10 Spider-Man Characters That Are Illegal for Marvel Studios to Use In Their Own Movies

By Sam Hargrave Updated:
Spider-Man, Martin Li, Black Cat, Marvel Studios logo

These 10 Spider-Man heroes, villains, and side characters are illegal for Marvel Studios to use in its MCU movies and live-action shows.

It's funny to think that when Sony Pictures bought the film rights to Spider-Man back in 1998, it did so for just a reported $7 million from a bleeding Marvel on the brink of bankruptcy. And across the many movies released in the 25 years since, the studio has managed to turn over billions of dollars.

Alas, a deal struck in a moment of desperation still haunts Marvel many years later, with the studio still unable to freely use Spider-Man characters in the MCU.

That said, a deal established between Sony and Marvel Studios in 2015 does allow Spider-Man to occasionally play in the MCU in exchange for the superhero giant assisting in producing Tom Holland's wall-crawler movies. This includes a few of its more recognizable characters within them.

These Spider-Man Characters Are Illegal for Marvel Studios To Use

Sony Pictures maintains a list of Spider-Man-related characters that the studio owns exclusive theatrical rights to, therefore making it illegal for them to be used in Marvel Studios movies without permission from Sony.

Characters such as Kingpin and Jessica Drew's Spider-Woman are omitted from the internal list. Various clauses mean that the rights to them are effectively shared between Sony and Marvel Studios, with the latter prohibited from involving their Spider-Man-related elements in any way.

As Sony and Marvel Studios have reached deals since then to bring Spider-Man to the MCU in 2015 and later to keep him around in 2019, certain details may have seen amendments made since the information became known.

Here are 10 major names from the massive list of known 684 characters that are illegal for Marvel Studios to use in its movies and live-action shows.

1.) Jessica Drew (Kind Of)

Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman, Marvel Comics

Jessica Drew has gone by a number of aliases over the years, and three of them - Archane, Dark Angel, and Ariadne Hyde - are listed, with her Spider-Woman moniker curiously absent.

As a young girl, Drew gained her spider powers as a result of a desperate life-saving experiment by her father. Years later, she would go on to spend time as a member of HYDRA before rebelling against them, eventually going on to spend time with the New Avengers, SHIELD, and SWORD.

Due to her connections to these groups, Drew is among the characters shared with Marvel Studios, who, according to previous reports, is only allowed to use her devoid of her Spider-Man-related elements. It's unclear whether this list may indicate that she can actually appear as Spider-Woman.

2.) Mary Jane “MJ” Watson

Spider-Woman, Mary Jane Watson, Marvel Comics

The MCU delivered some major changes to the traditional Mary Jane Watson, with Zendaya's love interest instead called Michelle Jones-Watson. 

MJ is specifically referred to in relation to her time as Spider-Woman. However, it's unlikely that would ever be touched in any form by Marvel Studios or Sony as that storyline was brief and took place in an alternate universe.

After Spider-Man: No Way Home ended with MJ and Ned on their way to study at MIT, many speculated the pair may find their way into Disney+'s Ironheart as Riri Williams studies at the same school. However, Sony's exclusive ownership of these characters makes that theory almost impossible - as cool as that would be.

The inability to use Michelle Jones is certainly a kick to Marvel Studios, as Zendaya is such a major star, the studio would undoubtedly love to have her showing up in more projects such as something like Ironheart.

3.) Kaine

Kaine, Marvel Comics

Kaine was a failed clone of Peter Parker who faced slow genetic deterioration and developed his own suit to slow down the unfortunate process. He quickly developed a hatred for his clone brother Ben Reilly, the Scarlet Spider, a mantle he later took on after Ben's death. 

The character of Kaine recently made a cameo and his big screen debut in Across the Spider-Verse but has yet to come to live-action. With no sign of Sony looking to touch the Clone Saga anytime soon, and certainly not in Tom Holland's next trilogy, it's unlikely he will be taking on a significant on-screen role in the near future.

4.) Black Cat

Black Cat, Marvel

In many ways, Black Cat is to Spider-Man what Catwoman is to Batman - a supervillain cat burglar who eventually develops a relationship with the hero and becomes a close ally. The relationship between Black Cat and Peter Parker fell apart as her interest was more in the hero than the man behind the mask.

Felicia Hardy made her live-action debut in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (played by Felicity Jones) as a set-up for her Black Cat future. With the MCU's Peter Parker entering his street-level era and having lost all memory of Zendaya's MJ, perhaps now is the time for him to cross paths with Black Cat.

5.) Norman & Harry Osborn

Norman Osborn, Harry Osborn, Green Goblin, Marvel

Both Norman and Harry Osborn, as well as Oscorp, are, unfortunately, off-limits to Marvel Studios due to their roots in the Spider-Man mythos. This is particularly unfortunate in the case of Norman and Oscorp, who often entangle their way into the wider Marvel universe and even the stories of the Avengers. 

