Sony and Columbia Pictures’ “Venom” could be the start of a new, villainous trend in Hollywood. The movie industry is currently loaded with superheroes — pumping out ensemble films, new franchises and sequels continuously. But because of superhero overload, studios are responding by supplying more super villain and antihero films in the next round of blockbuster content. “Venom” introduces consumers to a film that is entirely focused on a monstrous anti hero who has been one of Spider-Man’s biggest foes.
“The hero story may be getting tired to some. So most people want to see what it’s like from the other side of the coin,” said Brian Schutzer co-owner of Sparkle City Comics/ Neat Stuff Collectibles.com. “We never get more than a five-minute origin story to villains in the history of the last 20 years of superhero movies.”
Besides “Venom”, DC and Warner Bros. are currently working on “Joker”, an origin story for the infamous Batman villain, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the title character and being directed by Todd Phillips, known for a directorial and screenwriting pedigree turning out highly successful comedies, including “Old School”, “Borat” and the “The Hangover” trilogy.
“This is totally new ground, which you don’t really get to see with modern cinema,” Schutzer said. “It’s absolutely a breath of fresh air in an almost numbing sea of super-heroes.”
A great villain can make a greater hero
“Venom” stars critically acclaimed actor Tom Hardy and actress Michelle Williams; the film is also directed by Ruben Fleischer. According to Rotten Tomatoes, 91 percent of consumers are excited to see “Venom” on the big screen.
“It helps that Venom is one of Spider-Man’s most famous foes among younger audiences. If there’s a character from his lore [Spider-Man’s] that can work in their own movie, Eddie Brock/Venom is one of the strongest candidates”, said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for Box Office.com.
“He is a villain, but a villain the readers can understand and relate to,” Schutzer said. “A great villain makes a greater hero. And you can argue he helped make Spider-man the biggest comic character today, over Batman and Superman.”
However, not incorporating Spider-Man into the film and holding the movie back to a PG-13 rating has famous YouTube film critic and media influencer Jeremy Jahns questioning if the movie can reach its full potential.
“Venom lends himself to shocking action violence. He’s a vigilante who will eat body parts. In that, I think the smarter move would have been to go the R-rated route so he can unleash his full Venom fury,” Jahns said. ” I think making Venom rated R would at least send the message that Spider-Man may be absent, but that might be because this film is too gory for him. Give us Spider-Man, or give us rated R violence, but don’t take away both.”
“Venom” is supposed to kickstart what Sony considers a “Spider-Man” universe that includes spin-off films for several of the web slinger’s infamous antagonists. The list includes Kraven The Hunter, Black Cat and Morbius, which has Oscar winner Jared Leto attached as the lead.
“There’s a mystique in this day and age about seeing how the grey areas of traditionally black-and-white genres can play out on screen.”
“We’re focused on being faithful to the comics,” said Sanford Panitch, president of Columbia Pictures to Variety. “There are villains, heroes, and antiheroes, and a lot are female characters [within the Spider-Man Universe], many of whom are bona fide, fully dimensionalized, and utterly unique.”
The Spider-Man character is currently being played by 22-year-old, Tom Holland. He entered the role, being part of a deal that incorporated Sony’s “Spider-Man” into Disney’s “Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Holland’s stand alone Spider-Man film, 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” grossed over $880 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo and has a 92 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes’ “Tomatometer.”
Despite the success of Holland’s Spider-Man, it is unclear whether or not that success will translate to “Venom.”
Moviegoer interest is high. “Venom” set an October record for preview showings on Thursday night with $10 million. The critical reception hasn’t been superlative, with the movie receiving a 31 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, but the early audience score is 89 percent. Despite the mixed reviews, “Venom” is expected to gross between $50 million to $75 million this opening weekend, according to Box Office Pro.
Sony is depending largely on “Venom” to kick start its ambitious future, according to Jahns.
“Spider-Man is one of the top tier Marvel super heroes, and with that comes the certainty that we will always have a cinematic Spider-Man. However, we’ve seen studios cancel plans for future sequels or spin offs due to [the] disappointing box office numbers. So yes, in terms of an extended universe that concentrates on Spider-Man villains or anti heroes without Spider-Man, I do believe Venom has a lot riding on it.”
Sony and Warner Bros., which is part of the Warner Media company now owned by ATT, did not respond by press time.
“This is going to be a big litmus test for the studio’s plans to spin off more of Spidey’s related characters into their own movies,” Robbins said. “But as a non-traditional comic book adaptation that didn’t cost $300 million to produce, Venom doesn’t need to make ‘Avengers’ level money to be considered successful.”
Between Venom, Sony’s plans for its own extended universe and next year’s ‘Joker’ movie, Robbins believes that audiences are attracted to interesting character arcs which can apply to well-written villains and anti-heroes.
“The key, as with any other story, is for the audience to sympathize with or relate to the main character,” Robbins said. “There’s a mystique in this day and age about seeing how the grey areas of traditionally black-and-white genres can play out on screen.”
—By Donovan Russo, special to CNBC.com