Is Venom part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? That question has been asked since Sony first announced the project, and at the times the answer has been more than a little confusing. With the film finally due for release this week, it's a good time to take stock and establish the facts.
At first, it seemed pretty clear that Venom and subsequent Spider-Man spinoffs, weren't set in the wider MCU. In March last year, for example, Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts explicitly said that Venom was "not connected to the Marvel world". Sony's Amy Pascal soon confused the issue when she described these spinoffs as "adjuncts" to the MCU. She seemed to be describing the same kind of relationship the TV shows have with the main Marvel Studios movies. The days after that comment saw Pascal and Feige issue a bewildering array of frequently contradictory clarifications, which left audiences increasingly confused.
Given these issues, here we're going to give you a primer on the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise and explain just how Venom does - or does not - relate to the MCU.
- This Page: Why Marvel Doesn't Own Spider-Man (Or Venom)
- Page 2: The MCU and Venom's Villain Universe Explained
- Page 3: Venom Isn't in the MCU (But That Could Change)
Sony Owns Spider-Man and All His Related Characters
We're used to the idea that Marvel Studios produce their own movies, but that's a relatively new development. Historically, Marvel tended to sell the film rights to their characters off to studios, who would have the knowledge and expertise to (hopefully) produce the next blockbuster. That particular business model became pressing in the late '90s, when the bottom fell out of the comic book industry and Marvel came close to bankruptcy. In 1999, Marvel sold the film rights to Spider-Man over to Columbia Pictures, a subsidiary of Sony.
To give a sense of the sheer scale of the Spider-Man franchise, we recently learned that Sony own the film rights to over 900 Marvel characters. There are also a handful of shared characters whose rights are a little more complex given they're associated both with Spider-Man and other franchises, such as Jessica Drew's Spider-Woman. Those heroes and villains are either "shared," with either studio able to use them in certain specific ways, or else they're blocked off completely and cannot be used by Marvel or Sony.
There are two important details to note. Firstly, there are specific time-limits associated with the film rights. Sony need to release a new Spider-Man movie at least once every five years, otherwise the rights revert to Marvel. That's why we've had two previous Sony Spider-Man franchises; Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 fell through in 2010, already three years on from the release of Spider-Man 3. Sony didn't want to lose the film rights, so, consequently, the first Amazing Spider-Man was produced pretty quickly; if the movie didn't release by 2012, the entire Spider-Man franchise would have headed back to Marvel.
In 2011, the relationship between Sony and Marvel changed significantly. The two companies had previously cooperated on the Spider-Man movies, but that was becoming increasingly awkward given they were now direct competitors. Disney CEO Bob Iger revealed that Marvel and Sony had "simplified" their relationship. "We purchased Sony Pictures' participation in Spider-Man merchandising," he explained in a conference call to investors, "while at the same time, Sony Pictures purchased from us our participation in Spider-Man films." Sony agreed to this because their electronics unit was struggling at the time, and the company was facing something of a cash-flow problem. Last year, Sony's chief financial officer told The Wall Street Journal that it had proved to be a long-term mistake.
So that brings us to the basic situation: Sony own the film rights to Spider-Man and his associated characters, and have to release a movie at least once every five years. After 2011, though, they no longer own the merchandise rights.
Venom Was Almost in The Amazing Spider-Man Universe
Several Sony figures had always been interested in the idea of launching Spider-Man spinoffs; Avi Arad publicly talked about the prospect as far back as 2007. But the remarkable success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a gamechanger; Sony realized they had enough popular characters and properties to create their own, Spider-Man-centric shared universe. This was intended to spin out of Marc Webb's Amazing Spider-Man franchise. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was rewritten to set up a future Sinister Six project, which Sony hoped to release in 2016. That would be followed up by a Venom movie, scheduled for release in late 2017 or the first half of 2018.
Unfortunately for Sony, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 didn't perform well in the box office, and it was absolutely slated by critics. The setup was seen as clumsy and heavy-handed, detracting from the quality of the story itself. Sony's vision of a Spider-Man cinematic universe had turned into the iceberg that sank the Spider-Man films. Insiders at the studio desperately began to pivot, trying to work out how they could save the ship.
- Venom (2018) release date: Oct 05, 2018