Why Doesn't Marvel Own Spider-Man? Ownership Structure Is Split

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Dec. 20 2021, Published 11:31 a.m. ET

Following the recent release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which soared to $253 million in box-office sales its first weekend in theaters, fans might wonder who owns the rights to the successful film. It has been a long road of ownership changes, and although Marvel was the original home of Spider-Man, Marvel doesn’t own all of the character's film rights.

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One of famed comic creator Stan Lee’s most iconic characters, Spider-Man has been the subject of plenty of legal battles. Sony purchased the film rights to Spider-Man in 1999. The Walt Disney Company has owned Marvel Entertainment, LLC since 2009. So, who actually owns Spider-Man?

Why doesn’t Marvel own Spider-Man?

It might seem impossible that Marvel doesn’t own all of Spider-Man and his related money-making power. Marvel Studios isn't the all-encompassing owner of the character, but it does still have some control over Spider-Man.

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The short answer is that Sony owns the film rights to Spider-Man, while Disney (which is the owner of the subsidiary Marvel) owns Spider-Man merchandising rights.

Marvel merchandise
Source: Marvel Facebook

Marvel merchandise

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According to USA Today, Sony’s 1999 purchase deal sent 5 percent of movie revenue back to Marvel Studios, while Sony and Disney would split merchandising profits. However, in 2011, Disney bought 100 percent of Spider-Man merchandising rights from Sony and gave up its cut of film profits.

The current arrangement means that Sony controls and profits off of the Spider-Man movies. Disney gets all of the profit from sales of Spider-Man toys, merchandise, and attractions at Disney parks.

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Sony’s deal with Marvel gave it the lifetime movie rights to Spider-Man and other Spider-Man-related characters as long as it continues to make a new Spider-Man movie every five years and nine months.

How did Spider-Man enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

The Spider-Man ownership saga gets more complicated. After Sony struggled to establish a successful version of Spider-Man (the Andrew Garfield films didn’t perform as well as hoped), the company made another compromise with Disney. The two agreed to integrate the character of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

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Putting Spider-Man onscreen in the same world as established characters like Captain America and Iron Man appears to have benefited Disney and Sony. The box-office success of Spider-Man: No Way Home ($587.2 million worldwide so far and the third-best opening of all time after two Avengers movies) shows that fans enjoy the collaboration.

Tom Holland and Zendaya
Source: Getty

Tom Holland and Zendaya, stars of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" at the film's premiere.

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What's the agreement for Disney streaming Sony movies?

In 2021, a deal between Sony and Disney was struck, which allowed Disney to license new Sony films for its streaming service. However, this can only happen after the initial release of a movie, after which Netflix has exclusive first streaming rights. It also doesn’t apply to the actual film rights of Spider-Man.

Claims that Disney bought Sony and Spider-Man are false.

In August, online sources claimed that Disney, which owns Marvel Entertainment, had bought Sony and therefore the full rights to the Spider-Man movie franchise. USA Today debunked those claims and explained that although Disney continues to own merchandising rights to Spider-Man, Sony is the owner of the film rights.

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