“Please Don’t Sue Us; We Don’t Have Any Money!”: Spider-Man Fan Films and Their Worth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
The transmedia empire known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become the prime example of transmedia storytelling for scholars as well as new companies hoping to emulate their model. Marvel Studios began its cinematic universe only a decade ago and has already produced 18 films grossing just under $6 billion domestically and nearly $15 billion worldwide. While there are 14 films still in the works up through 2022, Marvel Studios has also produced several television series for Netflix, Freeform, and ABC as well as other forms of media related to the MCU, including comic books, video games, toys, and more. While this empire is billions strong economically, it is also teeming with fans who engage with the universe daily, and not just as consumers, but as creators as well. Fan-generated media for the MCU alone would outnumber every officially licensed comic book, film, and television show combined, but fair use policy keeps this media free of financial gain, so the financial numbers would be pathetic by any corporate standard. However, fan culture does not care about how much money is made as much as it cares about the characters and stories that are shared within a community of common interests and motives. One character favorite, Spider-Man, has had his share of ups and downs on screen and was not originally allowed to be a part of the MCU because Sony owned the rights to everything Spider-Man (supporting characters included) for use in film. It was not until 2015 that Sony negotiated with Marvel to allow a mutual usage of the character. Thus, he was introduced to the MCU, but the character would be rebooted for a third time to the chagrin of many fans. While Spider-Man fan films can be sourced back to the 1960s, fan films in the mid-2010s were made at great cost and care to fans involved in order to give fans a taste of how Spider-Man should look on screen and represent the character the way they wanted him portrayed. While most fan films lack any quality or talent, there are those that stand out as worthy of industry praise and scholarly scrutiny for their place within convergence culture and contribution to the MCU. This thesis looks at two of these fan films, Spider-Man: Lost Cause (2014) and Marvel Knights: Spider-Man (2015) through the lenses of convergence culture and genre studies as well as fair use policy in order to solidify their place within the MCU.