone of Universal's Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride.
Now if Disney and Sony end up making a deal (which I would not bet against), then the Sony and Disney versions of the character likely will merge again under the creative direction of Feige and the Marvel Studios team. But the only way we get out of this Spidey multi-verse into a true Spider-Man universe is if Disney writes a really, really, really big check to Comcast to buy the theme park rights back from Universal.
So for now, whatever does or does not go down between Disney and Sony, Disney can — and will — proceed with bringing the "Worldwide Engineering Brigade" to Avengers Campus at DCA and WDS "to empower the world" with "super-powers thru science," as the Disney Parks pavilion display says.
As always, stay tuned.Tweet
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