When Venom hits theaters on October 5th, it will have been a long time coming. Hollywood has been trying to bring the titular Marvel Comics character to the big screen for ages, with various different iterations from a number of filmmakers having been developed and then scrapped along the way. The version that finally made it to the big screen hails from director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) with Tom Hardy in the lead role as Eddie Brock, but given Sony Pictures’ collaboration with Marvel Studios on the Peter Parker character as played by Tom Holland, this Venom movie had to come together without the character’s traditional foil.
Whether it’s successful remains to be seen, but before we get to the Venom movie that does exist, I wanted to take a look back at the other attempted adaptations of this character over the years.
To go back to the beginning of Venom’s proposed life on the big screen, you have to go back to the beginning of Spider-Man’s life on the big screen. A feature film adaptation of the webslinger was in the works for decades, with James Cameron famously at one point attached to direct, but it didn’t come into complete focus until 2000, when Columbia Pictures hired Sam Raimi to direct Spider-Man after landing the rights to the character and comics via a deal with MGM.
But just before that deal went through, in 1997, a Venom movie was actually being developed at New Line Cinema. David S. Goyer, who at the time was coming off the screenplay for The Crow: City of Angels and The Puppet Masters, had been tapped to write the script with Carnage serving as the main antagonist. Alas, that iteration went bust when Columbia Pictures/Sony obtained the rights and released Raimi’s Spider-Man to acclaim and massive box office success in 2002.
While Spider-Man 2 brought Doc Ock into the fold as the antagonist, Venom’s big debut came in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, the much-maligned Spider-Man sequel that put an end to Raimi’s iteration of the franchise. In fact, Venom was not originally supposed to be a part of the movie. Raimi wanted Vulture to be the film’s antagonist, bringing to the screen what he saw as a very cinematic villain. While Eddie Brock was planned as being part of the movie, Raimi had no interest in introducing Venom, citing the character’s “lack of humanity.” This was unacceptable for producer Avi Arad, who pointed to Venom’s popularity throughout the 90s as proof the character was overdue to appear in the films.
Arad’s arguments won out and Raimi was essentially forced to include Venom in Spider-Man 3, but in the finished film it’s clear that Raimi’s heart isn’t in the Venom story at all. Topher Grace filled the role of Brock/Venom, who is set up as a foil for Peter Parker throughout the movie. Spider-Man 3 grossed nearly $900 million after opening in May 2007, but reviews were unkind, specifically with regards to the Venom storyline.
Despite this, Arad announced a Venom spinoff in July of the same year, and that film went through a number of screenwriters including Deadpool scribes Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. Wernick and Reese’s script was a darker, more grounded, and more realistic take on the character, although at the time the studio was still undecided as to whether Grace would be back in the role or if they’d recast.
At the same time that this Venom spinoff was being developed, Sony was also working on getting Spider-Man 4 off the ground. Gary Ross, a noted script doctor at the time and the filmmaker behind Pleasantville, was brought in to do some work on Spider-Man 4, which Raimi hoped would course-correct the franchise. Sony sparked to Ross’ work and hired him to write and direct Venom in October 2009, at which point it became clear that Grace would not be returning to the role. And while Spider-Man 4 was being prepped to begin production in 2010, Sony had also hired James Vanderbilt (Zodiac) to go ahead and write Spider-Man 5 and Spider-Man 6, which could potentially reboot the franchise.
Indeed, just a few months later, in January 2010, Sony announced that Spider-Man 4 was being scrapped and the franchise was being completely rebooted. As it turns out, Vanderbilt had already been working on a script for The Amazing Spider-Man as a “backup” while creative conversations between Raimi and Sony were not going well. Raimi and his cast walked away, and Sony set out to start the Spider-Man franchise from scratch.
This threw a bit of a wrench into the Venom spinoff as Sony now had to focus on getting the Spider-Man franchise off the ground again, so Ross departed to go make The Hunger Games. But in March 2012, a few months before The Amazing Spider-Man hit theaters, it was announced that Venom had new life as Josh Trank entered negotiations to direct, fresh off the success of his found footage superhero movie Chronicle. Trank never actually closed his deal, though, and The Amazing Spider-Man debuted to less enthusiastic reviews and milder box office than Sony had hoped, so once again plans for Venom were retooled. Trank, meanwhile, moved on to Fox’s disastrous Fantastic Four reboot.
This time around, as Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci wrote The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and mapped out the rest of the franchise, they decided it was time for the Venom movie to finally, actually happen. In December of 2013, ahead of the May 2014 release of Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony Pictures announced grand, sweeping plans for the future of the Spider-Man franchise. Kurtzman, Orci, and Ed Solomon (Men in Black) were announced as the writers for Venom, with Kurtzman poised to make his directorial debut on the project, while Kurtzman, Orci, and Jeff Pinkner would tackle writing duties on The Amazing Spider-Man 3. At the same time, Drew Goddard would write and direct a Sinister Six movie, focusing on the villains from the franchise.
Precisely none of these movies ever happened, and the Venom film in this iteration never even got past a broad outline stage. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hit theaters in May and was pretty heavily savaged, not just for the storytelling but the copious stage-setting for future movies. That July, Sony delayed The Amazing Spider-Man 3 by two years and bumped up Sinister Six for a proposed release in November 2016.
Then in November of 2014, everything changed. The Sony hack revealed that Sony executive Amy Pascal had been in discussions with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige about teaming up on a Spider-Man movie. The following February, the deal was announced—Marvel Studios would take the creative lead on a new Spider-Man reboot, while Sony would still pay for and distribute the movie. In exchange, this new Spider-Man would appear in a number of MCU films, including Captain America: Civil War and Avengers 3 and 4. This meant that the Andrew Garfield franchise was dead, but questions loomed as to what would happen to Sony’s other non-Spider-Man characters.
Indeed, in March 2016 the Venom movie was revived once more, but this time with a major complication: Sony could not use the now-wildly popular Tom Holland Peter Parker, as that character was being shared with Marvel Studios’ MCU franchise. Sony’s Venom movie would have to go it alone.
Sony got a big boost in talent when Tom Hardy agreed to star with Zombieland and Gangster Squad filmmaker Ruben Fleischer signed to direct after a search that also included Adam Wingard (You’re Next). And while initial plans for Venom were to craft an R-rated start to a new franchise, one with a smaller budget in the vein of Logan and Deadpool, that ultimately didn’t end up being the case—potentially so that if Marvel Studios changes its mind about a crossover down the road, the PG-13 Venom would fit right in.
At long last the Venom movie now exists, with the aim to launch its own franchise. It’s been a complicated, hit-or-miss road to this point, but hopefully for the fans this adaptation of Venom will have been worth the wait.