In 1988, Amazing Spider-Man writer David Michelinie and artist Todd McFarlane rocked Peter Parker’s world with the introduction of Venom. While it’s true that the genesis of the character began four years earlier because of the Secret Wars comic, it wasn’t until Michelinie and McFarlane that Spider-Man’s living alien costume was revealed to have joined with disgraced journalist Eddie Brock to get revenge on the man they both hated.
During the ensuing decades, Venom had a brief run as one of Spider-Man’s most compelling villains. From there, Marvel decided to turn Venom into an anti-hero so it could put him in his own spinoff comics. That eventually led to Venom headlining his own movies in 2018 and 2021. Due to the actor’s strike, Venom 3 has been pushed to 2025, but it is still coming.
To celebrate the 35th anniversary of this iconic character, we’re taking a look back at the 10 best versions of Venom. And to no one’s surprise, the wildly miscast Topher Grace and his version of Venom from Spider-Man 3 didn’t place on our list.
The first-ever animated appearance of Venom came in 1994 with the debut of Spider-Man: The Animated Series on Fox Kids. Unlike the comics, the producers of the show introduced Eddie Brock (voiced by The Simpsons‘ Hank Azaria) as a member of the supporting cast several episodes before he became joined with the Venom symbiote from another world. Another significant change from the canon that worked out for the best is that Eddie worked for The Daily Bugle alongside Peter Parker. So they weren’t strangers when they first went up against each other.
When Eddie finally does become Venom in this series, he immediately becomes one of Spidey’s most intimidating foes despite his initial defeat. But in a nod to Marvel’s desire to make Venom a hero, Eddie does ultimately redeem himself in his last appearance by opposing the symbiote’s evil offspring, Carnage.
By the time Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage hit video game consoles, Venom’s hero turn was well underway. In previous video games, Venom was often one of the final boss characters that players had to beat.
But in this game, which was based on an incredibly drawn-out crossover storyline, gamers could finally play as Venom for the first time in some side-scrolling Final Fight-inspired gameplay.
Eddie Brock and his late ex-wife, Anne Weying, never had any children in their initial storylines. That didn’t stop Marvel from retroactively establishing that they did have a son named Dylan. In fact, Dylan’s origin is so convoluted that even the watered-down version sounds crazy. It goes like this: Dylan is the biological child of both Eddie and Anne, but he was genetically engineered by the symbiotes, and implanted in Anne’s womb as the ultimate weapon against Knull, the King in Black and the creator of all symbiotes.
If Dylan ever makes it into the movies, he needs a more streamlined origin. And he might eventually make it to the big screen because Dylan Brock is the new host of the Venom symbiote in Marvel’s comic book continuity. Unlike his father, Dylan started out with the best of intentions. But he has also made some morally questionable actions along the way. Just not as many as his dad did.
The Venom from Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man was Eddie Brock Jr., a former friend of Peter Parker who was frankly, a bit of a dink. This attempt to update Brock’s persona and origin largely fell flat with comic fans. Thankfully, the Ultimate Spider-Man video game offered some redemption for this take on the character.
Players were once again able to take control of Venom in this game. Yet unlike other games, Ultimate Spider-Man allowed players to utilize Venom’s monstrous side, including a very real need to continuously eat innocent bystanders in order to stay alive. The comic book-inspired style of the game also made this incarnation of Venom stand out.
The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series successfully picked from several different eras in the comics when bringing the webslinger back to TV. One of the major changes was the way that Eddie Brock (Benjamin Diskin) was more thoroughly integrated into the life of Peter Parker (Josh Keaton). In this incarnation, Peter and Eddie were actually friends and interns/lab assistants at Empire State University.
But over the course of the first season, Eddie sours on Peter because of what he believes to be selfish and irresponsible decisions that cost Eddie his job. That’s why Eddie so eagerly accepts the Venom symbiote when he discovers that it hates Peter just as much as he does. Peter had previously rejected the symbiote, and in Eddie, the symbiote had a willing partner to take on Spider-Man both in and out of costume.
After a prolonged period in which Venom had regressed to villainy, Marvel reinterpreted the character again. This time, Flash Thompson, a Spider-Man supporting character since the ’60s, was given the Venom symbiote by the United States government so that they could utilize its powers for matters of national security.
When joined with Flash, the symbiote and its host were referred to as Agent Venom. They made a good team together, and they even earned a place for themselves on Captain America’s Secret Avengers squad.
Before Agent Venom and after Eddie Brock’s first run with the symbiote, Mac Gargan was chosen as the long-term host for the Venom symbiote. Gargan, who was previously a Spider-Man villain using the codename Scorpion, had no conscience or moral qualms about killing people. That’s why the symbiotes’ dark appetites were truly unleashed again, and Venom reestablished himself as a formidable villain.
This version of Venom was also a member of the Thunderbolts and the Dark Avengers while serving as a pawn of Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin. During this era, Marvel didn’t even pretend that Venom had redeemable qualities, and it was for the best. Why? Because there are already too many Spider-Men and Spider-Women, and not enough bad guys as formidable as Venom during this phase of his career.
Venom (Tony Todd) plays a major role in the newly released Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 for PlayStation 5. During the post-credits scene for the first game, it was revealed that Norman Osborn was using the Venom symbiote to treat his son, Harry Osborn, for a terminal disease. In the sequel, Harry emerges in full Venom mode, and he even becomes playable for a brief period of time.
However, the best parts of this game involve the symbiote bonding with Peter and making him a much darker Spider-Man. This arc has been played out before, most notably in Spider-Man 3 on the big screen. Yet it’s even more effective here because gamers spend hours enjoying the newfound abilities that the symbiote gives Peter. It also shows Peter’s downward spiral into darkness as the corrupting influence of the symbiote threatens to destroy every relationship that he has.
When Eddie Brock and the symbiote debuted as Venom in 1988, their union created one of the most memorable comic book villains in decades. Venom was the anti-Spider-Man who had all of Peter Parker’s abilities and more. He was also so singularly focused on killing Spider-Man that Venom murdered innocent people along the way.
Marvel keeps glossing over that murderous history because Venom’s popularity led the publisher to put him in a leading role as an anti-hero in his own recurring solo miniseries. Venom’s “lethal protector” phase in the ’90s was oversaturated, and yet the character wouldn’t be the more heroic figure that he is today without all of those stories paving the way. Brock was eventually separated from the Venom symbiote, only to be reunited with it a number of years later.
Tom Hardy’s take on both Eddie Brock and Venom is a bit goofier than the way the characters are portrayed in the comics. But the reason why they’re ranked higher than the original comic book version of Venom is that they don’t have innocent blood on their hands like their predecessor does. This version of Venom doesn’t need to be redeemed for their individual sins. Venom can still be lethal at times, but you’ll never see this version of Venom killing innocent people just to get to Spider-Man.
By placing Venom outside of Spider-Man’s orbit for the first time, the films allowed the character to standalone in a way that he never could before. That also created an even greater anticipation for the inevitable meeting of Hardy’s Venom and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, as teased in the mid-credits scene of Spider-Man: No Way Home.