If you thought trying to explain the history of the Marvel universe was complicated, try explaining to someone which companies own the movie rights to which Marvel characters. You’d need an entire Avengers Initiative worth of intellectual property lawyers to spell it out. That Spider-Man even appeared in Captain America: Civil War at all is a small miracle.
As Sony, holder of Spidey’s cinematic destiny ad aeternum, tries to reboot the Spider-Man license for a third time, things are about to get even more complicated. While the weeks-away Spider-Man: Homecoming is explicitly connected to the ongoing Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony is bringing some more of Spidey’s friends to life. A Venom film starring Tom Hardy is in the works, as is a film featuring the characters Black Cat and Silver Sable. Their connection to that world and those characters is a lot more tenuous.
A foot in two worlds
Speaking to German site FilmStarts, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and former Sony Pictures head Amy Pascal talked about these upcoming movies and how they might be connected to other Marvel films.
“Those movies will all take place in the world that we’re now creating for Peter Parker. They’ll be adjuncts to it, it may be different locations, but it will still all be in the same world, and they’ll be connected to each other as well.”
Pascal said that there’s a chance Peter Parker could appear in those films. She calls attention to the way the Marvel films have focused on interconnectedness, and says that is something Sony would want to emulate. Feige, meanwhile, keeps his mouth shut throughout this segment. It’s unclear whether he’s staying quiet so he doesn’t show Marvel’s hand or because Pascal is saying things she shouldn’t be.
It seems, at least right now, like Spider-Man has become a sort of nexus point between two worlds.
Who owns what?
Before we get into who exists where, let’s talk about who owns what. A long, long time ago, the idea of an interconnected universe of Marvel movies was a laughable idea. We had a failed Hulk film, and a collection of Spider-Man, Blade, Fantastic Four, and X-Men films of varying levels of quality. Over the years, Marvel had shipped off its biggest characters to other studios, leaving it with a bunch of B-grade no-names like Iron Man and Thor.
As it stands right now, Fox owns the rights to anything featuring mutants. That means X-Men, Wolverine, and Deadpool Any movies featuring the Fantastic Four are under Fox’s control, too. Sony has Spider-Man and Venom and the connected characters.
Marvel Studios, meanwhile, owns the rights to most everything else. At one time, that sounded like a whole lot of nothing. Spider-Man and the X-Men were believed to be the only Marvel characters that were truly bankable on a level like that of Batman.
All of this licensing weirdness has caused some weird tangles in these movies. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, for example, exist in both the Fox mutant-verse as mutants and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as non-Mutant super-powered characters. On the comic books side of things, Marvel has been downplaying the X-Men as they try to raise the profile of the Inhumans as a non-mutant replacement that they have full ownership over. As long as Fox keeps making X-Men movies, they’ll retain the rights in perpetuity. Same goes for Spidey and Sony.
So then who exists where?
Spider-Man is definitely, as we discussed, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Marvel Cinematic Universe characters are in the Spider-Man cinematic universe, with Iron Man playing a significant role in Homecoming. But then Venom, Black Cat, and Silver Sable are all characters that exist as a subset of Spider-Man. Without Spidey, there is no Venom. It seems like it would be silly not to have Spider-Man show up in those movies in some way.
So it seems that while Spider-Man exists in the MCU, and Venom et al exist, at least implicitly, in the Spider-Man universe, it’s tough to say right now whether those characters exist in the MCU.
In all likelihood, though, they probably don’t. The deal for Spider-Man’s appearance in MCU films and vice versa is for a set number of movies, and there’s no indication that has changed.
For now, we can probably assume that Venom, Silver Sable, and Black Cat are part of Spider-Man’s world, but I wouldn’t go so far as to put them in the MCU.
Pascal helped to broker the Spider-Man crossover while she was still in charge at Sony, and success of Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Avengers: Infinity War will do a lot to prove her and Feige’s work worthwhile.
If Homecoming is as well-received as it’s being expected, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sony and maybe even Fox become more willing to work with Marvel to make these superhero movies the best they can be. Fox and Marvel did manage to work together – sort of – but it was less a collaboration and more a hostage exchange. The Deadpool team wanted to use Negasonic Teenage Warhead with different powers than she was created with, and Marvel was happy to oblige in exchange for Ego the Living Planet, the character that would eventually become the main villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Even so, those deals are terribly difficult to broker, and executives are usually not eager to share those profits. Getting the suits at the top to agree on how the numbers should work could be a sticking point even if there’s interest.