“Morbius” showed Sony the limits of Spider-Man’s cinematic web

Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius in “Morbius”
Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius in “Morbius”
Image: Columbia Pictures
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Morbius, the vampire superhero movie starring Jared Leto, is the latest offshoot from the Spider-Man franchise, but it’s not faring as well as its predecessors at the box office. 

The film had a $39 million opening weekend in the US, which is less than half the box office opening of fellow Spider-Man spin-off Venom, which opened at $80 million, and the sequel to which, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, drew $90 million. 

In comparison, the lowest opening for the latest three-film Spider-Man films was Spider-Man: Far From Home at $92 million. However, Morbius isn’t a failure, especially considering its $75 million budget compared to Venom’s $100 million budget and Carnage’s $110 million budget. The soft opening though isn’t a great sign for what Sony has identified as a deep well of Spider-Man-related comic book stories to be mined for movie fans. 

Why Sony’s Spider-Man franchise won’t automatically deliver spin-off successes 

Leto’s character first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man comic in 1971 as Morbius, the Living Vampire, becoming one of Spider-Man’s more frequent enemies. Eventually, Morbius became part of the Sinister Six, a group of Spider-Man-hating super villains including Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, Sandman, Vulture, and Kraven the Hunter. 

Those names will be familiar to longtime fans of the Spider-Man comics, but for casual fans, only a couple will stand out. That relative obscurity could present a challenge as Sony continues to try to build out the Spider-Man cinematic universe (also known as the Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters, or SPUMC).

Sony’s villains could be fighting for fan attention alongside Disney, which has been an overall more successful Marvel partner both critically and financially. Disney’s latest roster of lesser-known Marvel characters are mostly set to debut via streaming television. The Disney+ series Hawkeye and Moon Knight have been well received. And in June, Disney+ will debut Ms. Marvel, with She-Hulk arriving on the same service later this year. 

How Morbius could set up the next series of Spider-Man-related films

In 2018, Venom went on to earn $856 million globally at the box office, a performance that immediately called for a sequel, which also brought in a respectable $502 million worldwide. For the Leto-led project to approach those numbers, the film would need to somehow shake off scathing reviews from critics and a still fragile post-pandemic movie theater environment.

The one glimmer of hope for Morbius, and a possible sequel, is the fact that Venom was met with similarly tepid reviews, which were counterbalanced by stronger ratings from audiences. In the post-credits scene of Morbius [Warning: Spoilers ahead], the vampire anti-hero meets Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) who first appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming

The appearance of Vulture alongside Morbius hints at a possible Sinister Six movie, which was originally planned for 2016 and then canceled during a previous iteration of the Spider-Man franchise. Despite that rocky history, the villain team-up movie could still be in play, depending on how Morbius fares in the weeks ahead.