The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be well established as the biggest and most popular brand in the business after twenty-three box office hits in a row that have seen the franchise earn well over $20 billion globally, but it seems easy to forget given their continued dominance that the initial idea of creating an interconnected superhero mythology spread across multiple movies was initially viewed as a huge risk.
With Marvel having filed for bankruptcy in 1996, the company were forced to sell off the movie rights to a whole host of their prized assets to rival studios, leaving the fledgling production company with so-called ‘B-level’ heroes like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to build their universe around. While we all know how that turned out in the end, what most people don’t know is that Sony could have ended up owning the rights to every character that’s currently under the MCU’s purview, but they twice turned down the opportunity.
After their initial bankruptcy, Sony had the chance to purchase Marvel in a cut-price deal, but rejected it because Spider-Man was the only superhero that they wanted, and the web-slinger was already in the midst of a complicated rights battle at the time that had been dragging on for years.
Two years later, Marvel offered Sony the chance to buy the rights to every single character at their disposal for $25 million, which is roughly 10% of what a single modern-day comic book blockbuster costs to produce. But superhero movies weren’t exactly big business at the time, so the offer was ultimately turned down as Sony again reiterated that Spider-Man was their sole focus.
A decade later, with the MCU in full swing, Disney would end up shelling out over $4 billion to buy Marvel and made the franchise one of the crown jewels in their ever-expanding portfolio, while Sony ironically ended up botching two Spider-Man franchises in the interim before agreeing to the unprecedented character-sharing arrangement that saw Peter Parker suit up alongside the rest of the Avengers. Of course, Sony may still be plowing ahead with their own Marvel universe, but if they’d paid up back in the 90s, the entire landscape of Hollywood could have looked a lot different today.