Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters
The Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters is a media franchise and shared universe centered on a series of superhero films produced by Columbia Pictures in association with Marvel Entertainment. Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, the films are based on various Marvel Comics properties associated with the character Spider-Man.
Work on an expanded universe using supporting characters from the Spider-Man films began by December 2013. Sony planned to use The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to launch several spin-off films focused on Spider-Man villains from the comics, including a Venom film. After the relative critical and financial failure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, these plans were abandoned and in February 2015, Sony announced a deal to collaborate with Marvel Studios on future Spider-Man films and integrate the character into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This relationship produced ' and ', while Sony separately redeveloped Venom as a standalone film beginning its own universe. Sony and Marvel Studios renegotiated their deal in 2019 to share the Spider-Man character between the MCU and their standalone Marvel-based films.
Sony is developing a number of live-action films based on Marvel characters with Morbius and ' scheduled for release in 2021. Sony Pictures Television is also developing several live-action television series set in the same shared universe as the films including a reworking of the planned film Silver & Black. Additionally, the studio released the animated film ' in 2018, which introduced the idea of a multiverse connecting multiple universes. The success of that film led to the development of, scheduled for 2022, and a spin-off.
BackgroundIn January 2010, Sony announced that the Spider-Man film franchise would be rebooted after director Sam Raimi decided to no longer continue his version of the franchise. By March 2012, Sony was still interested in a spin-off film they had been developing centered on the character Venom, looking to capitalize on the release of the first reboot film, The Amazing Spider-Man. That June, producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach discussed Venom and The Amazing Spider-Man in reference to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and how the different franchises set in that world crossed over with The Avengers, with Tolmach saying, "Hopefully all these worlds will live together in peace someday." In December 2013, Sony revealed plans to use The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to establish their own expanded universe based on the Marvel properties the studio had the film rights to, including Venom. Arad and Tolmach would produce the films as part of a franchise brain trust that also included Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon, and Drew Goddard, and The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb. However, after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed and with Sony "under tremendous pressure to perform a hard look at their most important franchise", the direction of the new shared universe was rethought.
Following the November 2014 hacking of Sony's computers, emails between Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal and president Doug Belgrad were released, stating that Sony was planning to "rejuvenate" the Spider-Man franchise by developing an animated comedy film with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Sony executives were set to discuss the project further in a discussion regarding several Spider-Man spin-off films at a summit in January 2015. In February 2015, Sony and Marvel Studios announced a new partnership that would see the latter produce the next Spider-Man film for Sony, and integrate the character into the MCU. Sony still planned to produce the spin-off films without Marvel's involvement, but these were believed to have been "scrapped" by November, with Sony instead focusing on its new reboot with Marvel. Discussing the animated film during that year, Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman said it would "co-exist" with the live-action Spider-Man films, though Sony stated it would "exist independently of the projects in the live-action Spider-Man universe". The animated film, , is set in an alternate universe from the Marvel Spider-Man reboot, but introduces the comic-based concept of the "Spider-Verse" multiverse, in which different incarnations of Spider-Man can be brought together.
Sony's shared universeVenom was revived by Sony in March 2016, envisioned as a standalone film unrelated from Sony and Marvel's new Spider-Man films, which would launch its own franchise and shared universe. In May 2017, Sony confirmed that Venom was not considered a spin-off of any other film, and would officially begin "Sony's Marvel Universe". With their new universe, Sony was looking to build out the concept gradually rather than rush in as they had previously tried with the Amazing Spider-Man spin-offs. In July, Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch explained that they were looking to "do what’s the absolute best for each individual property. I just want to honor the original DNA." Because of this, Sony was hoping that individual filmmakers would give each film its own distinct style rather than having a single person in charge of the universe as with the MCU's Kevin Feige. The studio also wanted to avoid "conventional comic-book movies", with the intention of dealing in different genres such as horror or comedy, potential R-ratings, and even lower-than-usual budgets, depending on each project. By March 2018, Sony's executive vice president Palak Patel was overseeing all of the universe's films for the studio.
