Sony Pictures | Jimmy Kimmel Live

Critics may have hated Venom, but moviegoers around the world simply don’t care. They’re embracing the film with their wallets to the tune of $673.5M after a massive $111M opening weekend in China. Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters is off to a fantastic financial start which may not be the best news for Spider-Man’s future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Venom‘s domestic performance has been impressive with $206.2M to date. The film’s opening in China, however, is flat out historic. Avengers: Infinity War ($191M) is the only superhero film with a higher opening weekend in the world’s second-largest movie market. That means Venom beat out every solo superhero film to ever open in China.

Sony Pictures is now blessed with options, something the studio lacked a few years ago in the wake of disappointing box office results for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and an email hacking scandal. Arguments that Sony no longer needs Disney and Marvel Studios get stronger by the day and that could place a lot of pressure on the Marvel-Studios-made Spider-Man: Far From Home next year.

When Sony and Marvel Studios originally announced their deal to share the movie rights to Spider-Man in February 2015, it was only a two-film pact. Spider-Man would appear in a Marvel team-up movie to be distributed by Disney and then Marvel Studios would produce a Spidey solo film for Sony to distribute. Those films were Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, respectively.

At the time, both studios expressed an interest in extending the deal and that happened. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) already appeared in Avengers: Infinity War this year and should rise from the ashes (or dust) in Avengers 4 next year for Disney. Marvel Studios has already completed production on next year’s Spider-Man: Far From Home for Sony.

According to what has been publicly announced, Spider-Man: Far From Home is the final film in the current pact between Sony and Marvel Studios/Disney. It is possible, however, that the studios have already signed another extension and are simply withholding the announcement until after Avengers 4, similar to the way Marvel is currently avoiding official announcements on every post-A4 project besides Far From Home.

If a secret extension is in place, that takes a little pressure off of Far From Home and places it on the third Marvel Studios solo Spider-Man movie. If there is no extension beyond Far From Home, Sony will be watching that film’s box office performance carefully while evaluating how best to proceed not only with Spider-Man but what the studio hopes is an entire universe of characters.

Working with Marvel Studios was a great movie for Sony. In just three years, Spider-Man went from having his lowest-grossing film in 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($709M) to his second best box office performance in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming ($880.2M). More importantly, Homecoming reversed an even longer trend of diminishing returns for the franchise.

Spider-Man 3 remains the franchise’s top financial performer with $890.1M worldwide in 2007. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story, however, as the film was a disappointment for critics and audiences. The favorite superhero franchise of the early 2000s lost the audience’s trust, resulting in a 2012 reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, which earned $757.9M.

That is hardly a terrible result, but at the time, it was the lowest total in the history of the franchise and a significant drop from Spider-Man 3. It is not unusual for the current franchise installment to pay a tax for the sins of the previous film. Some moviegoers who feel burned by the last film are not going to pay to see the new one no matter how good anyone tells them it is.

The Amazing Spider-Man was decent enough but had to absorb some ill will left behind by Spider-Man 3. We have seen it before with Batman Begins paying for Batman and Robin and since with Justice League being taxed for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It stands to reason that with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being the lowest-grossing and worst-reviewed film in the franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man 3 would have been the first Spidey film to drop below $700M worldwide, even if it was good.

Spider-Man needed a massive course correction and since Sony had lost the audience’s trust, it needed to borrow the trust Marvel Studios had established with moviegoers. Spider-Man: Homecoming improving upon The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s box office by over $170M was a direct result of Sony’s decision to work with Marvel Studios rather than continuing to go it alone. It was the right call in late 2014/early 2015, but now Sony has more options to consider.

For Sony, sharing Spider-Man means giving Marvel Studios at least some say in what happens with the character. There could be clauses in the “sharing contract” that specifically prohibit Sony from using the MCU Spider-Man in any other films without Marvel Studios’ consent. Even if those don’t exist, Sony doing something that Marvel Studios doesn’t like could result in Marvel exiting the relationship. Prior to Venom, that was something Sony genuinely had to worry about, but it may not be anymore.

Sony undoubtedly wants to see Marvel Studios continuing to add value to the franchise. Homecoming delivered in a big way, but Sony will want to see even more growth in Far From Home. The second Marvel Studios solo film will follow Spider-Man’s successful appearances in the $2-billion-smash Avengers: Infinity War and another presumed mega-hit in Avengers 4. Those appearances, combined with the reestablished Spidey brand value from Captain America: Civil War and Homecoming, should result in Far From Home becoming the first film in franchise history to top $900M worldwide.

