From Marvel's Venom to Valiant's Bloodshot: How Sony is hatching a superhero universe of its own
In the late 90s Marvel in order to survive a crash crunch had proposed to sell off its entire catalog of comics characters to Sony. Sony refused the deal. It was a huge mistake.
While comics lovers continue to obsess over the top prestigious cinematic franchises - Disney-owned MCU, the unofficial DCEU from Warner Bros' side, and Fox's X-Men series - Sony Pictures quietly and gradually has been hatching a superhero universe of its own. For now, the comic book characters in Sony's possession are quite limited and stick mostly to its Marvel corner aka the Spider-Man universe. But that has hardly discouraged the studios from branching out and expanding into the genre, which in the recent years has proven to be a massive box-office performer.
To understand the pop-culture phenomenon that is superhero movies and Sony's vested interest in this field, a look at the studio's past and how it came to acquire the rights to its first comics adaptation is inevitable. One may even argue that the Japanese-owned American entertainment company has actually made some ill-advised decisions, blowing the opportunity to own the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe - Sony's prime claim to heroic fame.
It all went down in the late 1990s, when fresh off a series of devastating financial mishaps, Marvel in order to survive the crash crunch and in hopes of finding a stability, offered to sell off its entire catalog of comics characters to Sony. The price for such a mammoth sacrifice was fixed at a mere $25 million - nothing compared to the billions this Disney-owned studio has been churning with each blockbuster release - and even then Sony is believed to have bowed out of the deal.
According to a Wall Street Journal report (relayed by the Nerdist), the company was wary of the success of the comics-based adaptations and was interested only in the Spidey side of the universe, considering that the web-slinging hero was already a well-recognized character. Instead of taking a big bite into what would eventually become Marvel's breakout stars - Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Panther, and the entire set of the Guardians of the Galaxy - Sony would just sink teeth into a portion, buying the rights to Spider-Man series for $10 million.
But that's all history. To say that Marvel has since recovered, battling bankruptcy to becoming an unstoppable behemoth, would be an understatement. Each year, the superhero-based franchise churns out at least 2-3 blockbusters, making billions in the process. Over the course of the past 10 years and across 19 movies, in fact, MCU movies have superseded expectations at the box-office every single time, a feat that competing studios like DC/Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox can only aspire to achieve.
So much so, that compared to the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe, Sony's partake appears minimal. The Culver City-based studios might not have anticipated the kind of potential superhero movie genre holds in the 2000's - especially 2018, where anything wrapped in '80s, '90s nostalgia is an instant hit with the audience - but that doesn't mean Sony is not retracting its original stance. What came as an almost whirlwind taste of success with 2017's rebooted 'Spider-Man: Homecoming', starring Tom Holland as a younger version of the fan-favorite character, has become one of the key players for Sony, with yet another sequel - Spider-Man: Far From Home - in the docket.
However, with Holland's Spider-Man, Sony is treading on a mutual agreement, whereby the character appears in both the universe without any apparent link between the two simultaneously-running narratives. It's safe to say that the Spidey is no longer exclusively in Sony's spotlight, and with this change, the studio would rather turn towards the dark. We are talking about the anti-heroes (and characters outside of Marvel's usage like 'Venom', 'Silver Sable', 'Black Cat', 'Kraven', 'Mysterio' and so on.
In attempts to herald a new era in its experience with superhero blockbusters, Sony has taken steps, in a visibly different direction than what it had been doing for the past decade or so (read The Amazing Spider-Man phase). With new character arcs, bigger and well-known A-listers have also become associated with the franchise - Tom Hardy, Jared Leto - bringing in the much-needed attention that would be required in the coming years of a Peter Parker-less Spidey universe.
More or less Peter Parker has become a Marvel staple at present, appearing in two MCU releases recently, Captain America: Civil War (2016), and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). And this might be a good thing for Sony, who are now better-suited to channel all their energy and resource towards the assortment of characters that came along with Spider-Man. In less than six months, Hardy's iteration of the alien-symbiote monster hero will be set free in the theaters (October 5) and soon Leto will also begin work on the "Living Vampire" film - an adaptation that is sure to appeal the lot of fans suffering from a vampire-withdrawal.
And these are just the projects that have already been greenlit by Sony. Still under initial stages of development are adaptations like 'Nightwatch' - that managed to grab director Spike Lee's interest - 'Silk' aka Cindy Moon, who has powers similar to that of Peter Parker, and the marred by delays 'Silver & Black' movie. A common thread running through the veins of all these iconic characters seem to be an element of horror, something that Sony is clearly tapping into, moving forward into its next phase of superhero movie-making.
This is just the Marvel's corner of the universe. Apart from the heroes/anti-heroes obviously tied to the Spider-Man, Sony has also been fast-tracking deals with other comic book publishers as well - the latest being Valiant Comics. In a headline-grabbing announcement, earlier this year, the studios acquired the rights to Valiant's two most popular storylines, Bloodshot and Harbinger. The news was shortly followed by Hollywood top-gun Vin Diesel joining the bandwagon - as part human part machine anti-hero Bloodshot - along with a host of other A-listers.
Let's put it this way. Sony Pictures was aboard the wrong train, was on a detour, but has finally arrived to bask in all the superheroic action. From monstrous and more volatile additions such as Venom and Bloodshot to groundbreaking ones like Faith (the first plus-size superhero), there's a distinct and definitive direction that the studios is headed with its superhero universe now.
Hoping they don't derail again, it's just a matter of time before Sony Cinematic Universe poses a serious and strong challenge to stalwarts like MCU, DCEU.