If hindsight is 20/20, looking back at this deal and what could’ve been is blinding. As Marvel celebrates their tenth anniversary, it’s easy to forget that a decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a barely formed idea. Heck, superhero movies themselves weren’t considered particularly big business. So, it’s somewhat understandable that Sony turned down the deal of a lifetime.

Way, way back in 1998, a young Sony Pictures executive named Yair Landau met with Marvel to secure the big screen rights to Spider-Man. Sony already had DVD rights but wanted to bring the character to the big screen. Marvel, fresh out of near bankruptcy, and still a bit green to the movie game, put a now mind-boggling offer on the table: Sony could have the big screen rights to nearly every Marvel character for a mere $25 million.

Sony’s response when Landau brought the offer back?: “Nobody gives a sh— about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man.”

Well, that’s what happened. Four years later, Sony released the smash hit “Spider-Man,” and followed it up with two more sequels. They tried to relaunch the web-slinger in 2012 with “The Amazing Spider-Man” but both that film and its sequel were disappointments commercially and critically. Now, history has come full circle with Sony and Marvel working together on the current incarnation of the character played by Tom Holland, who is part of the MCU.

Again, it’s easy to look back and criticize Sony for missing out on a goldmine. But you have to remember, it’s almost a miracle that Marvel’s first movie, “Iron Man,” succeeded at all. At the time, Jon Favreau only had one big budget movie under his belt (“Zathura“), while Robert Downey Jr. was still on the comeback trail. Add to that, Iron Man is a character who was hardly in the pop culture lexicon in the way that Spider-Man, Superman or Batman are. Even more, the film was mostly being rewritten on the spot; it’s absurd how many things fell into place at the right time.

Even if Sony had made the deal, there is no guarantee they would’ve succeeded either. The secret ingredient to all of this is Kevin Feige, who has been somewhat visionary in his approach to Marvel, pushing them to $13.5 billion at the box office (and counting). We can wonder about what could’ve been, but what we got is pretty outstanding. [The Wall Street Journal]