[Editor’s note: Some spoilers ahead for both “Venom” and its post-credits scenes.]
Armed with a record-breaking weekend at the box office and an eager star signed on for at least two more films, “Venom” is certainly a franchise-starter. The Tom Hardy anti-superhero blockbuster walked away from its opening weekend with a sizable $80 million take (by way of comparison, the previous October opening-weekend record-holder was no less than the Oscar-winning “Gravity,” which made just under $56 million in its first weekend in 2013).
For a film scorched by bad reviews (the Ruben Fleischer-directed feature is currently sitting at a 31% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and seemingly hampered by its confusing place in the massive Marvel Cinematic Universe (to wit, it’s not part of the MCU, even if it was produced “in association with” the comic book juggernaut), “Venom” easily proved its might in a single weekend. The lessons of its success also hint at the possibilities for the wider world of comic book adaptations: if a movie in which Tom Hardy gets possessed by an evil alien parasite can make big money without even a passing appearance by his classic foe Spider-Man, there’s hope for other alternatives and other visions from fresh blood.
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And other alternatives are what Sony Pictures seems to be going for these days, as evidenced by its choice to even make a “Venom” film without being able to include Spider-Man in it, and then following it up mere months later with their animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which follows Miles Morales as Spider-Man in yet another universe.
“Venom” was a gamble, and one that proved that this so-called Spider-Verse has some serious legs on it. Unbound by the restraints of the usual sprawling, interconnected movie universe, what other off-beat films can it hatch and who could shepherd them to their own box office glory? We’ve got some ideas,
1. Deadpool vs. Carnage, directed by Gareth Evans
Many of the box office lessons imparted by the success of “Venom” were pulled straight from the “Deadpool” playbook: that it’s possible to launch a new superhero franchise not beholden to a wider cinematic universe, that anti-heroes can be just as appealing as classic good guys, and that the summer movie-going season isn’t the only space in which multi-million-dollar comic book movies can succeed.
Which is one of the reasons why it’s so amusing that Deadpool and Venom’s greatest foe, Carnage, have their very own history together, thanks to a four-book run from the summer of 2014. That this current iteration of the Spider-Verse is hellbent on bringing Carnage — a flame-haired serial killer stuck with his own murderous Symbiote, as played in a brief “Venom” post-credits sequence by Woody Harrelson — back for any possible (and now probable) sequels wouldn’t even need to get in the way of a bloody, wild face-off between the baddies.
The only real pickle: unlike “Venom,” a Carnage versus Deadpool face-off would have to be rated R to capitalize on the violence inherent in its storyline and the two characters it’s built around. Hire a bonafide action director with a taste for violence and weird mythology like Gareth Evans, and let the blood flow and the action unfold. Few modern action directors are as exciting as Evans, and the “Raid” helmer could offer a bone-crunching twist on the usual comic book action fare.
2. Spider-Gwen, directed by Marielle Heller
In 2014, Marvel Comics launched its own Spider-Verse, a multi-faceted, wide-ranging storyline that essentially hinged on one crazy idea: that there are multiple Spider-Men on multiple Earths, and they are all under attack. One of the most memorable character to spring from that ambitious idea was Spider-Gwen, which flips the usual Spider-Man script with a clever gender-centric twist. Imagine it was Gwen Stacy who was bitten by that radioactive spider, only to become Spider-Woman (complete with all the usual and expected Spider-Man tricks and tropes) on her own alternate Earth. Then imagine we meet her after her superhero alter-ego has all but destroyed her world.
The last two runs of Spider-Man movies have featured very different spins on Gwen, including Bryce Dallas Howard’s short-shrifted version in “Spider-Man 3” and Emma Stone’s more heartening take in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films, but she’s never quite received the on-screen attention she deserves.
For a remake-obsessed industry, the Spider-Gwen plotline is an obvious one, containing a familiar story with recognizable fans, all gussied up with a smart twist that deepens a classic superhero story. Hire a director like Marielle Heller, whose “Diary of a Teenage Girl” proved her chops when it comes to handling stories about special young women in very weird circumstances, and reinvent Spider-Gwen into her very own new universe, complete with the teen angst to spare.
3. Silver and Black, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
In May of 2015, Sony hired “Love & Basketball” director Gina Prince-Bythewood for her own Spider-Man spinoff, billed as a big screen take on the mercenary Silver Sable and cat burglar Black Cat as the anti-heroines head out on their adventures. The announcement of Prince-Bythewood’s “Silver and Black” came on the heels of “Venom” getting the green light, signaling the studio’s interest in mining classic Spider-Man villains for their own movie universe.
And yet in June of this year, “Silver and Black” was unceremoniously yanked from its planned release date of February 8, 2019. Per Variety, the film isn’t dead yet, but it’s still in need of a release date, and perhaps the success of “Venom” will help push the studio to let Prince-Bythewood’s vision get into theaters sooner rather than later.
4. Spider-Man Noir, directed by Dan Gilroy
Take everything audiences love about Spider-Man, including classic baddies like The Vulture, and push them back nearly a full century, straight into 1933. That’s the easy charm of Spider-Man Noir, which imagines a world in which Spidey is just as likely to use his web-shooters as he is tommy guns when it comes time to taking out the bad guys.
While the industry’s affection for “dark and gritty” reboots feels more played out with each passing iteration, choosing to set a film literally in the Depression adds more gusto to the concept and provides a different way to tap into an audience clearly still eager to see their heroes in dark places. Gilroy knows his way around sharp violence, but his work on his directorial debut “Nightcrawler” also proves his ability to navigate a neo-noir built around a brooding and secretive central character with demons to spare.
5. Kaine, directed by Joe Carnahan
If Carnage is the darker version of Venom, Kaine is the darker version of Spider-Man, and another seeming anti-hero struggling with his dueling desires to wreck total havoc and to be a better person. The product of an evil plot to clone Spider-Man gone awry, Kaine has all usual Spider-Man abilities, though they’re amped up through dumb luck and bad science. But while Kaine initially leans into doing bad, the lingering effect of being at least partially made out of Peter Parker parts proves to be inescapable, and the one-time supervillian slowly morphs into an actual hero.
Not that it’s an easy process, and Kaine was written as a man wracked with guilt and confusion, a cobbled-together monster who wants to be a man but can never, ever be one. In short, it’s a very human story, but one also marked by intense violence and gore. Sounds like a good fit for Carnahan, who has long leaned into comic book sensibilities and the emotional toll of being a human (this is a filmmaker, after all, who wanted to direct “Preacher” long before it became a series, and who gave us the gritty terror of “The Grey”).
“Venom” is in theaters now.