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How Marvel lost Spider-Man
And why it led to Morbius.
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Today, we’re talking about the connection between Spider-Man and Morbius, the most meme'd film of 2022...which traces back to one of the craziest Hollywood deals ever (struck between Marvel and Sony in 1998).
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Morbius is one of the funniest films to come out in while. Not the actual film but the reaction to the film.
The Sony project stars Jared Leto and is about a biochemist that accidentally infects himself with an experimental treatment and becomes a vampire.
I can’t tell you anything more because I haven’t see the film.
But according to hysterical memes made about Morbius, it seems the film is: 1) not good; 2) has a ton of plot holes; 3) let Jared Leto take method acting too far; and 4) is a poor attempt at creating a cinematic universe where one shouldn’t exist.
On the last point, Morbius is supposed to be part of Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (SSU). The SSU is Sony’s plan to recreate the magic that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) did with The Avengers.
Sony has found success with another SSU character — Ed Hardy’s Venom — but Morbius has been a flop…not once but twice.
As highlighted by Kotaku, the film was first released in April and was immediately panned. It made $170m on a budget of $75m, which is not good when you take into account marketing costs (usually equivalent to the budget).
Memes about the movie have dominated the internet.
Here are a few running jokes that stand out:
The running-est joke is a faux catchphrase created by fans: "Morbin' Time" (it is a riff on the Power Rangers "morphing time"). To be clear, the catchphrase is never uttered in the film...yet we have so many memes referencing the fictitious one-liner.
The Morbius poster is a Dr. Jekyl / Mr. Hyde look, which is obviously meme fodder (thank you, KFC).
Fans giving away the entire movie
Someone put a 24/7 livestream of Morbius on Twitch. There's also a video flying around Twitter which is the entire Morbius film fast-forwarded into a 35-second clip lol (it's been taken down a bunch).
The "most successful" movie ever
Morbius is the latest "bad" movie to catch the internet joke that it "made trillions" at the box office.
The Morbius Cinematic Universe
A 4Chan user created an entire fictitious list of Morbius films in a ficticious Morbius Cinematic Universe (eg. Morbius 2, Morbiusvs. Jared Leto, Captain Morbius, Morbius36).
These memes were so good (and so abundant), that Sony thought it could spin the viral energy back into a re-release.
On June 3rd, Jared Leto tweeted out a clip of him flipping through a script for a film called “Morbius 2: Morbin’ Time”. The tweet reads"what time is it?" and is overlayed with the carnival-esque Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song:
Sure enough, Morbius got its second release on the same day of Leto's joke. But it still totally bombed, making $85,000 across 1000 screens last weekend. That's $85 a screen. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
The internet spun up more hilarious memes about the failed re-release, including a fan petition for a third release of the film (you can't see, but I'm legit LOL-ing right now while typing this).
The creation of Morbius is actually the direct result of one of the craziest Hollywood film deals ever: when Sony bought the film rights to Spider-Man from Marvel in 1998 for $10m. Even crazier, Sony had the option to own nearly all Marvel characters for $25m, but said "no".
Let's break that deal down.
Spider-Man — which has been played by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Thomas Holland over the years — is one of the most valuable intellectual properties in Hollywood.
Here's how the film rights ended up with Sony:
1962: Stan Lee creates Spider-Man, who first appears in the comic “Amazing Fantasy #15”
1991: By the 1990s, Lee — who created 300 characters along with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby — was Chairman Emeritus at Marvel. He received $1m a year but was mostly a figurehead. The entity known as Marvel Entertainment Group went public in 1991 with business lines including comic, toys, and licensing (TV, Games).
In the following 2 years, Marvel over-expands by acquiring:
trading cards firm Fleer for $265m
46% of a toy manufacturer (Toy Biz) for $7m
1993: Marvel creates a film unit to license its superheroes to major studios (a hit film would help drive sales of toys and comic books, the majority of Marvel’s revenue).
1994: A MLB strike hurt the card business badly.
