As a lifelong horror fan and cinephile, I've been keeping Venom on my radar for one major reason: When the project was first announced in March 2017, Sony assured fans the film would venture into horror movie territory and would undoubtedly require an R rating. To me, it was proof that my favorite genre was gaining serious traction with mainstream audiences while simultaneously offering hope that the glut of formulaic superhero flicks we've been bombarded with over the past few years would finally forge new and thrilling pathways forward. To date, the only superhero franchise to fully embrace the R rating is Deadpool, though raunchy adult humor is the envelope those films push, not horror tropes.
Unfortunately, Sony's enthusiasm for an R rating seems to have waned in the past year and a half; though no official announcement has been made, we're getting word that executives with cold feet are walking back promises for an R-rated Venom, instead courting a "hard" PG-13 (whatever that means). So, what's the reasoning behind the studio's about face? The folks at Variety have some theories.
The site states that an R rated Venom is now extremely unlikely, despite trailers for the film featuring more extreme horror elements than your typical superhero fare. Still, the big-wigs would rather push the limits of PG-13 to the max without actually crossing the line into R territory. Though Venom is a stand-alone, the studio is talking a long-view of the property, imagining additional films that will see the extraterrestrial "Symbiote" cross paths with his Marvel Comics archnemesis, Spiderman. Any film that features the teenage web-slinger will require a PG-13 rating, as the hero and his films have always framed themselves as family-friendly entertainment.
Related: Why Venom Can Never Join the MCU
Venom is directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Santa Clarita Diet); in addition to Hardy, the film stars Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, and Woody Harrelson (the latter is rumored to be playing Venom's foil, Carnage).
Sony seems not to have noticed Warner Bros. bravery and subsequent success with 2017's IT. Though not a superhero flick, that film featured a crew of teenage protagonists and had previously been adapted into a made-for-TV miniseries in 1990. Still, Warner Bros. bucked trends and expectations, allowing director Andy Muschietti to shatter PG-13's strict parameters in order to truly convey the horror of Stephen King's bestselling novel. Despite seeming to close the doors on audiences under the age of 17, IT was one of 2017's biggest critical and financial successes; a follow-up is currently being shot in Toronto targeting a September 2019 release. Obviously, IT's R rating didn't deter fans or critics, nor did it limit the property's potential for a sequel. It proves audiences truly want more thrills and chills in major studio films; what we don't need is another cookie-cutter superhero flick that tiptoes to the border of horror, but refuses to cross the line.
I'm still willing to give a PG-13 Venom a whirl when the film invades US theaters this fall; I just won't go in with the same high expectations. This news came our way via Variey.