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The Real Reason Venom Wasn't Rated R

Marvel Studios has managed to make an entire cinematic library worth of films in the past decade, films that have featured plenty of butt-kicking action from fan-favorite superheroes over more than 20 films without ever having to amp up the age restrictions to R. But when Sony Pictures decided to make a film featuring the Spider-Man villain Venom (sans Spider-Man himself, of course), the studio initially seemed to make its intentions for an R-rated film clear.

During production, director Ruben Fleischer spoke to ComicBook and explained that the plan was to bring audiences the "most violent Marvel character," because, let's face it, that's exactly who Venom, with his head-ripping, brain-eating tendencies, is.

"That's the plan. It is not the plan, that's the movie. Our movie wants to honor the comics as close as we can tonally," Fleischer said at that time. "In the comics, he bites people's heads off and eats brains. It would be weird to make a movie with Venom if he wasn't doing that. We tried to honor it as closely as possible. This is definitely a darker, more violent, more vicious Marvel character than I think anyone's ever seen before. We really want to honor the comics and the character from the comics, and I feel like we did a really good job."

Most fans would agree that Venom would have been a perfect fit for an R-rated flick, particularly given that there was no friendly neighborhood Spider-Man around in the film to actually stop him from tearing heads off and enjoying them as a light snack. But, lo and behold, when Venom finally hit theaters in October 2018, it carried the standard PG-13 rating. Why, exactly, is that?

The producers had a different vision for the film from the beginning

Upon the flick's release, the production crew made an about turn on what their intentions with the film had been, claiming they were never aiming for the R-rating in the first place. Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach, the executive producers of the film, spoke with ComicBook to clarify that the harder rating was never an option for the film.

"To me, R is not a consideration," Arad said. "Can you get away with not-R so that other people can see? So that younger people can see? I made an animated show. There was a lot of Venom in there. It was in '94. There's no reason to put in violence. To define what Venom is as violence. He's not. He's the lethal protector, which is a very different thing. We want to be really true to the comics. Today, [with] CGI and stuff, we can make Venom bite your head. But we don't have to show the head going side to side like, 'that actually tastes good.' It's irrelevant. What's relevant is that you finally understood, is that a bad guy? Yeah."

Arad's serving of word salad seems to be communicating exactly the opposite of what Fleischer was saying about the film at the beginning of production. Somewhere in there, however, he makes a reasonable point: Spider-Man and his ancillary characters are beloved by children and adults alike, and an R-rating for the film would have excluded a large portion of Venom's potential fan base from being able to actually watch it.

Tom Hardy remembers things a little differently

So, what exactly would the film have looked like had Venom been able to go all out? According to star Tom Hardy, there were a goodly number of scenes that were cut from the film. Speaking to ComicsExplained, Hardy stated that between 30 and 40 minutes of filming didn't make it to the final cut, including many of his favorite pieces. "Mad puppeteering scenes, dark comedy scenes. You know what I mean? They just never made it in," Hardy said.

Whether or not Hardy was telling tall tales or not is a little unclear, because Riz Ahmed — who portrayed the villain Carlton Drake in the film — did give him a bit of grief over his comments, telling Hardy that those scenes must have been cut because they "probably weren't very good." So, perhaps Hardy is embellishing when he talks about the violent scenes that audiences never got to see.

Also, consider that Tolmach made it clear to ComicBook that even if more scenes of violence scenes were filmed (which is a pretty big if, as far as we're concerned) they were never edited into a full cut at all. "There isn't some phantom version of the movie," Tolmach said. "Everyone is asking us that. Is there an R-rated cut sitting there? There isn't. We came into this production and the development of the movie wanting to make a movie that was true to Venom, true to the comics, and true to the character, but at the same time is a movie that 13-year-olds, 14-year-olds can see."

As it turned out, the PG-13 rating ended up working out well for Venom, which grossed over $850 million worldwide. If you're as hungry for more as movie Venom isn't for brains, you don't have long to wait: Venom 2 hits the big screen on October 2, 2020.