Venom, the highly anticipated comic book adaptation that hits theaters in October, isn’t just an attempt to do justice to the legendary symbiote after a lackluster appearance in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. It’s also a big-budget bet by Sony Pictures that the world of Spider-Man can spawn its own cinematic universe to rival what Disney has created with its Marvel characters and what Warner Bros. is attempting to pull of with its DC Comics heroes and villains.
With Disney’s acquisition of Fox’s film studio, Sony is now the only major studio outside of the Magic Kingdom with the licensing rights to Marvel characters. Fox has long had rights to Fantastic Four and The X-Men, pillars of the Marvel Comics-verse, that will now thanks to the magic of a multi-billion dollar corporate merger, be able to interact with Captain America, Iron Man, and other members of the Avengers. All in all though, Sony’s licensing pact with Marvel includes rights to roughly 900 characters.
If Venom proves to be the success Sony hopes it is, then the plan is for the company to quickly segue from Venom into a series of sequels and standalone films featuring heroes and villains who populate the Spider-Man universe. Sony has already announced plans to make Morbius, with Daniel Espinosa directing Jared Leto as the titular vampire and frequent Spidey nemesis, and has lined up Richard Wenk to write a screenplay focused on Kraven the Hunter. The studio is also in the process of developing movies based on Silk, Jackpot, and Nightwatch, and is actively looking for writers to pen scripts.
Sanford Panitch, president of Columbia Pictures, and the executive who has been overseeing what is being dubbed internally, Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters, or SUMC said in a statement to Variety that “We’re focused on being faithful to the comics.”
One of the biggest surprises stemming from Sony’s plans is that the proposed Silver and Black film which was supposed to chronicle the team of Silver Sable, a mercenary who runs a company that hunts war criminals, and Black Cat, a burglar named Felicia Hardy, has been scrapped in favour of solo films for both characters.
“We believe Black Cat is enough of her own character with a great backstory and a canon of material to draw from to justify her own film,” said Panitch.
Although a final decision has yet to be made, Gina Prince-Bythewood , the writer and director who was originally attached to make Silver & Black, will likely depart the project. She will, however, remain on board as a producer of both the Black Cat and Silver Sable films. If Prince-Bythewood does leave, Sony is adamant that she will be replaced by another female director. Sony is also eager to work with Prince-Bythewood on other projects.
The studio is leaning in to female stories at a time when there’s pressure on Hollywood to create more movies featuring women and minorities. Silk, for example, is a Korean-American super-heroine, while Jackpot is an older masked vigilante, likely in her mid-forties, which is unique in a geek culture that prizes youth.
“Spider-Man connects to a lot of the characters,” said Panitch. “There are villains, heroes, and antiheroes, and a lot are female characters, many of whom are bona fide, fully dimensionalized, and utterly unique.”
“We feel there’s no reason the Marvel characters shouldn’t be able to embrace diversity,” he added.
As for budgets, Sony is expected to experiment with how much it spends on each film. This winter, the studio is releasing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, an animated adventure that features Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino teenager who assumes Spider-Man’s mantle. The film is viewed as being its own entity and will not be part of Sony’s planned movie universe. However, the choice of title character reflects Sony’s diversity push.
As of now, Venom will not be a r-rated adventure but will instead push the limits of a PG-13 rating to the highest degree. The thought process here is that this will give the studio greater leeway for future installments that will feature Spider-Man, something Venom does not do. Sony believes that an r-rating will preclude other film match-ups, not just with Peter Parker’s alter-ego, but also with other members of the extended Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Lastly, Sony is open to having other characters from its Spider-Man films pop up in Marvel movies that are produced under the Disney banner, and would presumably also like to see an Avenger or two cameo in its own movies.
This last part is incredibly interesting because, while it is clear that Sony is determined to build its own Marvel universe, the contents of their plan seem to indicate that a potential team-up with Disney’s MCU isn’t totally out of range. This is far from confirmation that Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal are bringing their universes together, but it sure does seem more likely than not.