In July 2018, Vulture interviewed several creatives involved in the universe to try alleviate the fears of some fans concerning Sony's plans. Homecoming writer Jonathan Goldstein said the future of the universe would be decided by the success of Venom, and noted that other studios had struggled to replicate Marvel Studios' MCU success in the past. Brian Michael Bendis, comic creator of many Marvel characters that Sony planned to add to their universe, consulted on Into the Spider-Verse and was aware of Sony's plans for their overall shared universe. He described them as "very cool. Fans wouldn’t be annoyed with what they’re doing." He added that MCU films such as Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, which he was also involved in, were considered risks due to the lack of familiarity that general audiences had with those properties, but they both went on to be successful. This could also happen to the lesser-known Spider-Man characters if the films are well-made. By August, the shared universe was being referred to as "Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters" internally at Sony. The company was confirmed to have the rights to 900 Marvel Comics characters, and Panitch explained that "Spider-Man connects to a lot of the characters. There are villains, heroes, and antiheroes, and a lot are female characters, many of whom are bona fide, fully dimensionalized, and utterly unique. We feel there’s no reason the Marvel characters shouldn’t be able to embrace diversity." When asked whether Venom would act as the "common thread" throughout the shared universe, Sony said this was not necessarily the case as they wanted Venom to be standalone. They did say that Venom would have "key points of intersection" with other films.
Following the successful release of Venom, Pascal said some of Sony's "previously shelved plans" could now come to fruition, including a crossover based on the villainous Sinister Six team. In March 2019, Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Tony Vinciquerra said that "the next seven or eight years" of the shared universe had been planned. Later that month, a Sony Pictures Entertainment presentation referred to the "Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters", and Sony later confirmed that this was the official name for its shared universe. The presentation indicates that the title applies to the Marvel Studios Spider-Man films and the animated Spider-Verse films as well. The title was widely criticized, with commentators mocking its length as a "mouthful" and negatively comparing it to shorter franchise names like the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe. James Whitbrook of io9 questioned why the term "Spider-Verse" was not being used. The title was also mocked due to the acronym "SPUMC".
Marvel Cinematic UniverseFeige stated in June 2017 that because Venom was solely a Sony project, Marvel Studios had no plans to have it crossover with the MCU. However, producer Amy Pascal soon clarified that Sony intended to have their new Marvel-based films take place in "the same world" as ', the first Spider-Man film set in the MCU, describing them as "adjunct" to that world. She said that Venom would have connections with the next planned film in Sony's Marvel Universe, Silver & Black, and that there was potential for Tom Holland's Spider-Man to crossover from the MCU films to the Sony MU films. Holland was not contracted to appear outside of a trilogy of Spider-Man films and several other MCU films, but Sony intended to have the actor appear in their other Marvel films eventually. According to several reports, Holland spent several days during Venoms production filming a cameo appearance as Peter Parker / Spider-Man for the film, but Marvel Studios asked Sony to exclude the scene from the final film.
By August 2018, Sony was actively planning to crossover Spider-Man with their own Marvel films, describing the character and Venom as "already in the same universe... we are looking forward to the two of them eventually facing off in the future". Sony was also open to more of their characters appearing in MCU films, while Brent Lang and Justin Kroll of Variety speculated that the studio would like more MCU characters to make cameos in their films as well. In December, Venom writer Jeff Pinkner was asked if that film was set in the same universe as Holland's Spider-Man films, and he said, "without revealing anything that I’m not allowed to reveal, it is not impossible that in a future/upcoming Venom movie, Spider-Man will play a significant role". Pascal added, in reference to the chances of a crossover between the MCU Spider-Man films, Sony's own shared universe films, and Sony's animated Spider-Verse films, that "there's a world in which everything comes together", but Holland was restricted by his contract with Marvel Studios at that time.
By August 2019, Marvel Studios and Disney had spent several months discussing expanding their deal with Sony, with the latter looking to include more films than were originally agreed upon while keeping the same terms of the original agreement. Disney expressed concern with Feige's workload producing the non-Spider-Man MCU films already, and asked for a 25–50% stake in any future films Feige produces for Sony. Unable to come to an agreement, Sony announced that it would be moving forward on the next Spider-Man film without Feige or Marvel. They acknowledged that this could change in the future, thanked Feige for his work on Homecoming and ', and stated that they appreciated "the path has helped put us on, which we will continue." The Hollywood Reporter added that the end of the studios' agreement "almost certainly" meant that Holland's Spider-Man would no longer appear in MCU films, but "significantly increased" the chances of the character crossing over with the rest of Sony's own Marvel films such as the Venom franchise and the then-in-production Morbius. In September, Vinciquerra stated that "for the moment the door is closed" on Spider-Man returning to the MCU, and confirmed that the character would be integrated with Sony's own shared universe moving forward, saying "he will play off the other characters" that the studio owns the rights to. In response to backlash from fans following the announcement, Vinciquerra added that "the Marvel people are terrific people, we have great respect for them, but on the other hand we have some pretty terrific people of our own. Kevin didn’t do all the work... we’re pretty capable of doing what we have to do here."
