Photo: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

The Marvel of today is an unstoppable behemoth, crushing everyone who dares make a play for its superhero movie throne, but a new Wall Street Journal report points out that the Marvel of 20 years ago was so desperate for an influx of cash that it almost sacrificed control of the very movie rights that are now its golden ticket. The company had just survived bankruptcy, so when Sony approached it in hopes of securing Spider-Man’s movie rights, Marvel head Ike Perlmutter—who has been known to make bad decisions—offered something that would get a bit more money: the rights to the characters we now know as the cinematic Avengers, including Iron Man, Thor, and the Black Panther.

As crazy as that seems today, the even crazier thing is that he apparently only wanted $25 million for the whole stable of superheroes. That’s a fraction of the several billion dollars that the movies have made for Marvel Studios since Iron Man, but an unnamed big shot at Sony reportedly claimed that “nobody gives a shit about any of the other Marvel characters,” so Perlmutter agreed to give up Spider-Man alone for $10 million.

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Sony’s first few Spider-Man movies made a ton of money, which reportedly drove Perlmutter crazy and annoyed his former business partner Avi Arad, but Perlmutter still couldn’t be convinced to give movies a serious try until 2005 when Marvel was able to get a huge loan from Merrill Lynch to form Marvel Studios and make Iron Man. These days, Marvel Studios is largely independent from the rest of Marvel (which is still run by Perlmutter), and it operates under the guidance of Kevin Feige—who supposedly came up with the Samuel L. Jackson “Avengers Initiative” scene from the end of Iron Man and is therefore responsible for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And all of the money the MCU has raked in could’ve been Sony’s if only it had possessed the foresight to buy up the rights to those characters and then do everything exactly the same way Marvel eventually did it.