Leading up to Venom's Blu-ray release, Screen Rant had the opportunity to speak with Todd McFarlane, who co-created the character Venom for Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, along with comic book writer David Michelinie. It wasn't until 1988 that Venom became the character that everyone knows and loves in the comics, and it took several years to get the character onto the big screen.
Although Venom first appeared in live-action in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3, Sony Pictures spent 11 years developing a solo movie for the iconic Spider-Man villain, who's now become more of an antihero. Directed by Ruben Fleischer and starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, 2018's Venom movie opened to negative reviews but became an overwhelming box office success, outgrossing every X-Men movie released and landing in the top 5 highest grossing movies of 2018 at the worldwide box office.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that Venom 2 will happen with Hardy back in the role, but in the meantime, we spoke to McFarlane about the first film's depiction of Venom as a character as well as its story, and then even questioned the filmmaker, who's now working on developing his Spawn movie, about what he would like to see in a sequel.
Screen Rant: To start off, leading up to the movie's release, a lot of people were concerned that the PG-13 rating would adversely affect the character or the story - what do you think about that? Did it have an effect on anything?
Todd McFarlane: Here's what I think: somebody was putting in $100 million and looking long-term, and the moment they said it was going to be PG-13 - I don't know if you remember, people thought it might be R [and] it was tracking at $35 - $50 million opening; the moment they said it was going to be PG-13, then all of a sudden they bumped up the numbers to $55 - $75 million. So it automatically jumped. And it opened at $80 [million], so it actually beat their expectations. But somebody somewhere down the line must've calculated a little bit that says, "We've got this hybrid deal" - I don't know if any of this happened; I'm just speculating. But I'm a CEO, so [I'm] factoring in what I would have done - that I go, "We've got this hybrid deal and we want to put Spider-Man in someday. We got this deal with Disney... I don't think Disney is gonna put Spider-Man in an R movie."
So you got two choices: you can get Spider-Man to come up to R, to Venom, or Venom, that's R, comes down to PG-13. Why send mixed messages? Why don't we just basically get them both on even planes and they all play in the PG-13 world. Right? Let's just get to where we know we're going to get to eventually, and not send out a mixed message. So, okay... it's a business calculus that I think works, and creatively they were able to pull it off. And they're now looking at a billion-dollar success, so people can say, "Ah, it should've been R" or "Ah, there should've been Spider-Man," and "Ah, they should've have Carnage in the first one." They can say all of that, but if basically the fans think they missed components and it still makes a billion dollars, then I hope on my Spawn movie I make those kinds of mistakes. What happens when they actually put in those components, that some people think they missed along the way? This thing is just going to continue to grow.
Screen Rant: And you think they will put in those components?
Todd McFarlane: Oh yeah. I mean, at some point if they don't, it's not going to be for a lack of trying. Why wouldn't somebody figure out - eventually figure out how to get the mythology glued together? And it doesn't have to be... again, I'm thinking long-term business: if number one makes a billion, and then we put Carnage into number two; and number two we don't have to worry about an origin story, so now we can hit the ground running on minute one with Venom. And then number two is like super crazy; we got Woody Harrelson, we got Carnage, it's gonna be super awesome. It's gonna be cooler than Venom number one and then that goes bigger. And then you do a couple more and all of a sudden, by part three or four, or whatever, you go, "Oh, by the way, if you think all that was cool, we got this new guy coming in called Spider-Man, you may have heard of him." [Imitates explosion] And all of a sudden you're in number four and it may be the biggest one yet. Right?
So, they're starting at a billion and - to me, creatively - they've got nowhere to go but up, in terms of what they can do with this thing... they hit it. And they hit it because the fan base is so rapid for superhero movies - not necessarily just specifically Venom or Spider-Man, just superhero movies - that you can do all this and these are the results. What's the movie or TV show that's comic book related in the last six years that hasn't worked? I don't know what it is. They all work; they're all bulletproof right now. So, Sony just wants something and it's gonna run; it's gonna run for a long time now.
Screen Rant: Going back to your Spawn comment, considering Venom's success, does it boost your confidence in Spawn, because Venom took several years to make, and the same...
