'Venom' gives Sony an edge over Disney in its fight to keep 'Spider-Man,' according to industry experts

Sony‘Venom.’
  • Despite abysmal reviews, “Venom” is a hit with audiences and has grossed over $US500 million worldwide.
  • The movie is Sony’s first jump back into the “Spider-Man” universe without Marvel Studios in its corner since “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” misfired in 2014.
  • Box-office experts agree that the movie’s success is no fluke and that it’s the rebound Sony needed.
  • “If they consistently make films audiences want to see, Disney will have to buy Sony to get ‘Spider-Man’ back,” said Jeff Bock, a senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations.
  • Sony has multiple “Spider-Man” projects in development, and a “Venom” sequel is highly likely.

Before Sony’s latest foray into the world of Spider-Man, “Venom,” hit theatres a month ago, there were worries that the studio might have a flop on its hands.

Critics couldn’t publish their takes on the movie until October 2, two days before “Venom” would be screened to audiences. Such a short span of time between a film’s review embargo and its release is usually a sign of trouble, and this was: Critics tore into the movie, which ultimately scored a 27% critical rating on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

Sony couldn’t afford another misfire after “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” failed to generate excitement in 2014. If “Venom” bombed, it probably would have spelled defeat for its “Spider-Man” universe going forward. (It’s still Sony’s biggest cinematic property.)

“If it had failed, there is a chance Sony would have definitely returned to the bargaining table with Disney,” Jeff Bock, a senior box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider. “Now, that’s up in the air.”

Fortunately for Sony, “Venom” is a hit.

The movie, which stars Tom Hardy, has brought in over $US500 million worldwide with a $US100 million production budget. It has an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes from 32,000 ratings, and a B+ from Cinemascore. It broke the box-office record for an October opening weekend, with $US80 million, after estimates put it in the range of $US65 million to $US75 million.

The success of “Venom” means Sony’s “Spider-Man” cinematic universe, which once looked as if it were on life support, is here to stay.

Amazing spiderman 2 Courtesy Columbia Pictures‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2.’

Sony strikes a deal with Marvel Studios

In 2015, Sony made a deal with Marvel Studios in which Spider-Man could be introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while Sony maintained distribution rights and creative control. It meant Sony could still make movies based on the 900 Marvel Spider-Man characters it owns the film rights to, while Marvel and its parent company, Disney, could use the character in its film universe.

The deal came after Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” the sequel to its 2012 reboot, floundered at the box office. It raked in just over $US200 million in the US, barely more than its production budget, after opening to a disappointing $US91 million. Most of its money came from the international box office, which isn’t new for a blockbuster, though it wasn’t enough to fulfil Sony’s grander “Spider-Man” vision to compete with Marvel after “The Avengers” made $US1.5 billion worldwide two years before.

“Everyone had high hopes for this,” a production assistant on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” who wished to remain anonymous to protect future business relationships, told Business Insider. “They were projecting for it to at least make more money than the first one.”

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” made less domestically and globally than its predecessor. Then came the Sony hack in November 2014, in which WikiLeaks released a massive trove of private Sony emails, data, and files. Internal communications about “reinvigorating” the “Spider-Man” franchise and potentially having Marvel Studios produce were revealed.

It all forced Sony to reevaluate its planned Spider-verse, which would have included a “Sinister Six” villain-centric spin-off that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” attempted to set up. Instead, Sony worked with Marvel Studios to deliver MCU’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” starring Tom Holland, last year; it was a hit.

“Sony just wants to make a buck, and they don’t mind throwing s— at the wall to make a buck,” the former production assistant said.

Venom 2 SonySony‘Venom.’

‘Venom’ helps Sony rebound

If you asked critics, “Venom” was another case of “throwing s— at the wall.” But audiences have thought differently, and box-office experts agree that the movie’s success is no accident.

Sony “took a calculated risk with ‘Venom,’ and it’s now going to be a series,” Bock said. “It seems Disney needs Sony’s ‘Spider-Man’ more than Sony needs Disney … If they consistently make films audiences want to see, Disney will have to buy Sony to get ‘Spider-Man’ back.”

“A half-billion dollars in revenue for ‘Venom’ worldwide proves that this is no fluke, and despite a critical drubbing, the film has found great favour with audiences who are fully vested in the ‘Spider-Man’ brand as well as their embracing of Tom Hardy,” the comScore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Business Insider.

What’s next for Sony’s “Spider-Man” plans?

The animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” hits theatres this December. The “Homecoming” follow-up with Marvel Studios, “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” comes to theatres in July.

Apart from the MCU, Sony is developing multiple spin-offs like “Venom,” including one starring Jared Leto as the vampire Morbius, and one featuring Black Cat, a frequent Spider-Man love interest. There’s even the possibility that Spider-Man himself could show up, though it remains to be seen whether it would be Tom Holland’s MCU version or someone else.

Oh, and a “Venom” sequel is highly likely.

“There is strong interest in a sequel, which will no doubt happen given its success,” Box Office Analyst’s Doug Stone said.

Read more: What you need to know about the ‘Spider-Man’ villain who appears in the ‘Venom’ after-credits scene

Of course, there is the possibility that Sony doesn’t ride this momentum and its “Amazing Spider-Man 2” problems happen all over again.

Ken Miyamoto, a former Sony story analyst and script reader in the 2000s who is now an industry blogger for ScreenCraft, told Business Insider that Sony would “clearly fast-track these titles in hopes of replicating the box-office success of ‘Venom.'”

“And I just don’t see it working with those characters,” Miyamoto said. “Nobody cares.”

He added: “If you push things too fast to try and emulate the MCU to create connected multi-franchises, you’re going to suffer the same fate you did before.”

But for now, the success of “Venom” and the likely success of “Into the Spider-Verse” next month have positioned Sony well and changed its balance of power with Disney. Beyond “Spider-Man,” Sony is developing “Bloodshot,” a film it hopes to turn into another comic-book-based cinematic universe, starring Vin Diesel and produced by the “Fast and Furious” franchise producer Neal Moritz.

“This is just the beginning of Sony’s reemergence as a studio of box-office distinction,” Bock said. “They’re not giving it up without a fight.”

If you have insight into the success of “Venom” and Sony’s “Spider-Man” plans, email the author at [email protected]

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