Following a negative fan reaction at Disney's biennial convention D23, and at the urging of Holland who personally spoke to Disney CEO Bob Iger and Rothman, Disney returned to negotiations with Sony. Later that September, Sony and Disney announced a new agreement that would allow Marvel Studios and Feige to produce another Spider-Man film for Sony, keeping the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Disney was reported to be co-financing 25% of the film in exchange for 25% of the film's profits, while retaining the merchandising rights to the character. The agreement also allowed Holland's Spider-Man to appear in a future Marvel Studios film, while Feige stated that moving forward the MCU's Spider-Man would be able to "cross cinematic universes" and appear in Sony's own shared universe as well. This interaction was said to be "a 'call and answer' between the two franchises as they acknowledge details between the two in what would loosely be described as a shared detailed universe". Sony described their previous films with Marvel Studios as a "great collaboration", and said "our mutual desire to continue was equal to that of the many fans."
Expansion to televisionVinciquerra stated in March 2019 that the universe would be expanding to television with a set of Marvel characters developed specifically by Sony Pictures Television. At the time, the studio was "essentially internally auditioning" characters from the 900 to decide which medium they would appear in, with Sony Pictures Television chairman Mike Hopkins describing their progress in selecting characters to star on television as being "pretty far down the road". Hopkins elaborated that Sony planned to have several series set in the shared universe that could "pollinate between each other", and that they would be released by a yet-to-be-determined network partner. An announcement of this partner was expected within the next few months, with the networks owned by Marvel's parent Disney—including their new streaming service Disney+—being considered alongside others. These television plans were attributed to the success of Venom and Into the Spider-Verse, which "bolstered confidence that there’s an appetite for Sony’s slice of Marvel".
After their work on Into the Spider-Verse, Lord and Miller signed an overall deal with Sony Pictures Television in April 2019 to develop several television series for the studio, including their Marvel-based series which could potentially include characters from Into the Spider-Verse as well as the planned live-action properties. Select projects would be produced in conjunction with Pascal. Discussing these series in August, Miller could not update where or when the series would be released but said there would be several live-action series and that they would each be "their own unique experience" while still being related to each other. The next month, Vinciquerra stated that there were five or six individual television series in development for the universe at that time. By January 2020, one of these series was believed to be a version of Silver & Black after development on that film was canceled in August 2018. Gina Prince-Bythewood, who co-wrote and was going to direct the film version before it was canceled, confirmed in April 2020 that Silver & Black was being re-developed for television. She suggested that it could be a limited series, and had the potential to be released on Disney+. That June, former Marvel Television and Marvel Studios television executive Karim Zreik was made head of television for Lord and Miller, putting him in charge of all their planned series including the Marvel-based ones. The latter were described as a priority for Sony Pictures Television, and Zreik's experience with previous Marvel television series made him "a suitable partner" for planning them.
''Venom'' (2018)Following a scandal, journalist Eddie Brock attempts to revive his career by investigating the Life Foundation, but comes into contact with an alien symbiote that bonds with Brock, giving him superpowers as long as they share the same body.
The long-in-development Venom film was revived by Sony in March 2016 as the start of the new shared universe. A year later, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner were writing the screenplay. In May 2017, Sony announced that Tom Hardy would star as Eddie Brock / Venom in Venom, to be directed by Ruben Fleischer. Kelly Marcel later joined as an additional writer. Filming took place from October 2017 to January 2018, in Atlanta, New York City, and San Francisco. The film was released in the United States on October 5, 2018.
The producers wanted to focus on telling a standalone story with Venom, rather than having it introduce crossover opportunities for future films. However, the film does include a post-credits scene featuring a clip from Sony's which reveals that Venoms universe is part of the Spider-Verse, a shared multiverse. This was added because Sony and the producers of Venom were excited by the possibility of crossovers between the live-action and animated films after seeing the quality of Into the Spider-Verse.
