FANS WERE ON BOARD FOR THE WILD RIDE
After the success Fox had with the R-Rated Deadpool and Logan, it was hoped the stage had been set for Sony's anti-hero film to follow suit, allowing Venom to be reintroduced to movie-goers with unrestricted viciousness. Despite winding up with a neutered PG-13 rating, trailers for the film sold it as a dark, horror-influenced superhero origin story for those who believe "the world has enough superheroes."
What we actually got was a tonal jumble that failed to commit to either genre: a horror movie without enough horror and a superhero movie without a superhero. Weirdly, what it did succeed at was being a pretty entertaining buddy comedy. Tom Hardy's unhinged performance playing both Eddie Brock and his potty-mouthed "parasite" earned him comparisons to "mid-'90s Jim Carrey," which producer Amy Pascal agrees was the reason audiences connected with the film. "When he gets in the tub with all those lobsters in the restaurant," she told Vanity Fair, "I thought that was a pretty perfect, zany tone."
VENOM'S MONSTER APPEAL
Debuting in 1984's The Amazing Spider-Man #252, the alien Symbiote fast became a fan favorite Spider-Man antagonist, and it's easy to see why. There's an undeniable appeal to the character's design, from the rows of razor-sharp teeth to the elongated tongue to its twisted reflection of the classic Spidey suit.
That's why Venom's initial absence in the movie's trailers set alarm bells off for some, and why it was a relief to see his Cheshire Cat grin slime its way around Tom Hardy's face in later ones. Paralleling more recent Marvel comics continuity, the film also managed to establish a cosmic origin story independent of Spider-Man, allowing Venom some anti-heroic flexibility.
BIG IN CHINA
More and more, Hollywood movies are looking to China, home to the world's second-largest film market, to prop up their domestic takings. The Fast & Furious franchise is increasingly making more of its money abroad, while 2018's surprise summer hit The Meg, a genetically engineered beast of American and Chinese making, scored $150 million in the country.
Venom continued this trend, gobbling up just under $270 million -- a quarter of its total global haul -- in Chinese ticket sales, scoring an extended theatrical release in the process. The film's popularity with Chinese audiences is thought to be threefold: it doesn't pander to East Asian audiences as films like Iron Man 3 were accused of doing; it escaped the harsh censorship that American films usually undergo and, ahead of the film's release, the character was given a huge boost in popularity after inexplicably became a "socialist meme" star.
THE POWER OF 'SYMBROCK'
The contribution of “headcanon” towards Venom’s success shouldn’t be underestimated. Headcanon is fan interpretation of a property’s story and/characters, a reconfiguration that may not look anything like the actual canon its based on. Even before the film’s release, fan art was circulated depicting Eddie and Venom as an inter-species Odd Couple, both in the platonic and romantic sense.
Where the latter is concerned, the “Symbrock” pairing rocketed up Tumblr’s Fandometric shipping charts within a month of the film coming out. In this way, Venom took on a life of its own, one that Sony recognized in its repositioning of the movie as a rom-com for the Blu-ray release trailer, and in its marketing of the character to China as the perfect boyfriend material.
CRITICS BE DAMNED
An unexpected side effect of Venom’s critical drubbing was the underdog quality it took on. The Marvel brand has become associated with cinematic excellence, making the prospect of a Marvel movie flop -- even one outside of the MCU -- a novelty that no doubt caught the attention of the morbidly curious.
Some disparity between audience and critical opinion is normal, but battling theatrical franchises have intensified this divide of late. Lowered expectations for audiences going into Venom could have made it easier to commend it simply for not being as bad as reported. Pleas of "IGNORE THE CRITICS!" became common review headlines from members of the public. In fact, it might as well double-up Venom's home release strapline.