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'Venom' Box Office: Dramatically Diverse Audience Makes for Record October Opening

Another win was launching the pic in October, where it has no competition in terms of other superhero titles.

Nerves were on edge on the Sony lot late last week as filmmaker Ruben Fleischer's Venom began opening in theaters nationwide. Most critics crucified the superhero pic — starring Tom Hardy as the titular villain — which got a lowly 31 percent Rotten Tomatoes score that could have dinged the $100 million film.

But by Sunday, studio executives felt like heroes themselves. Venom shook off the bad notices by opening to a massive $80.3 million domestically, well ahead of even the most robust expectations. Heading into the weekend, tracking services had suggested the movie would open somewhere in the $55 million-$70 million range. Venom also notched an October best, easily beating the $55.5 million launch of Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity in 2013. 

One big reason for Venom's success: it appealed to an ethnically diverse audience of fanboys — more so than most superhero titles (Black Panther being the big exception). While Caucasians made up 38 percent of Venom ticket buyers on opening weekend, overall sales were fueled by Hispanics (26 percent), African-Americans (18 percent), Asians (11 percent) and Native American/Other (6 percent), according to those with access to comScore and Screen Engine's PostTrak exit-polling service.

By way of comparison, the opening-weekend breakdown for this summer's Ant-Man and the Wasp, from Disney and Marvel Studios, consisted of Caucasians (53 percent), Hispanics (19 percent), African-American (15 percent), Asian (8 percent) and Native American/Other (4 percent).

Venom is the latest sign that the general moviegoing population is becoming more diverse in certain instances in the wake of such films as Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians and Get Out. Diversity played a starring role at the summer box office in terms of those showing up for event films including The Meg and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. In summer 2015, 54 percent of the opening-weekend audience for Jurassic World was Caucasian; that stat dropped to 48 percent in the case of its sequel Fallen Kingdom. And since hit movies tend to create a certain momentum, satisfied consumers are more likely to return to take in another pic, irrespective of whether or not they see themselves specifically represented on the big screen.

"We wanted to create a great film for the broadest possible audience, and we did," Sony domestic distribution chief Adrian Smith says of Venom.

Sony's marketing campaign for the film contained a big sports push, including sponsoring one of the largest pay-per-view matches of the year, Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golavkin, in mid-September. Venom also had a presence during the NFL's opening weekend

Directed by Fleischer, Venom co-stars Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott. Males made up as much as 66 percent of the audience over the weekend, while a hearty 45 percent of ticket buyers were under the age of 25. While the movie didn't appeal to most reviewers, Venom drew loud praise from moviegoers, receiving a "total" positive rating of 80 percent on PostTrak.

The $100 million movie is a defining moment for Sony's film studio, led by Tom Rothman, as it tries to build its own stable of superhero pics — beyond the marquee Spider-Man movies — that are built around other characters from the Spider-Man universe it licenses from Marvel. Ari Arad, Matt Tolmach and Amy Pascal produced Venom.

"Tom Hardy delivered a kooky, manic performance that elevated the material and, in doing so, launched a franchise," says box-office analyst Jeff Bock. "It also didn't hurt that Sony's dark superhero film opened in October. Horror flicks have always dominated the haunting season, so why not try a slightly macabre superhero? This was a knockout punch from Sony."

Venom's early success also bodes well for the studio's animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, featuring Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino incarnation of Spider-Man, which is set to open Dec. 14. The next live-action studio superhero film, Warner Bros.' Aquaman, follows in theaters on Dec. 21.

Overseas, Venom's appeal was equally widespread as it soared to $125.2 million from 58 markets for a global bow of $205.2 million, also an October best. South Korea turned in $16.3 million, followed by Russia with a stellar $13.6 million.

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