Assuming that at least some audience members stayed away from Homecoming because of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, despite Marvel Studios’ involvement in the former, there are still plenty of ticket purchases to add for Far From Home. Sony is going to want to see the ceiling of this franchise raised next year.

There is actually a reasonable case to be made for Far From Home coming in a little under Homecoming. Sure, all of that Avengers momentum will be nice, but Far From Home will be Tom Holland’s fifth appearance as Spider-Man in just over three years. Sony, however, is unlikely to accept overexposure as an excuse for Far From Home not growing the audience for the franchise.

Unless an unannounced deal extension is in place, Sony may strongly consider ending the pact with Marvel Studios if Spider-Man: Far From Home grosses under $900M. Conversations about terminating the relationship with Marvel may even happen if Far From Home doesn’t give Spidey his first billion-dollar hit. Spider-Man sells more merchandise than any superhero in the world. If Batman, Iron Man, and Black Panther all have billion-dollar-movies, Spider-Man is capable of having one.

Sony now has to weigh the value Marvel Studios adds to Spider-Man against the value potentially offered by Sony’s own Universe of Marvel Characters. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man battling Tom Hardy’s Venom could certainly provide a big event attraction for audiences. Holland is signed on for at least on more Spider-Man solo film, though it’s unclear if he would be allowed to opt out if Marvel Studios isn’t involved. If Sony has him locked in, then we could see Holland versus Hardy in that third solo film.

Of course, Sony may not want to overplay its hand by moving away from Marvel Studios too soon. Venom is inarguably a hit. It will fly past $700M soon and could top $800M depending on the strength of its legs in China. Even if Venom owes some of its success to the Spider-Man brand that Marvel Studios just strengthened, the main point is that Sony has the makings of a new franchise on its hands. A film that was intended to launch a universe has at least enjoyed its own standalone success.

Sony now has to figure out whether or not Venom can propel a shared universe of movies. Venom 2 will probably be a hit, but will it be as big of a hit as the first film? Do audiences really care about seeing more of this franchise, or was Venom carried by “so bad it’s good” sentiment that will quickly fade?

Sony probably thinks it got away with one in Venom. Nothing the studio did in the weeks prior to Venom‘s release indicates there was any internal confidence in the film. Studio executives likely agreed with critics’ assessments of the movie given the late press screenings and not lifting the review embargo until the last minute. The money is right, but even if Sony goes solely by box office, Venom does not necessarily signal that moviegoers want the rest of this universe.

The next film up in Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters is supposed to be Morbius, starring Jared Leto. Also in development are films for Spider-Man characters Silver Sable, Black Cat, Kraven, Silk, and Jackpot. None of these projects, though, have the same built-in name recognition as Venom. Aside from Spider-Man, Venom tops the box office potential of any Marvel character to which Sony currently holds the rights (except for possibly the Miles Morales Spider-Man and Silk).

Venom does not guarantee anything for Morbius. That could either lead to Sony being cautious and sticking with Marvel Studios for Spider-Man, or pulling the character to make sure Eddie Brock (Hardy) isn’t shouldering more than he can carry. The smart play for Sony is to be patient and make a third Spider-Man film with Marvel Studios while waiting to see how Morbius and Venom 2 perform to determine the long-term viability of Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters. Sony, though, doesn’t always make the smart play.

Sony has other options aside from pulling Tom Holland out of the MCU and into the SUMC. The studio could cast another actor as an older Peter Parker (who may or may not be Tom Holland all grown up). Sony also has the option of skipping Peter Parker entirely and letting Miles Morales be the Spider-Man of the SUMC. If Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a big hit next month, the demand for a live-action iteration of the Miles Morales Spider-Man will be huge.

MCU fans may not be big fans of that option, as they want to see Miles Morales working with other Marvel heroes just as Peter Parker has been doing. Most fans want all of the Spider-Man movie rights to move over to Marvel Studios so all characters can be together, pending the completion of the Disney-Fox deal that will add X-Men and Fantastic Four characters.

That could still happen if Sony is bought by another studio (and the Spider-Man rights are non-transferrable even in the event that Sony is acquired). Sony may also sell the rights back to Disney at an inflated price thanks to the success of Venom. Given that Disney just spent a bunch of money on Fox, though, fans should prepare themselves to endure the SUMC, at least for a little while.

They should also go see Spider-Man: Far From Home, a few times, or perhaps Spidey will never be allowed to go home again.