The first of Sony’s Spider-Man spin-off movies, Venom, was released last fall. Against several critics expectations — mine included — Venom ended up being a huge success for the studio. The movie made $855.8 million at the worldwide box office, seemingly proving that there was steam to Sony’s superhero movies. The next film in the series is Morbius, but while Sony likely feels emboldened by Venom’s home run, Morbius is probably unlikely to follow in Venom’s footsteps for the studio because it lacks what made Venom successful: notoriety.
For starters, nobody knows who the hell Morbius is, whereas even average moviegoers were at least a little familiar with Venom.
For those who may not know, Morbius, the Living Vampire is a Spider-Man villain/anti-hero. Michael Morbius was a brilliant scientist who accidentally turned himself into a vampire-like creature after trying to cure his blood disease. He often tries to find a cure for his condition while battling the insatiable hunger for human blood.
In many ways, Morbius is like Venom. Both started out as villains and then became brooding anti-heroes trying to balance their lust for violence with a desire to do good. In that way, it’s easier to see why Sony chose Morbius to lead a movie and why his story was tasked with following Venom.
The problem, though, is that as far as popularity goes, the two characters aren’t anywhere close to the same weight class. If Venom is the high school quarterback, then Morbius is the kid with his shirt tucked into his underwear.
While plenty of fans bemoaned the idea of a Venom movie without Spider-Man, he’s still at least a logical choice to receive a film. I could argue that Venom is an uninteresting character and a bad villain for hours, but there’s no denying that he has a huge fanbase. Venom found popularity in the late ’80s and ’90s when the most popular comics were the ones with anti-heroes, massive muscles, ammo pouches and a cool look. Characters like Deadpool, Lobo, Cable and Wolverine thrived, and Venom is definitely part of that bunch too.
That popularity has pretty much followed him ever since. Venom is one of the most well-known Spider-Man bad guys and has appeared in many different TV shows, video games, books and other media. He arguably got his biggest shot in Spider-Man 3 where he was played by Topher Grace. That didn’t turn out well for anyone involved, but by 2018, even the most casual of audiences could likely look at Venom and place him as “evil Spider-Man.”
Morbius does nor have that level of name recognition. He’s appeared in a few different Spider-Man cartoons, but he’s a character that you use after you’ve already gone through all the popular villains. At the end of the day, he’s a C-list character.
Venom already had that fanbase built-in, which helped boost its box office. Over $800 million is nothing to scoff at, and I think the character’s popularity had a big role to play in that because the movie on its own isn’t that impressive. It’s about as generic and uninspired a blockbuster as you can get, and it’s all impressively propped up by Tom Hardy’s gonzo performance.
I’m not trying to say that a movie needs have a pre-existing fanbase to be successful, but it helps! That’s why studios look for existing IPs to reboot or make into films; because it’s less of a risk than starting from scratch. Aquaman and Black Panther are two of the highest grossing movies of 2018, and both of the films’ respective lead characters were introduced ahead of time.
The fact that I felt that I had to explain who Morbius was earlier is an indicator of how little I think people know or care about him. It’s not so much that he’s a bad character, but he doesn’t stand with big dogs like Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus.
Of course, there could be various other factors that end up helping Morbius in the long run, but the deck is stacked against it. A lot of it depends on who the rest of the cast is and what the movie actually looks like. It could be that the first trailer really raises the hype, but we won’t find those things out for a long time still.
I will say, though, that if there’s any actor who can match Tom Hardy’s go-for-broke performance in Venom, it’s probably Jared Leto. The actor infamously went all in while playing The Joker in Suicide Squad, sending rats to his co-stars, amongst other things. The actor might be able to take this vampire and really push him to the limits.
However, even while I would say that Venom isn’t a particularly interesting character, he’s still better than Morbius. Venom at least has a Jekyll and Hyde thing between Eddie Brock and the symbiote that’s entertaining to watch. According to the small armies worth of Venom fanart, people agree with that.
Morbius is less likely to leave as strong of an impression on fans. Morbius is a reluctant vampire, which is something that’s already been done dozens of times. People have seen this type of character before, so it’s up to Morbius finding a new spin on this trope that’s different from all the others. It might be fun to watch a guy like Spider-Man try to deal with a vampire, but without the Wall-Crawler, what is it that makes Morbius special?
It’s still too early to speak in any definitive terms whether Morbius will be Sony’s next Venom. It could be that the first trailer blows people out of the water and then people get really interested in seeing this movie. At this moment in time, I would say it’s an uphill battle. Morbius doesn’t have quite the popularity that helped Venom become a box office juggernaut and there are other challenges the movie has to face. Venom’s success completely took me by surprise, but it makes sense. Only time will tell if Morbius is able to exceed expectations to keep Sony’s hot streak alive.
Morbius hits theaters on July 31, 2020.
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