EXCLUSIVE: Having pushed the next installment of its Spider-Man franchise out of 2016 and into 2018, Sony Pictures is doing a top-to-bottom revamp of its most important property, insiders say. And that includes a female superhero movie which is being eyed for a 2017 release date, Deadline has learned.
Sinister Six, the next installment from writer-director Drew Goddard, was announced in April and its release date revealed during this year’s Comic-Con. It will bow November 11, 2016. The villain bash is the first of several planned character and story expansions for the Spider-Man franchise which the studio is hanging onto by developing other character spinoffs — much like Fox has done with its successful X-Men franchise. Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach are producing Sinister Six, which revolves around all the villains of Spider-Man converging after the evil Dr. Octopus summons them. There are a lot of different Sinister Six team-ups so it has yet to be revealed which characters might appear, but one possibility is Vulture, Mysterio, Electro, Kraven the Hunter and Sandman. And Goddard is said to be a supreme comic book geek — not that there’s anything wrong with that — who truly understands all the aspects of the Spider-Man universe and its characters and storylines which is key for that movie and the next. “Having Goddard on board places the movie in the hands of someone who has lived in this world,” said one person who knowledge of the property. “If you look at Cabin In The Woods, he did such a phenomenal job on that in redefining and commenting on the genre while also completely embracing it. He’s a fanboy which compliments his talents as a filmmaker.”
After the villains emerge, get ready for the power of the women from the Spider-Man universe. Which characters they will develop is up for speculation, but we know that Lisa Joy (Westworld, Reminiscence) has been hired to script and that again Arad and Tolmach are producing. There are several strong possibilities — Silver Sable, Black Cat, Stunner, Firestar and Spider-Woman, to name a few.
The moves come only two weeks after Marvel Comics announced a gender change for its Thor character during The View — a change in the comic book world that sparked heated debate among fans. Also last month, filmmaker Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. unveiled the first images of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman in the summer 2016 release of Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
It was only a matter of time that someone would announce a female superhero movie — and it happens to be Sony who is the first out of the gate. So who are these superhero women possibles? I’m no comic book geek so I’ll do the best I can.
Spider-Woman is known in the comics both as Jessica Drew, then Julia Carpenter, Mattie Franklin, Veranke and also as Charlotte Witter, a fashion designer who is genetically altered by Dr. Octopus. Silver Sable has virtually no superhuman powers but is an adept fighter, skilled in martial arts and sword play who wears a lot of techno gizmo weaponry. Black Cat was introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 as Felicia, Harry Osborn’s assistant, and was played by Felicity Jones; she is also a trained fighter and acrobat. Stunner was a video store clerk who ended up getting a makeover by Dr. Octopus to make her a powerful evil.
This is a wise move for Sony because it’s capitalizing not only on the audience’s changing appetite, but also the studio is digging into its powerful asset base and mining other characters — thereby extending the asset and keeping the rights.
“What other movies we could do was something everyone started talking about when shooting the last movie,” said one person with knowledge of the plans. “With Salt, Wanted and Lucy, there is a huge appetite for this right now.” As for the Spider-Man movie itself, “The one thing you can’t ignore is the fans. There was a rejection going on with having another Spider-Man come out so soon, and you have to listen to the fans in this world. We all took a good look in the mirror and said, we have to try to have to figure it out and revamp it.”
Looking at its history of the performance of the Spidey movie property over the years, the real question that has been eating at everyone is how in the heck Sony was going to maintain this franchise without a top-to-bottom retooling? With initial plans to drop The Amazing Spider-Man 3 smack dab in the summer on June 10, 2016, observers wondered whether there was even enough time to change anything. But when the studio switched things up and announced it would first go with Sinister Six as the next film in the series and the Amazing Spider-Man 3 in 2018, there was plenty of time to rethink it. And I hear that they are doing just that now.
The fact is that Sony has produced five Spider-Man movies in 12 years. So one question is obvious: How can there be much anticipation from audiences to see another one again so quickly? You could call it Spider-Man fatigue. Makes a lot of sense to give it a rest and then bring it back again in four years revamped, re-suited and rebooted for a new generation of kids. The studio is also clearly responding to the fact that the domestic audience for Spider-Man has continued to shrink over the years.
This year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opened to $91.6M but then was killed in its second weekend, mowed down by Universal’s R-rated comedy Neighbors as it dropped a surprising 61%. And everyone thought the franchise, which actually has decent demos and always has been family friendly — and does so because it is also softer on violence — would perform better than it did domestically. The one fly in the ointment for kids is that — true to the comic series — they have killed off some of the characters which is hard to absorb for younger children. The fact of the matter is that the audience for this (and other franchise properties in Hollywood) are just performing better overseas than they are in the U.S. But you can’t rule out Spider-Man fatigue.
PRESSURE TO PERFORM
After being under tremendous pressure to perform, Sony management under Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal have been slowly changing the ranks and also their balance sheet to the positive, and so it goes to reason that it has included a hard look at their most important franchise — one that has taken in over $4B at the box office. ButAmazing Spider-Man 2 did not perform up to anyone’s expectations. The studio was really looking for it to make at least as much as the first one, which made $757.9M in 2012 all in. ASM2 is basically over and out at $707M worldwide. Even still, the worldwide box office performance of ASM2 along with its summer hit 22 Jump Street (which just crossed $100M overseas yesterday for a $288M ww gross to date) propelled the studio to a strong fiscal first quarter.
Pascal and Lynton are also making huge changes in their executive ranks. The past few months and weeks have also seen a major changeover. With vice chairman Jeff Blake’s departure this past month, there was almost an immediate shake-up in the marketing department as Mike Pavlic was promoted to president of worldwide creative advertising and Tommy Gargotta was pushed out. Another EVP of creative, David Singh, exited a couple of weeks ago to join the Fox ranks. And Home Entertainment head Dave Bishop was replaced a couple of months ago. But many of the changes occurred after the Sony summer box office came to a close. And they are also looking outside the studio for other executives in marketing.
This latest round of shake-ups is seen as a last-ditch effort of management to save themselves and turn the studio around.
To that point, Pascal and Lynton are not only getting a new house in order but also mining the studio’s library of titles for reboots and remakes. They have been talking about casting women instead of men for the leads in a reboot of its beloved 1984 title Ghostbusters which has caused a lot of chatter online and even within Deadline itself. They have also entered into a big $200M co-financing deal with Lone Star Capital and Citibank, which will help finance the majority of Sony’s film for the next several years; they entered into a smaller co-financing arrangements with Village Roadshow, and are waiting for former Warner Bros’ executive Jeff Robinov to arrive with a treasure chest, partially financed by Chinese partner, Fosun.
VENOM CARNAGE AND FEMALE SUPERHEROES
Lynton talked about an expansion of the Spider-Man universe in 2013, saying that they were going to create a number of spinoffs including Sinister Six and one revolving around the Venom character which first appeared in Spider-Man 3 and was portrayed by Topher Grace. The Venom movie — which we hear is entitled Venom Carnage — is still said to be in development with old pros Alex Kurtzman and Ed Solomon scripting. The Venom pic, which Kurtzman will direct, may also now come out in 2017.
So now we have a female superhero movie coming out in two years. The question is will Pascal and Lynton be there when the movies drop? For right now, they are safe and the answer may be in whether these franchise spinoffs are profitable, but they are clearly making aggressive moves in a concerted effort to right the ship. One big disadvantage at Sony has always been the lack of vertical integration at the studio … others major companies like Fox, Disney, Universal and Time Warner all have television concerns helping to feed the bottom line of the entertainment silo.