undefined

If you're a nerd on the internet who pays too much attention to comic book movies (like me), you may have noticed some disconcerting news items lately - namely, that Sony Pictures is supposedly moving forward with "expanded universe" Spider-Man movies Venom and Silver Sable / Black Cat...that are unconnected with the character Spider-Man. As in, the Tom Holland Spider-Man character - who has been brought into the Marvel Cinematic Universe - will not be involved with nor appear in either Venom or Silver Sable / Black Cat, and yet somehow these movies will still exist. This is apparently Sony's bold vision for the future.

Here's the thing though: it's all a lie.

undefined

You might be thinking "it's insanely dumb to make a Venom movie without Spider-Man. The most interesting aspect of Venom is its relationship with Spider-Man, a metaphor for a vengeful spurned lover. Also how would you even introduce Venom or the symbiote without Spider-Man? THIS IS TERRIBLE, SONY, PLEASE STOP." and you wouldn't be wrong! But it's important to keep an eye on the larger picture here - mainly, Sony has absolutely no intention to actually make either of these movies.

Sony Pictures is announcing these movies for one specific reason: to make it seem like the business is healthier and more profitable than it really is so that Sony can sell off their movie divison for a higher price.

Don't believe us? Read on...




1. Things have been looking awful at Sony

undefined

"Then why would they announce them - with creative teams attached, no less?" you might also think. And man, you are thinking a lot here. Just let me explain a little: Sony Pictures is in dire straits - they're bleeding money (to the tune of a $920m loss in Q3 2016 alone), their past few years at the box office have been largely abysmal (made worse by the INSANE success enjoyed by superhero studio rivals Disney and 20th Century Fox), and they realistically only have two blockbuster franchise IPs, both of which are in various states of uncertainty: Spider-Man and James Bond.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the rare bright spots in Sony's future - while it is technically co-produced with Marvel, Sony will be keeping all of the profits from the film, as they are simply allowing Marvel creative control and paying Kevin Feige for his role as Executive Producer. So that's good and all, but - realistically - they can only expect a big blockbuster Spider-Man film once every 2-3 years. On those off-years where there is no Spider-Man, Sony's revenue forecasts will look bad. Their only other big IP is James Bond - which tends to put at least 3 years between films, and now maybe even more due to complications with temporary star Daniel Craig after the troubled production and so-so reception to Spectre.

undefined

Let's take a look at 2016:

  • Sony's biggest performer at the box office was the Kirsten Wiig-led Ghostbusters, which couldn't even make back its production budget domestically, and ended up with a $70m loss when advertising costs were taken into account. THAT WAS THEIR BIGGEST SUCCESS.
  • Their second biggest performer was The Angry Birds Movie, which was a movie about Angry Birds, an app that reached its peak popularity in 2011. It barely made more than $100m.
  • Their third biggest film was Sausage Party - which did see a good profit margin, but made less than $100m...as their third biggest film. In contrast, Disney's third biggest film of 2016 was Captain America: Civil War, which made over $400m.

The previous year (2015) was slightly better, but still troublesome - their highest performer was Spectre, a James Bond film that made $100m less than its predecessor (Skyfall) domestically and $120m less internationally...on top of Spectre costing about $50m more than Skyfall.

In short, things have not been looking good for Sony Pictures Entertainment.



2. The 2014 leak messed up everything

undefined

The notorious leak of Sony Pictures emails in 2014 through WikiLeaks derailed a lot of Sony's plans and caused ungodly amounts of headaches at the company - from leaks about company members venting about celebs, to complete transparency over troubled productions, to the wild ride of caps lock and a total lack of spellcheck that was the Spider-Man Planning Committee, it was like a nuclear bomb had gone off and messed up everything.

undefined

But by "messed up everything", what I really mean is "save Spider-Man from becoming a hot yoga vegan who says 'humblebrag' a lot and listens to EDM music." (Please read this email exchange and think about how many millions of dollars these people were paid for their insanely bad ideas).

President Amy Pascal was forced to step down, a deal was struck to bring Spider-Man to the MCU, and we STILL never got that 21 Jump Street / Men In Black crossover we were promised (which would be awesome, don't pretend it wouldn't be awesome).

But the biggest cost of the leaks was the dissolution of the planned expanded Spider-verse - obviously, from the sounds of it, it would have imploded one way or the other had any of the plans actually led to real films, but in the reality we live in, all this meant to Sony executives is that they couldn't promise a slew of huge blockbusters to their investors that would definitely each bring in $500m apiece (in the world of 'projections', at least). This hurt, because EVERYONE is getting into the expanded universe game in response to Marvel's wild success with it - Warner Bros. has the DC-verse and their Monster-verse (which got a proper kick-off with Kong: Skull Island's post-credits stinger), Universal is working on their Horror-verse (starting with Tom Cruise's reboot of The Mummy, which includes an appearance from someone named "Dr. Jekyll"), and Paramount is planning to turn Michael Bay's Transformers into a multi-spinoff machine (starting with a solo Bumblebee film).

undefined

And unless Sony wants to turn James Bond into an expanded universe, all they have left is Spider-Man (although I would totally be down for M: The Early Years).