''Morbius'' (2021)Suffering from a rare blood disease, Michael Morbius tries a dangerous cure that afflicts him with a form of vampirism.
Following a "secret development process" at Sony, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless wrote a script for a film based on Morbius, the Living Vampire. By June 2018, Jared Leto was set to star as the title character, with Daniel Espinosa directing the film. Filming began at the end of February 2019, in London, and was confirmed to have completed by June 2019, with Art Marcum and Matt Holloway revealed as additional writers in January 2020. Morbius is scheduled to be released on March 19, 2021.
''Venom: Let There Be Carnage'' (2021)appeared as Cletus Kasady / Carnage at the end of Venom as set-up for a potential sequel, which was confirmed in January 2019 when writer Marcel and star Hardy were confirmed to return. Fleischer did not due to commitments to ; Andy Serkis was hired as director in August 2019. Filming took place in England from November 2019 to February 2020, with additional filming in San Francisco. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is scheduled to be released on June 25, 2021.
Films in developmentSony scheduled an untitled Marvel film for release on October 8, 2021, but this was removed from the release schedule in March 2020 when Sony moved several films due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Nightwatch: By September 2017, Sony was actively developing a film based on the character Nightwatch, with a script from Edward Ricourt. Sony wanted Spike Lee to direct the film, and he was confirmed to be interested in the project in March 2018, with Cheo Hodari Coker re-writing the script. However, Lee was no longer involved by October.
- Kraven the Hunter: In July 2017, Sony was considering a film based on Kraven the Hunter, with Richard Wenk hired to write a screenplay for the film in August 2018. Wenk stated in October that the film was intended to feature Kraven hunting Spider-Man, and to adapt the Kraven's Last Hunt comic storyline in some form.
- The Sinister Six: Sony's December 2013 plans for their own Amazing Spider-Man shared universe included a film based on the Sinister Six group of Spider-Man villains, with Drew Goddard attached to write and potentially direct. Goddard was confirmed to be directing the film in April 2014. The film was believed to have been canceled by November 2015 when Sony was focusing on its new reboot with Marvel, but Pascal said the film was "alive" again in December 2018 following the success of Venom, and she was waiting for Goddard to be ready to direct it before moving forward with the project.
- Madame Web: After their work on Morbius, Sony hired Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless in September 2019 to write a script centered around Madame Web. In May 2020, S. J. Clarkson was hired to develop and direct Sony's first female-centric Marvel film, which was reported to be the Madame Web film. The studio was looking to attach a prominent actor such as Charlize Theron or Amy Adams to the project, before hiring a writer to develop the film with the actress in mind.
- Untitled Roberto Orci project: In March 2020, Sony hired The Amazing Spider-Man 2 co-writer Roberto Orci to write the script for an untitled Marvel film that would be set in Sony's shared universe. Reporting on this news, TheWrap initially stated that the project was to be affiliated with Spider-Man like Sony's other Marvel films such as Venom, but the report was soon updated to say that it would be based on a property from "a different corner of the Marvel universe that Sony has access to".
- Jackpot: By August 2018, Sony was considering a film centered on the character Jackpot and was actively looking for a writer. Marc Guggenheim, a writer on the Jackpot comic books as well as DC Comics' Arrowverse superhero television franchise, was hired to write the screenplay in May 2020.
- Other projects: By the end of June 2018, Sony and Amy Pascal had begun development on a film featuring the character Silk, which would be distinct from the version appearing in Sony's animated Spider-Women film. Sony was actively looking for a writer on the film by that August. Sony is also considering a film centered around Mysterio, with Jake Gyllenhaal cast in the role for Far From Home. In December 2018, it was suggested that a spin-off film from either the MCU Spider-Man films or the animated Spider-Verse films starring Spider-Man's Aunt May could be made, a notion that Sony previously referred to as "silly".
Cast and characters
Box office performance
Television seriesFive or six individual television series were in development for the universe by September 2019.
- Silver & Black: Sony canceled its planned female team-up film Silver & Black in August 2018 with the intention of reworking it as two separate solo films focusing on each of the title characters—Felicia Hardy / Black Cat and Silver Sable. Silver & Blacks planned director Gina Prince-Bythewood was expected to remain involved as a producer. By January 2020, the project was believed to be in development as a television series, which Prince-Bythewood confirmed in April 2020. She suggested that it could be a limited series, and had the potential to be released on Disney+.