We live in a world were media consolidation is simply a fact of life. This is particularly the case in Hollywood where major studios have lately been gobbling up their one-time competitors like it’s going out of style. Whether it’s the potential re-merger of CBS and Viacom or Disney’s pending purchase of Fox (among others), this constant remaking of the landscape has one question on the lips of commentators everywhere: “Who’s next?”
The answer, as it turns out, may be Sony Pictures. It’s hardly a state secret that the studio has been in dire straits for a few years now. Simply put, Sony needs a bankable franchise. The closest they have at the moment is ‘James Bond’, which isn’t really theirs, they’re just the distributors. This need is best demonstrated, though, by their handling of the ‘Spider-Man’ films. Following Sam Raimi’s departure and the subsequent relaunch with Marc Webb’s ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ duology, Sony has been desperately trying to spin ‘Spider-Man’ into its own little shared universe. In and of itself, that may not sound like the worst idea, but the desperation becomes evident in the studio’s often ridiculous ideas as to what those spinoffs might be. On the one hand, there was an effort to spin a Sinister Six film out of the ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ films and the upcoming ‘Venom’ (which spent a decade in development hell). Those are all well and good (at least on paper). But then you get to the “What were you thinking?” spinoffs, most recently exemplified in Sony’s much ballyhooed ‘Silver and Black’, the Silver Sable/Black Cat team up movie that nobody asked for. Oh, and an Aunt May film was even being talked about at one point (I wish I was joking).
This need for a franchise (and their failed attempts at building one) are how ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ could take in more than $700 million at the box office and still be considered a failure. It’s also what paved the way for Sony’s current deal with Marvel Studios and to Tom Holland’s place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But while it’s hardly been a secret, those straits may be more dire than we’d realized. Speaking at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference, Sony Pictures chairman Tony Vinciquerra gave an unexpectedly frank assessment of both the changing marketplace and his studio’s place and potential future in it:
“If we don’t grow, we will be somebody’s purchase. I didn’t take the job to do it for a year and sell the company… People are aware the business is changing rapidly. If we are not on our toes, we are not going to be in business very long.”
So no, Sony isn’t going up on the auction block any time soon. But if the powers that be aren’t careful, that day may well be coming. From where I sit, a lot of Sony’s efforts at carving out a niche have been undermined by their desperate attempts to force a franchise. I talked about (and roundly mocked) their handling of ‘Spider-Man’ earlier, but that’s hardly the only example. Look at ‘Ghostbusters‘. Whatever one might think of that film, all the talk of sequels and spinoffs that circulated prior to its release reveals Sony’s fundamental approach to the property as yet another case of the studio putting the cart before the horse. (Never mind that the original ‘Ghostbusters’ – much as we all love it – was lightning in a bottle. Even the people who made that one couldn’t pull it off a second time.)
It might seem self-evident, but Sony needs to focus on simply making good movies. Franchises and other reliable moneymakers will follow from that.