Without a planned Spider-verse, Sony appears to be lagging behind the competition in a serious way. Now if Sony were in this for the long haul and trying to claw their way into making real money and really connecting with audiences, there's a pretty clear path: make good movies, not chase trends and force movies into production before a script is ready to make a release date (that's what happened with Spectre, by the way). But the real deal is: Sony doesn't care about planning for the future - they just want to APPEAR like they are.

Because Sony is trying to sell off their movie division ASAP.



3. Sony needs to sell its movie division before things get even worse (and they will get worse)

undefined

Making Sony Pictures look even worse is that it's pretty much the only non-profitable section of the larger Sony conglomerate - their videogame division (Playstation) has been doing great, their TV division is still making tidy profits, and their tech division is doing pretty okay. And with its future prospects equally grim, it's looking more and more like dead weight to Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai.

The signs that he's aware of it (despite public announcements that they are confident in Sony Pictures and would never sell) are everywhere:

  • CEO Michael Lynton stepped down (to take a job at Snapchat) back in January, and as of late March, no replacement has been named.
  • Sony's Tokyo executives have (supposedly) been taking meetings with banks to discuss a potential sale of its movies/TV division
  • They just announced two very weird, unproduceable tentpole films just to have it on the books that they claim would bring in huge bucks...RIGHT before their fiscal year end on March 31st, 2017.

The future of Sony Pictures is - again - very unclear: while they have Spider-Man: Homecoming and an upcoming animated Spider-Man film centered on Miles Morales, they don't have much else. There's no announcement on whether Daniel Craig will return for another Bond film or whether he'll be replaced, there's no word on who will direct the film, and as a result, there's no projected release date at the moment.

undefined

Sony has no other major franchises - they have modestly successful Hotel Transylvania films (which are nothing compared to the much higher-grossing Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks competition), Ghostbusters is not going to get a sequel, and it's beginning to seem unlikely that the Paul Blart franchise will produce a billion-dollar breakout hit. ALL THAT'S LEFT IS SPIDER-MAN (or developing original ideas! lol jk).

undefined

But Sony Pictures isn't stupid - after their hubris was laid bare with the failure of the Amazing Spider-Man films and the email leaks that showed just how clueless they were, they came to the conclusion they shouldn't be awkwardly forcing a connected universe of characters from a creative team of dumbass executives who don't have the slightest sense of email etiquette. They know a Venom movie that doesn't involve Spider-Man or a weird pairing like Silver Sable and Black Cat (whose main connection - outside of having a relationship with Spider-Man - is that they're white-haired ladies who kick a lot of butts?) doesn't make any sense, but they can make it APPEAR to make sense to investors looking to buy the company. The supposed plans for these movies will inflate the price of Sony Pictures, so they can sell it for way more than it's actually worth.



4. ...unless, of course, I'm wrong. If so, may God have mercy on us all.

undefined

There's always the possibility that I'm totally off my rocker and have deluded myself into believing Sony Pictures wouldn't ACTUALLY be dumb enough to make a Venom movie that doesn't mention or feature Spider-Man at all. We all know that - at one point - they were absolutely dumb enough to propose something this awful, but I had the hope that the sheer embarrassment of the leaked emails would have made them cautious enough to avoid such obvious mistakes in the future. Assuming rational decision-making from Sony executives might be just as stupid.

Here's something to keep in mind: the actual head of the movies division of Sony Pictures is a fella by the name of Tom Rothman. You may or may not have heard of him, but he's someone who should be infamous in the minds of nerds out there for his tenure as the head of 20th Century Fox during most of the 2000s. Here's a short list of Mr. Rothman's good decisions there:

  • Rushed X-Men 3 into production when Bryan Singer chose to do Superman Returns as his next film instead of X3 - resulting in a rough draft script being used, several previously big characters being extremely reduced in screentime, and a generally disastrous final film
  • Repeatedly shot down the possibility of the Sentinels appearing as antagonists in any of the X-Men films.
  • Micromanaged X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the insane degree of ordering a set be repainted to appear glossier and less gritty...without telling the actual director of the film, Gavin Hood.
  • Forced the unpleasant, widely-reviled theatrical cut of Ridley Scott's 'Kingdom of Heaven' to make the film shorter and less complicated
  • Pushing for Die Hard 4 to be rated PG-13, so that the famous catchphraes "Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker" had to be bleeped via a gunshot

Oh, and this one:



So - Sony Pictures is currently being led by the guy who helped fuck up X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men 3, repeatedly refused to allow Deadpool to move forward, didn't allow Sentinels in X-Men, greenlit two awful Fantastic Four films, and just generally is consistently the guy with the dumbest, worst, most obviously wrong opinions in regards to superhero films (as well as everything else). The idea that he's forcing through Venom and Silver Sable / Black Cat wouldn't be surprising at all - not only does he not 'get' superhero films, he seems to actively dislike them.

So what happens now? Only time will tell - but don't be surprised if you never get that Silver Sable movie you've been hoping for.