Movies

Did Venom Just Blow Up the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

The final moments of Sony’s latest superhero flick could be a game-changer.

A grotesque monster with huge white eyes, giant teeth, and tentacles.
Sony Pictures

Unlike typical post-credits stingers in Marvel movies, the one that appears at the end of Venom: Let There Be Carnage—the latest entry in Sony’s Spider-Man-centric cinematic universe—isn’t  setting up what happens next in the franchise. Instead, it’s begging us to ask this question: “What happens now?”

[Spoilers for Venom: Let There Be Carnage follow.]

The post-credits scene is relatively short. Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and Venom, his antiheroic symbiote and supposedly platonic bestie, are relaxing and watching some TV just after defeating Woody Harrelson’s Carnage—as one does with their monstrous alter ego, of course. Eddie starts to ask Venom about any potential secrets the creature has been keeping from him, and just as Venom is about to explain how there are several universes all connected through the symbiote network, the room physically shifts. There’s a bright yellow glow (one that immediately brings to mind Doctor Strange’s cosmic powers), and suddenly the TV changes from the show they’re watching to the news. On the TV screen is the sound of J.K. Simmons’ J. Jonah Jameson talking about Peter Parker, but the version of Spider-Man on the screen isn’t Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield—the Spideys who have never existed or appeared in the newer, bigger, overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe. Instead, this Peter Parker is played by Tom Holland.

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For anyone who’s paid attention to the various Marvel universes over the last decade, this is a pretty big “um…wait — what?!” moment to happen on screen. While Tom Holland is our current Peter, he’s never intersected with the others (at least, so far)—or anyone else outside of the Avengers. To best understand why the post-credits scene started making the rounds on TikTok and Twitter with such strong reactions attached, it’s important to remember that there are two Marvel universes playing out on the big screen. There’s the hugely successful, interlocking Marvel Cinematic Universe (the one with Captain America and Iron Man) that’s run for more than a decade, and then there’s Sony’s Spider-Man Universe (yes, that’s its real, official name). One universe has Spider-Man in it, and another universe is loaning Spider-Man out to the other. Stick with me.

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When Eddie Brock and Venom are watching Holland’s Spider-Man on the news, the only question on everyone’s tongue is whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Sony’s Spider-Man Universe will finally coexist. If the main characters from Venom: Let There Be Carnage are aware of Holland’s Peter Parker, does this mean that Venom can—and even might—appear in December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, the upcoming third entry in the MCU Spider-Man film series?

Before we answer that question, remember: Spider-Man: No Way Home specifically takes place (and is premiering) during a time when the MCU and its cast of heroes are undergoing a massive switch. Marvel Studios is about to kick off its big multiverse introduction—think of this as a way to allow multiple heroes from different eras and dimensions to all meet up with one another. Doctor Octopus, who appeared in 2004’s Spider-Man 2, will be in the new Spider-Man movie, for example, as will Jamie Foxx’s Electro from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014).

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Considering the plot of Spider-Man: No Way Home—in which Peter Parker asks Doctor Strange to use his cosmic powers to change time in order to go back to before his identity was revealed to the world, causing the time continuum to break in the process—it could make sense, story-wise, for Venom to appear. That’s especially true if the yellow glow we see in Let There Be Carnage’s post-credits scene is the result of whatever Doctor Strange might have done to open a portal.

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While Eddie Brock/Venom appearing in No Way Home could be feasible on a pure rights level (both Venom and Spider-Man are Sony-owned productions), the bigger question fans likely have is whether Sony-owned characters like Venom could eventually interact with heroes in a Marvel movie that Sony isn’t financing. Spider-Man belongs to Sony, but Spider-Man: No Way Home is also part of Disney’s MCU.

Yes, this is as complicated as it sounds. The way this works is that Spider-Man is a unique character within the Marvel pantheon; when Sony had the opportunity to buy the film rights to nearly all of Marvel’s comic book characters in the late ’90s, just after Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy, the studio decided to pass on most of the Marvel heroes. Instead, Sony Pictures paid Marvel $7 million for the rights to Spider-Man alone. 20th Century Fox picked up the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four, Iron Man bounced around, and Universal Pictures nabbed the Hulk.

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Over the past decade, and following the acquisition of Marvel by Disney in 2009, most of the rights to those characters wound up at Disney. This made the expansive cinematic universe possible, whereas any crossovers would have been caught up in the red tape of copyright before this consolidation. Since then, Disney’s Marvel movies have made more than $23 billion at the box office alone.

And Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019 meant the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can now exist in the MCU. It’s already happening. Evan Peters, who played a version of Quicksilver in Fox’s X-Men movies, reprised his role in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge way during Disney+’s WandaVision series. Disney is also currently working on a new Fantastic Four movie, bringing those (likely to be recast) heroes directly into the MCU for the first time.

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But Sony has seemingly never been interested in selling Spidey back to Marvel. Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man movie trilogy, which ran from 2002 through 2007, helped kick off the modern blockbuster era, let alone the superhero movie craze. It also brought in $2.5 billion at the box office, a huge success for Sony. Sony tried to repeat that level of success with the web slinger in 2012, to varying degrees of success. The two Andrew Garfield–starring Amazing Spider-Man movies grossed roughly $1.46 billion at the box office combined, which isn’t terrible, but critics and audiences weren’t as taken with the movies at the time as they were with the Tobey Maguire–led series

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Part of this is likely because, as the superhero genre grew post-Raimi Spider-Man movies, the recipe for what fans wanted changed. They wanted more. They wanted bigger. They wanted their favorite superheroes to interact with one another; they wanted an entire universe.

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After the MCU blew up by meeting fans exactly on their terms, Warner Bros., Fox, and Sony tried to figure out how to replicate what Disney accomplished with the various DC and Marvel characters they owned. Director Zack Snyder tried to create a Justice League shared universe for Warner Bros.; Fox created a new X-Men trilogy and focused on creating other character-driven standalone titles like Deadpool and Logan, while Sony drew up a list of Spider-Man-related characters to create stand-alone movies, with the intention that everything would intersect one day.

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Fans did want Spider-Man to interact with other superheroes, but they also wanted him to hang out with the big guys: the Avengers. Spider-Man, after all, is one of the best-known heroes out there, so introducing him to the Avengers franchise made a lot of sense to fans—and the potential meetup financially benefited his rights holders. Sony and Marvel struck an unprecedented deal in 2017 that gave Marvel Studios creative control over the newest set of Spider-Man movies, starring Tom Holland, and Disney the rights to merchandise, while Sony Pictures financed the films and retained nearly 100 percent of the box office revenue. Plus, Marvel Studios could then use Spider-Man in team-up films, like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

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What this amounts to, then, is that Peter Parker is effectively a child of divorce. The rights to Spider-Man remain a point of back-and-forth with Marvel Studios and Sony (at one point, the partnership ended for a very quick period of time that led to an extremely depressed fandom until it was fixed), but that contentious relationship is why Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s post-credits scene is causing an optimistic stir. It appears to set up a future where Venom could interact with Spider-Man but, more importantly, other Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes.

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So—with that in mind, will those Venom-Avengers team ups actually happen?

Like anything with our current media and entertainment landscape, and based on earlier precedent from Sony and Disney, never say never. But Sony and Disney are still competitors; if they’re going to work together, it has to benefit both companies. Disney coming in and taking creative control of Spider-Man at a time when Marvel Studios is creating the most in-demand superhero movies helps Sony at the box office. Marvel Studios having access to Spider-Man helps with the overarching universe the team is trying to build. Shared custody of Peter makes sense.

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Venom isn’t in the same wheelhouse right now. Eddie Brock (aka Venom) is a character who thrives on body-horror elements, absurd comedy, and more adult themes than the family-friendly Spider-Man does. He’s not exactly the archetypal MCU character, and trying to make him more MCU-like—a little more family-oriented, a little more bubbly, a little more Disney—for a crossover may not work. It may diminish the character or the movie where the crossover is happening. Spider-Man feels organic to the MCU’s current DNA right now. Venom, meanwhile, purposely screams, “anti-Disney Marvel character”—much like Deadpool. But considering a big part of Deadpool’s persona is based around breaking the fourth wall and pointing out the absurdity of what’s happening around him, his appearance in the MCU could be used a little more strategically; he embodies much of the humor and levity that is embedded within the MCU. Venom? Not so much.

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If Marvel and Sony wanted to continue their partnership by working with Venom next, they could find a way. As of right now, Venom is a big part of Sony’s superhero universe, but Marvel Studios may not want to figure out a place for Venom on its end just yet, based on how strange a fit he’d be within the MCU at the moment. Still, things are changing: Marvel will introduce a new version of Blade, a very mature-skewing hero, to the MCU in the next few years; Marvel, it seems, is interested in branching out from the explicitly family-friendly, good-humored heroes. As the universe expands, so does the type of characters who appear in films.

The one takeaway we, the general fans, should have after watching Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s post-credits scene is that, as the various Marvel universes keep expanding, they’re each beginning to feel connected, no matter which studio is behind them—the very feat that made Marvel Comics such a success more than 50 years ago and a key ingredient to the MCU’s first rounds of success.

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