Either way, studio president Kevin Feige has made clear his lack of interest in using the Osborn family, which is only further solidified by Spider-Man: No Way Home confirming neither Harry nor Oscorp exists in the MCU.

In terms of Tom Holland's Spider-Man franchise, his movies currently have little use for new versions of those characters, given Ned Leeds has filled Harry's role as Peter's best friend and he just fought Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin anyway.

6.) Hammerhead

Hammerhead, Marvel

The villainous Hammerhead is a prominent mobster in the Spider-Man mythos, who had his head filled with steel after an accident. This game him a rather flattened shape but also near-indestructibility, making him a tough foe for Peter Parker.

As Hammerhead comes as one of the more street-level characters for Spider-Man, he may well show up in his next trilogy, perhaps with some ties to Kingpin. But regardless of any affiliation he may have with the MCU's Kingpin, his role won't be able to cross beyond Sony and Marvel Studios' shared Spider-Man movies.

7.) Ned Leeds

Ned Leeds, Hobgoblin, Marvel

Looking at the Spider-Man characters introduced to the MCU so far, Jacob Batalon's Ned Leeds is one of only two to appear in a project outside of the trilogy - the other being Marissa Tomei's Aunt May. The best friend to Peter Parker appeared briefly in both Infinity War's opening and Endgame's ending.

Leeds was named on the list of off-limits characters through his villainous persona as the third Hobgoblin, who he was even teased to one day become in No Way Home, and Batalon has only fanned the flames since then. It's currently unclear whether this villain arc will ever come to pass for Ned Leeds in the MCU. 

8.) Mister Negative

Martin Li, Mr. Negative, Marvel's Spider-Man

Martin Li started out as a Chinese gangster and human trafficker before an experiment gave him control of the Darkforce and Lightforce. The result was two polar opposite personalities: a charitable philanthropist and FEAST founder (Mister Positive) and the criminal leader of the Inner Demons gang (Mister Negative).

After starring as the main villain of Insomniac's PlayStation 4-exclusive Spider-Man game, Mister Negative has hit the mainstream to join the ranks of the wall-crawler's most famous antagonists. Many are now eager to see Martin Li come to live-action, and perhaps he will be in the MCU's next Spider-Man trilogy.

9.) Silver Sable

Silver Sable, Marvel

Silvija Sablinova is an expert martial artist and mercenary whose work often brings her into conflict with superheroes, including Spider-Man. However, she usually shows up as an ally of the wall-crawler, having even hired him to join her in her mercenary work in the past. 

Silver Sable was once poised to lead a movie alongside Black Cat called Silver and Black that even had a completed script. However, the team-up flick was canceled in 2018 after the release of Venom, with the plan switching to both female anti-heroes receiving separate spin-offs - the status of both is unclear. 

Despite having shown up in the DLC to Insomniac's Spider-Man, Silver Sable has yet to make her live-action debut. Although any potential use of her under Marvel Studios would be restricted, perhaps she could make her way into Tom Holland's next trilogy of Spider-Man movies.

10.) Flash Thompson

Agent Venom, Flash Thompson, Marvel

Spider-Man's bully Flash Thompson is listed explicitly with his "Black Ops" Venom identity which he took on after losing both his legs in service of the United States Army and becoming bound to the symbiote. Having first taken on the Agent Venom persona in 2011, this take on Flash has still yet to appear in movie form.

Tony Revolori's Flash Thompson appeared in all three movies of the MCU Spider-Man trilogy but never in a Marvel Studios production outside of those. During the trilogy, Flash was openly an avid fan of the wall-crawler, even as he continued to torment Peter Parker as a more modern take on the rich-kid bully. 

Agent Venom has spent some time with the Guardians of the Galaxy in Marvel Comics, but based on the rights being held up at Sony, fans shouldn't hold their breath for Revolori signing up for the next generation of the sci-fi team. 

Why Marvel Will Never Get Spider-Man Back From Sony

With Spider-Man and his arsenal of characters now being a hallmark of Sony Pictures and its biggest franchise by far, the studio will almost certainly never relinquish those rights to Disney. Even if the notion of reacquiring the Spider-Man film rights were on the table, the price tag would likely be too high to justify.

Regardless, Sony and Marvel have developed a healthy working relationship over recent years to collaborate on the main live-action Spider-Man movies which has allowed Tom Holland's hero to play in the wider MCU. Even recently a deal was struck with Sony to bring its Marvel movies to Disney+.

Clearly, the relationship between the studios is only getting stronger, and perhaps in the years to come, agreements can be reached which will allow more of the massive gallery of Spider-Man characters to appear in the MCU on a more frequent basis and in an even biggest capacity. 

Sony's latest movie from the wall-crawling world is Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, which is playing now in theaters worldwide.

- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.