How 'Venom' defied critics to become a global smash

‘Venom’ reviews compare Tom Hardy’s supervillain movie to Razzie-winning’ Catwoman’ (Sony Pictures)
‘Venom’ reviews compare Tom Hardy’s supervillain movie to Razzie-winning’ Catwoman’ (Sony Pictures)

Tom Hardy’s Venom is a bona fide box office hit.

The Spider-Man spin-off has now earned £287 million at the global box office (£107 million in North America, £13.7 million in the UK) and is on course to outgross both Hugh Jackman’s Logan and DC’s Justice League.

The Marvel movie has given Oscar contenders A Star Is Born and First Man a huge headache too. The super-villain film drew big audiences in its second weekend, which means Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong biopic had to make do with a disappointing fourth place at the UK box office in its debut week.

Venom’s success is likely to continue too, and it’s being predicted to finish with a cumulative box office of around £435-454 million by Forbes which, for a film that reportedly cost around £75 million, means huge profits for Sony Pictures.

And yet critics largely disliked Venom.

The film’s critical consensus stands at just 31% positive reactions out of 249 reviews tallied on Rotten Tomatoes. Five Live’s Mark Kermode called it “a tonal mess”, Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described it as “clumsy, monolithic and fantastically boring” and Times’ Kevin Maher went all in naming it “the worst comic-book blockbuster of the decade”.

So what gives? Why is there such a huge divide between the critical and commercial results for the film?

Venom works for audiences

Yesterday the Guardian posed the question “Is Tom Hardy’s Venom the new Greatest Showman?”, and they weren’t comparing the song and dance numbers, but the gulf between audience and critics reaction to the films.

The Hugh Jackman musical, released late last year, was also met a lukewarm critical response but earned £325 million. It faired slightly better than Venom review-wise, earning 56% positive reviews according to Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s on the review aggregating site that we begin to see the wider picture emerging.

The audience score – what punters actually thought of the film – on Rotten Tomatoes for The Greatest Showman was 87% positive.

Venom’s audience score is even higher at 88%, so this means the film is generating great word-of-mouth buzz. Simply put, people are going to see the film multiple times, AND recommending it to their friends.

Any film with a built-in audience can have a big first week but for a film to become a hit, it has to have box office legs, and not have a huge drop in the second week. Earlier this summer Shane Black’s The Predator debuted with a £2.4 million opening week, but audiences dropped off by 59% in its second week taking just £678,000.

In comparison, Venom opened with £8m and suffered a drop of just 46% taking another £ 3 million. So while Venom might not have lived up to the high standards of film critics, it’s definitely living up to the hype for audiences.

The Tom Hardy effect

It’s hard to overstate how important Tom Hardy is to the success of this film. He’s one of the few A-list stars remaining who can open a film based off his name alone.

Sony knew this, and that’s why all the posters for the film only feature his name, despite there being a number of huge names in the film including Golden Globe-winner Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed.

Hardy is part of the reason Venom had a great opening week, which then led to the strong word of mouth. He doesn’t star in many films, he’s very choosy, and has built himself a great reputation for making quality films – his last three films before Venom were Dunkirk, The Revenant, and Legend, and so his name has become a seal of quality.

For casual film-going audiences this is everything. If they’re going to shell out for a trip to the pictures, they want it to be worth their while and that’s what Hardy offers.

The Marvel impact

We are living in the superhero age, and Venom is just another blockbuster off the conveyor belt. There’s definitely no sign of fatigue from audiences, and Venom was released at precisely the right time. Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2, and Ant-Man and The Wasp, had come and gone this summer, and audiences were hungry for more Marvel product, regardless of the studio behind it.

It’s a long wait until Aquaman, so dropping Venom in the gap after the summer holidays, before Christmas. and at a time prestigious Oscar pics traditionally take their bow was a canny move from Sony Pictures.

The Venom character is cult figure among Marvel fans, almost as recognisable as his arch-nemesis Spider-Man, and so it’s no surprise audiences were ready to turn out in their droves for his first solo film.

Will they be back for the inevitable sequel? We’d put good money on it.

Venom is in cinemas now.

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