1996: Marvel’s share of comic books declined from 70% in the mid-80s to ~30% by the mid-90s. Fans were particularly annoyed by Marvel’s deteriorating content, which stretched plot lines and did unnecessary character crossovers in an effort to sell more comics. The business lost money for the firs time in 1995 and it declared bankruptcy a year later.
Fast forward to 1998. Marvel is out of bankruptcy and new CEO Ike Perlmutter is aggressively shopping its superheroes for film licensing deals.
Fox acquires X-Men and Fantastic 4. Meanwhile, Marvel offeres Sony an incredible deal: basically every other Marvel character (Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman etc.) in exchange for $25m.
Per the Wall Street Journal, Sony executive Yair Landau brought the offer to his superiors and was told “Nobody gives a shit about any of these other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”
I need to re-emphasize the deal here: in 1998, Sony could have owned the film rights for every single Marvel character — outside of X-Men and Fantastic 4 — for $25m (as a point of reference, the entire MCU has grossed $30B+).
Anyways, Marvel agreed to sell the film rights for only Spider-man in exchange for:
5% of film gross
50% of merchandise
The first Spider-Man film came out in 2002. Starring Tobey Maguire, it does well and has been followed by 8 more Sony Spider-Manfilms (including those with Garfield, Holland and an animated film).
Combined, these films have grossed $8.3B.
Why does Spider-Man keep getting rebooted with new actors?
Yes, Spider-man is obviously very popular. And is a good box office draw.
But here’s the real reason as explained in an NPR podcast: there is a clause in the original Marvel-Sony deal which stipulates that Sony can only keep the rights for Spider-Man if it “commence production on a new 'Spider-Man' film within three years and nine months and release it within five years and nine months after the release of preceding picture”.
For years, Marvel tried to figure out a way to get Spider-Man back. The urgency increased after Marvel scored a hit with its first in-house produced film in 2008 (Iron Man) and then was acquired by Disney for $4B in 2009.
Over the next decade, Marvel — led by Kevin Fiege — put the pieces together for The Avengers epic: Thor, Black Panther, Black Widow, Captain America, Hulk etc.
By 2014, Marvel is on a massive roll while Sony’s Spider-Man reboot with Andrew Garfield is blah. Fiege meets with Sony’s Amy Pascal, who has climbed to the head of the studio in large part because of her work on the Spider-Man franchise.
According to NPR, Fiege told Pascal that she should let Marvel make the next Spider-Manmovie. She responded by throwing her sandwich at him.
The Marvel and Sony collaboration did not look likely, until the massive Sony email leak of 2015. Remember that leak? The one some people blamed on North Korea?
Well, that leak exposed to the world that Sony was jealous of Marvel and Pascal really wanted to do character crossovers but had no other super-hero IP to do it (Sony was so desperate to do crossovers that it considered putting “Men in Black” into “Ghostbusters” or vice versa).
The email leak put pressure on Sony to do the collaboration with Marvel. Meanwhile, Marvel wanted Spider-Man so badly that it agreed to co-produce the three Tom Holland films and work on other SSU projects (even at a 95% Sony / 5% Marvel revenue split).
That’s how we ended up with Iron Man in Spider-Man: No Way Home and Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War and the final 2 films in The Avengers series.
And this brings us back to Morbius.
While Sony retains its hold on the Spider-ManIP, the studio really wants to build out its “universe” of related characters.
In the Morbius post-credit scene — which is where comic book movies traditionally tease the “next” project — we see the villain played by Michale Keaton (The Vulture) from the 3rd Tom Holland Spider-Man film.
It’s apparently a set-up for The Sinister Six, which are a bunch of SSU villains that probably have no chance of being as entertaining as The Avengers. Fans are annoyed at the set-up, which feels forced and is logically inconsistent with the rest of the films.
Sony seems to be getting loose with its world-building to make the SSU happen. Marvel should be careful it doesn't get burnt (although the memes might be worth it).