EXCLUSIVE: As the dust settles on the Disney/Marvel and Kevin Feige exit from the Sony’s Spider-Man franchise, the next looming tug of war might well be over director Jon Watts, who catapulted from the small-budget Sundance film Cop Car to the A-list helmer of the $880 million-grosser Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, which just surpassed the 007 film Skyfall to become Sony’s highest-grossing film at $1.11 billion.
I’m told that Watts was only bound to the Spidey franchise as director for those two pictures and that it’s no certainty he will be back to direct Tom Holland in the third installment being written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. They wrote the record breaker Spider-Man: Far From Home.
I’m told he’s being courted by Marvel. It is understandable that Marvel and Feige would want to keep things going with Watts: Feige has a strong track record of helping to change the career trajectory of filmmakers who wouldn’t have been automatic choices for mega-budget superhero films — from Joe & Anthony Russo to Taika Waititi, James Gunn and Scott Derrickson. As for one-upsmanship, there are bruised feelings between those studios over the Rashomon-like press narratives that followed Deadline’s scoop, over who did what in dismantling a brilliantly orchestrated introduction of a hit superhero franchise. It has gotten so bad that some wonder if it would even be possible for them to rethink things and come to terms on Spider-Man.
On those talks that Deadline revealed Tuesday: I continue to hear from reliable sources that the notion Feige was too busy to do more Spider-Man films just doesn’t hold water; he loves the character and the way those movies served the fans and the Marvel Universe. I continue to hear that Disney asked for a 25% stake where it would finance that much of the movie and receive that much of the equity upside. This arrangement would only have been for any pictures that involved Marvel and Feige.
It wasn’t a forever deal, like the one Sony made years ago to continue as distributor of James Bond. Back then, Sony cut MGM into a co-financing relationship on the pictures The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and 21 Jump Street that gave MGM rights to co-finance future installments. The Spider-Man deal was only for pictures where Marvel lent Feige and the weight of its brand and cross pollination in Marvel movies. Still, it was a big ask of Sony, which had been getting a relative bargain at 5% of first-dollar gross. That 25% offer sat for half a year, and finally the conversation was the 50% co-fi stake, before Disney called the whole thing off.
It will be interesting to see what Watts does, but his reps at CAA have enviable leverage if he chooses to direct another Spider-Man, or a Marvel movie, or a blockbuster from any other studio. Stay tuned.