With the release of “Morbius”, we’re officially three films into Sony’s Spider-Man Universe — formerly Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters. That’s technically four, if you count “Spider-Man: No Way Home” because of its post-credit scene featuring Tom Hardy’s Eddy Brock/Venom. What began as a highly unorthodox and widely criticized move with 2018’s “Venom”, in which Sony laid out its plans to make standalone movies of “Spider-Man” villains without the webslinger in them has paid off at the box office, with both “Venom” films being financial hits, and “Morbius” coming very close to breaking even with a $147 million global haul at the box office, assuming its advertising spend was at least equal to its reported $75 million budget.
Critically, all three have been panned. I can’t speak for the Venom films, as I haven’t seen them yet, but I do think the negative reactions to “Morbius” have been overblown; it is certainly missing a few scenes that could have helped its case, but it is miles above bland MCU entries like “Thor: The Dark World” and the awkward first “Ant-Man” film.
The multiversal trickery that occurred in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” really helped Sony blaze a path forward for their Spider-Man film universe, as it allowed a way for them to include Michael Keaton’s Vulture from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in the post-credits scene for “Morbius”, which sets up what looks like will be a future villain team-up film, and the reintroduction of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men to general audiences also makes it much easier to use either version of the webslinger in future projects without disrupting whatever plans Marvel/Disney have for Tom Holland’s version of him going forward. “No Way Home” created a scenario where, thanks to the existence of Marvel’s multiverse, all film versions of “Spider-Man” and his villains are fair game, and everything is canon.
Sony has also learned a key lesson that has made their SSU films profitable thus far: Keep the budgets around — preferably under — $100 million. As we’ve seen with the less-than-enthusiastic reception towards mainstream MCU releases “Black Widow” and “Eternals”, even superhero films with issues can make respectable money; though those films struggled to earn back $200 million budgets and assumed equal ad spends. With both “Venom” films costing around $100 million, and “Morbius” costing considerably less, Sony has adopted a financial model similar to horror studios in which films budgets are kept relatively low so even moderate box office success will be enough to cover all expenses — with both “Venom” films earning considerably more than what Sony put into them.
With that being said, “Morbius” has lost notable steam as it nears profitability, and while I don’t think Sony will lose money on it, it won’t make a ton on it either. I don’t expect them to greenlight a Morbius 2, but I do expect to see the character in plenty more future Marvel/Sony films.
The upcoming “Kraven the Hunter” film will be the real stress test for the SSU, though I think Sony’s “Venom” films will keep it alive no matter what. I also think that it won’t take much for “Kraven” to be successful — some loose connections to Spider-Man and the MCU might do the trick — like it did for “Morbius” — and if they can get Maguire or Garfield (most likely Garfield) to reprise their Spider-Men even for a few short scenes, it’ll be guaranteed to be a financial success, assuming Sony’s spending habits in regards to the budget remains the same.
Like it or not, but Sony’s sliver of the MCU has been successful and, at least for now, is here to stay.