What’s Going On With Sony’s Spider-Man Universe?

After Madame Web flopped, Sony’s Spider-Verse could find itself at square one. Again.

Dakota Johnson as Cassandra Web in Madame Webb
Sony Pictures

Sony’s Spider-Verse is officially in trouble. After five years of ups and downs, the studio’s latest effort could be among its last.

Madame Web failed to make a splash, or even a ripple, in its opening week. The film clearly had big ambitions at some point, as it’s Sony’s most brazen attempt to build out the world of Spider-Man without the web-slinger himself. Dakota Johnson plays Cassandra Web, an EMT who gains precognitive abilities after a near-fatal accident, and is tasked with protecting three soon-to-be Spider-Women. While we don’t get to really see the superheroines in action, Madame Web ends with a confident promise of more to come.

After one week in theaters, however, that promise is in jeopardy. Madame Web pulled in just $26 million in its inaugural run, cementing it as the lowest opening for a film based on a Marvel character. It’s also the lowest-reviewed Marvel film in history, sitting at a dismal 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Sony’s Spider-Verse is no stranger to failure, but the franchise’s biggest debacle yet comes at the worst possible time for the studio.

Sony’s plans for a live-action Spider-Verse could officially be dead after Madame Web. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sony had planned a handful of spin-offs that are now off the table, and Sony is reportedly going back to the drawing board on a handful of other Spidey projects.

Director SJ Clarkson and Dakota Johnson on the set of Madame Web.

Beth Dubber/Sony Pictures

“We’re not going to see another Madame Web movie for another decade-plus,” an industry veteran told THR. “It failed. Sony tried to make a movie that was a different type of superhero movie.”

Madame Web defied the genre’s familiar tropes, opting for a grounded psychological thriller that borrows more from Final Destination than the history of Marvel. It also joins the growing list of superhero projects that cater to a female audience. For all its novelty, though, Madame Web still felt woefully underbaked. It didn’t quite pull in its target audience, either, as only 46 percent of the film’s ticket sales came from women.

As a result, Sony is likely pulling the plug on its plans for a Johnson-led franchise. It might even be turning away from female-skewing projects altogether. This could affect Silk: Spider Society, a series currently in limbo at Amazon. According to The Ankler, the studio recently “paused” production on the show, releasing writers to “pursue new work” while retaining showrunner Angela Kang. The series is apparently being retooled to focus on “a more male-skewing audience.”

Silk: Spider Society is at the center of a creative overhaul. Could other Sony projects be next?

Marvel Comics

Sony’s other projects could face a similar overhaul, and its Spider-Verse could be rebooted again. But it may be too soon to suss out Sony’s plans, especially with so many projects in the pipeline. The studio will debut two other films this year alone, meaning the Spider-Verse still has a couple more chances to get it right.

“If Kraven [the Hunter] is a gigantic hit, the narrative could be completely different,” an insider told THR of Sony’s shaky future. The third film in the Venom franchise is also set to debut in November, offering another shot at redemption. “It’s too early to know the outcome.”

Given the studio’s plans for a live-action Miles Morales film and some spin-offs centering the animated Spider-Verse movies, Sony likely isn’t ready to give up just yet. But the studio needs a radical restructuring to keep the Spider-Verse alive. Phoned-in origin stories and fledgling franchise starters won’t cut it, especially with superhero fatigue setting in with more and more moviegoers. It’s difficult to picture Kraven moving the needle.

Audiences are watching their favorite franchises with more scrutiny than ever before, and Sony has wilted under the pressure. Its strategy is all about retaining the rights to Spider-Man and his sprawling supporting cast, but the studio has failed to build a meaningful franchise out of an intellectual property goldmine. If Sony wants to succeed, it has to start committing to the Spider-Verse in earnest. A successful franchise is possible, but not with half-assed projects like Madame Web.

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