Marvel fans might be really happy with Marvel's output now that it's working under Disney, but back in the '90s, the Marvel Cinematic Universe could have very well ended up with Sony.
Ben Fritz talks about the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his book The Pig Picture: The Fight for Future Of Movies, and according to the Wall Street Journal film business and media company editor, there was a time that Marvel had almost been acquired by Sony (via Screen Rant).
In 1996, Marvel filed for bankruptcy after feeling the weight of its $700 million debt and bonds that came to a face value of a billion dollars. According to Fritz, a court-appointed trustee for Marvel tried to sell the company, reaching out to a number of entertainment companies, including Warner Brothers ( the owner of Marvel's biggest rival, DC). However, it was Sony Pictures that came closest to buying Marvel.
However, Sony executives were completely focused on the film rights for Spider-Man and so they missed their chance at purchasing Marvel. In 1998, Sony was presented with a second opportunity to own Marvel.
Sony's initial bid for Marvel had been the result of the belief that they could create a synergy between the release of films and toy sales. Mark Landau approached Marvel's new leaders with an interesting counterproposal where Marvel would offer Sony the rights to every single Marvel character for $25 million. The offer might seem ludicrous now, but back then, Marvel superheroes weren't a surefire success for Hollywood.
Landau tried to take the offer to Sony, however, the executives at the studio turned him down saying that they only really wanted Spider-Man.
Sony really wasted the opportunities that they had. But it's a good thing, too, because Marvel's really found its stride now that it's made its home with Disney.
Marvel's next release, Black Widow, is set to premiere on November 6, 2020.
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