Todd McFarlane: It doesn't boost MY confidence. I always like me. Nobody likes Todd more than me. But what it does is it helps add to the resume when you walk into a room and you go, "Hey, wanna do Spawn?" And they go, "Why would we do Spawn?" And then you go, "Oh, I also helped create this other character called Venom." And then you can... 'cause you know every single trailer is going to start with that. Right? "From the co-creator of Venom comes..." Right? Boom. And then people across the country and internationally go, "I don't know what Spam is or Sprawn is, or Spore is or whatever, but I know what Venom is." And so, I'll get value from the success of Venom by the person that was there on day one with it. Cool, I'll take it.
Screen Rant: I'm really excited for Spawn, and it's great that you're in control of that. But on Venom, it did take several years to make, so do you think it was adapted properly, with regards to the character and the story? Or would you have done something different?
Todd McFarlane: Look, here's a simple question: if you're asking me if I would go darker, I'd go darker with Mary Poppins. Winnie the Pooh I'd make darker. I'm bent on dark. But that's my personality; it doesn't mean that it...
Screen Rant: Works for everyone?
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, doesn't mean it works for every character. [Laughs] So, I'd go, "Winnie the Pooh? Oh sh*t, just wait till I do what I can do with him." It doesn't matter. If I knew I was going to drop $100 million, I would try to figure out how can I creatively entertain the world and get my money back. I mean there's that component that we can't dismiss, because that's a big risk for people, and then there's probably another hundred million in marketing. So you have to sit there and go, "What's working and how is this gonna go?" And we eventually want to get Spider-Man, so, of course, we gotta get there.
Screen Rant: So you would've gone darker, personally?
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, I mean, like I said, give me Mary Poppins and I'd go R-rated. [Laughs] So, shoot.
Screen Rant: In Venom, was there anything that stuck out to you, that you felt proud of - be it a character or story element?
Todd McFarlane: Here's what was important to me. I co-created with the writer, so I was a visual guy. Right? I designed that guy to be big and bulky, and gnarly and nasty. Because he was a villain when we created him; he was a villain to Spider-Man. All I wanted to see was a biga** villain. Not villain, but just character. I want the silhouette to be big. Because... you remember Spider-Man 3?
Screen Rant: Oh yeah.
Todd McFarlane: Venom was in that too. He wasn't very big. He was, like... a little bit bigger than Topher Grace, but not much. But to me, I was like, "Come on, I just want to see my big guy." In my mind, I'm being selfish now. Nobody has to satisfy Todd. But I was just being selfish. I was there when the preview came out and I was sitting with everybody else, and I saw in the trailer he was going to be big. But I think he needs to be the biggest thing on the screen, and he needs to be able to swallow Tom Hardy and his character up. That's what the character is. He's not the size of a man; he's a big monster. And they put a visual monster on-screen. It's cool.
Screen Rant: Since you had drawn the original design, what's your opinion on the lack of a spider symbol on his chest?
Todd McFarlane: You know what, would it have been cool? Yeah, sure it would. Why they did it? I don't know if it's a legal reason or whatever else. I don't know, they had the white veins and stuff on him. To me, Venom isn't necessarily the spider on the chest, Venom is more about the eyes and the teeth. To me, they got that. So in the future are they going to be able to put the spider on it? I don't know. As a matter of fact, I talked to the director. I guess I should've asked that. I don't know if it was a legal reason or not. But it might've sent a mixed message because again they were just trying to establish him being his own character. Because one of the criticisms, you know, early on - from the fans, way before the movie - was how can this character exist without Spider-Man? To me, I thought it was a ridiculous question. Because, of course, the character can stand on his own. Of course, the character MUST stand on his own. Because if this character can only exist because of another character, then it's a half-character. It's not a fully formed character.
Screen Rant: Considering how much money Venom's made, it seems obvious that they'll make a sequel, so what would you want to see in it? Carnage or...
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, that's what I would. I think it's the next, natural move in the mythology. So, to me, when you think about Venom, you sort of think about three different things: Venom, Carnage, and Spider-Man. Those are the three, right? Been plenty of conversations about Spider-Man, so now the next logical one is Carnage, which we just saw it; they teased it. And they made a billion without him, and I go, shoot, here we go. And they hit the second movie with Eddie Brock being Venom in minute one. They don't have to now spend half a movie to get to the origin; it's done, they've set the table. They just get to rock and roll with Venom. Dude, if I'm a filmmaker, I'm going, "Thank you. Thanks for setting the table, let's rock." We get two hours of fun.