After sharing the rights to Spider-Man with #Marvel in 2015, it looked like Sony would be taking a break from superhero movies. That was great news, and far from unexpected. The sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man buckled under the weight of shared-universe building, becoming the lowest-rated and lowest-grossing Spidey flick. With Peter Parker being introduced to the #MCU, it was assumed that Sony's plan for endless spin-offs and sequels was dead in water.
Oh, how wrong we turned out to be.
In rapid succession, the studio has announced a Venom movie and a Black Cat and Silver Sable movie. In a way, neither is too surprising, considering a Venom movie has been in development since 2007, and Black Cat and Silver Sable have been looked at for a solo outing since 2014. The only spin-off missing from Sony's original plan is a Sinister Six film, but maybe that's on the agenda too!
Still, there's something missing.
Anti-hero spin-offs made some sense when the ASM franchise was still a thing. Sony wanted rapid world-building, and introducing at least nine villains over the course of three films is certainly fast. Now, however, things seem more uncertain. With Spider-Man, the tether that connects these characters, off with the Avengers, no one really knows where or how these spin-off movies will operate. Let's take a look at all the ways it could shake down.
#4: They Take Place In The MCU
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an example of thorough cinematic engineering, peppered with a bit of chance. Spearheaded by Kevin Feige, the MCU introduces many new characters each year. Despite its ability to tease, set up, and expand these heroes and villains, the MCU has yet to do one thing: retroactively change continuity to introduce characters.
Make no mistake, we've seen tons of backtracking in the MCU. Loki's scepter holding the Mind Stone was a massive retcon. So was the infamous Mandarin twist apology, Stephen Strange on Zola's algorithm, and the Infinity Gauntlet in Odin's vault. Yet none bring a new hero into the fold. They created Spider-Man from scratch, and will likely do the same with the Fantastic Four and X-Men if those rights ever return to Marvel.
In a world as thorough and expansive as Marvel's, it's hard to explain where these characters have been for the past decade. (Spider-Man is easier; he was a kid when all the older MCU movies were happening.) If you think their "birth" could be in their movies, there's a fat chance of that happening. Suddenly introducing big-name characters would mean a lot of retooling for Marvel's biggest year since The Avengers.
There's also the fact the we've heard reports Kevin Feige is not involved with either movie. Shortly after the film's announcement, Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter took to Twitter to clear up some confusion:
Looks like we'll be waiting a little bit longer to see a single, cohesive Spider-Man universe.
#3: They Continue The Amazing Spider-Man Series
The brief Amazing Spider-Man franchise was a little weird. The first film started shooting in December 2010, a mere eleven months after a sequel to Sam Raimi's trilogy was cancelled. Despite the air of haste, the movie was met with fairly positive reviews and was a box office hit. Then things went south.
Success went to Sony's head. Suddenly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was less significant than a plan for setup for sequels and spin-offs. A Sinister Six movie, and the (now revived) Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable were part of that plan.
The only reason I've listed a franchise continuation as a real possibility is because of what happened after the Sony/Marvel deal was announced. Even though the casting of a new Spider-Man was underway, Sony pressed on with their three spin-offs. It was only in November 2015, a full nine months after the deal, that the plug was pulled. But given the fact that the success of superhero movies is reaching a fever pitch, it's not too surprising to see Sony getting back in the game. Even if it's through sheer stupidity and a total absence of logic.
#2: They Have Their Own (Off-Screen) Spider-Man
Off-screen characters are a tricky thing to handle. The audiences needs to understand the character and their place in the world enough to understand what's going on, but that character must be held back enough to prevent them from getting the limelight. It's especially hard with a major character like Spider-Man, who the audience knows is involved. Hell, Venom himself is basically a goth Spider-Man.
This trick has been used before to some success. Supergirl avoided using Superman for a full season before introducing the Man of Steel in its sophomore season. Still, audiences grew tired of the faceless text conversations and blurry back-of-the-head shots used to obscure Superman before his introduction. Would it work for a full length movie? Would it work for a series of full-length movies? Chances are no, but it's still more likely than having the spin-offs continue a dead franchise.
#1: They Share Continuity With The Animated Miles Morales Movie
Shortly after the Sony/Marvel deal, Sony forged ahead with an animated take on Spider-Man, unrelated to anything happening over at Marvel. The film is written by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and features Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker under the mask. So what does this family-friendly animated adventure have to do with an R-Rated sci-fi horror flick like Venom? As it turns out, a lot more than you would think.
When news of Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable first broke, it was pretty clear that Sony was trying to build a shared universe as quickly as possible. By throwing Animated Spider-Man (the working title for the movie) into the same continuity, their rickety universe could appeal to all sorts of audiences. The animated film would attract children (much like The Lego Batman Movie) and Venom would primarily bring in males over 25, while Black-Cat/Silver Sable would (ideally) primarily bring in women over 25. In just three movies, Sony could check off each of the four quadrants.
Another interesting thing to note are the release dates for the movies. Venom comes out on October 8, 2018, Animated Spider-Man follows two months later on December 21, and Black Cat/Silver Sable will likely see a 2018 release date too. As mentioned before, Sony can rope in each major demographic in the course of a single year.
Admittedly, it's insane to connect a hard-R movie with an almost definitely G-rated movie in hopes of crossing their audiences, but so is creating a universe based on the allies and enemies of a character you don't have the rights to. Sony is just a ballsy studio.