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First Venom. Now Black Cat & Silver Sable. What’s Behind Sony’s Sudden Push Back Into Comic Books?

Shortly after Tom Rothman replaced Amy Pascal as the new chairman of Sony Picture Entertainment he told Variety his goal was to answer the following question: “What is it that’s going to galvanize audiences who aren’t interested in comic books? They can’t be the only viewers.”

Sadly, he still hasn’t figured it out. Thus, within the past 7 days Sony has randomly resuscitated its long-dormant Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable comic book movies, the former now granted a late 2018 release date and the latter hiring Thor: Ragnarok’s Chris Yost to perform a re-write on the Lisa Joy Nolan script they’ve had lying around since 2014.

At first glance, these announcements are head-scratchers in that they came out of nowhere and indicate Sony’s executives are again looking too far ahead when the problem in front of them is making sure Spider-Man: Homecoming is a success and that the 2018 animated Spider-Man movie makes its Christmas release date. In truth, though, Sony is in far more turmoil than you might realize, and the standalone Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable projects (as well as the recently announced Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sequel/revival) reflect that in their utter desperation.

Rothman came into the studio intent on gobbling up the rights to all manner of promising novels (like Dark Tower), leading the way in innovation (like high-frame rates), backing filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis and Ang Lee and pursuing a diversified release slate designed to give audiences something a little different than the increasingly Disneyfied blockbuster world. Thus far, some of his smaller bets (Don’t Breathe, The Shallows, Sausage Party) have paid off, but almost nothing else has (Ghostbusters, The Walk, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ricki and The Flash, Magnificent Seven, Passengers), at least not financially.

More egregiously, his micro-managing ways and gruff demeanor led to key departures in the senior ranks and an attempted coup in the form of a damning group complaint leveled against him with the studio’s HR Department last November. The head of the entire Sony corporation stepped forward to publicly support Rothman, but two months later Rothman’s boss, Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, the man who somehow managed to fail upward after the Sony hacking scandal, quietly landed a gig on the Snapchat Board and then promptly announced his exit from Sony. As of this writing, he is still serving out an agreed-upon 6 month stretch where he is still nominally in charge until a replacement can be named, but the reality is that Sony’s entire Entertainment division is rudderless.

Rothman’s the movie guy with literal decades of experience with Fox, where he oversaw both Titanic and Avatar. His instincts told him Sony needed to push hard into Dark Tower and other projects and not be so dependent on Spider-Man. However, now things are in the hands of Sony’s spreadsheet watchers who know all too well that the comic book movie is the coin of the realm. An insider told THR in January:

A major initiative for Sony’s film studio has been finding ways to make movies based not just on ‪Spider-Man but more of the 800 Marvel characters that it controls, such as Venom, Silver Sable, Black Cat and Sinister Six. That content could have strong appeal to many of the gamers who own PlayStations. Disney-owned Marvel controls consumer products associated with its characters, and it is likely Sony will work out partnerships there, as it did with Spider-Man.

Now, we are seeing that in action, and, really, you can’t blame them. Ever since Rothman took over, Sony has been in an annual competition with Paramount for the lowest market share among the 6 major film studios (the other four being Disney, Universal, Warner Bros. and Fox). Luckily, Sony still manages to beat lowly Paramount, but that might not be enough. The industry appears to be heading toward a period of movie studio contraction or buy-outs, and both Sony and Paramount are prime targets to be sold off by parent corporations who neither need nor want the hassle anymore.

2017 will go a long way to determining what becomes of Sony as a film studio. Life opens tomorrow, and the rest of the year will bring a new Smurfs movie, Homecoming and Dark Tower in July, The Emoji Movie and Baby Driver in August and Jumanji in December. The losses can’t keep piling up. What is it that’s going to galvanize audiences who aren’t interested in comic books? Lots of things, potentially, but while you’re figuring that out you should also remember to keep churning out comic book movies.

Source: THR


  1. Rothman was responsible for most of the bad decisions regarding the x-men franchise. Imho Fox did well under him financially not because of him, but despite of him. Why Sony thought he would be a good pick is beyond me, but anyway, I hope that none of those movies actually make it to the big screen. If Sony really wants a second franchise independent from the MCU based on the Spider-man rights, they should do Spider-Gwen. Anything else is just idiotic.

    1. It’s interesting that you would reference your confusion over why Sony promoted Rothman in the first place. On a recent episode of KCRW’s The Business, Kim Masters and Matt Belamy of The Hollywood Reporter looked at Sony’s ongoing inability to find a replacement for Lynton and Paramount’s struggles with replacing Brad Grey and concluded that in the decades they’ve covered Hollywood they’ve never seen a situation like this where two of the six majors had gone leaderless at such key positions (although obviously Rothman is still running the Sony film studio, but he no longer really has a direct boss who was also responsible for Sony TV). The conclusion they reached is simply that the rise of streaming has resulted in a severe brain drain and talent poaching from the majors and even some mini-majors, considering just how many Weinstein people now work at Amazon. Netflix recently hired an up and comer who could have had the Paramount job if he wanted, but he instead he chose to head up the Netflix Films unit.

      The thinking for why this is happening is simply that working at an actual film studio these days is increasingly about brand management; working at a mini-major or streaming unit is a bit more about actually making movies. Plus, you are more likely to find creative autonomy there and not be vetoed by nervous corporate board members. As a result, the long-standing history of Hollywood always having some young up and comers in the wings to replace the old guys like Rothman is in danger because more and more of those people are looking at the writing on the wall and jumping ship, leaving the studios bereft of young executive talent.

      So, you have situations like with Sony and Rothman where the only people hired to do those jobs are the people who’ve run studios in the past, and I’m sure Sony looked at Rothman’s record and thought he could get back to his winning ways, not repeat the notorious micromanaging and general douchebag behavior that led to him being fired at Fox. Sadly, they seem to have been entirely wrong about that.

      I like to think that there probably are several younger voices in the room at Sony who are arguing exactly what you did, which is that they should respond to the comics’ fans and do Spider-Gwen. Those people are probably being laughed down, and are covertly sending out resumes to Netflix, Amazon and the like. Hell, the Sony hack revealed even Lynton had been secretly looking for another job outside of Sony, and then they went and promoted him to head both the film and TV studios. It’s no shock to see him leave that job after just 2 years.

      1. If you want a proper franchise though, Rothman is exactly the wrong guy. The only thing he has done is to p… off fans. He is HATED in the nerd community.
        I admit, I never really understand how studio executives are often so blind. Wouldn’t the first rule of any selling business be to know your market? It is not THAT difficult to figure out what people are interested in and it is even easier to learn what they loathe.

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