We’re almost positive that at least once a week, Kevin Feige—president of Marvel Studios—wakes up in a cold sweat from a nightmare where Marvel optioned off the rights to most of its best and most popular characters. Relieved that it was only a dream, Feige lays back down to sleep. Seconds later he bolts upright realizing that, oh, yeah, that’s exactly what happened.
Between 1986 and 1996, Marvel sold off most of the rights to its best characters—including Fantastic Four, X-Men, Daredevil, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and, uh, Howard the Duck—to try and make a quick buck during a difficult period of lagging comic book sales. The deal was such that a new film had to be made every few years or the rights would revert back to Marvel. So if you’re wondering why we continue to get Fantastic Four movies or why Spider-Man reboots every three years, it’s because Fox and Sony, respectively, don’t want to lose those rights. It’s not written anywhere that the movies have to be any good, just that they need to exist.
So when Marvel brilliantly created their Marvel Cinematic Universe, they were forced to do so without some of their biggest, most iconic franchises. Nine years into this thing, Marvel is just now able to include Spider-Man in the MCU, and even then, it’s only through some sort of crazy deal with Sony whereby Sony still retains the Spider-Man rights.
There is no such deal for the forthcoming Venom movie, so it cannot technically be considered a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But that’s not stopping Sony from trying to ape off that series’ success. The former head of Sony, Amy Pascal, recently told Filmstarts that Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable movies will still sort of take place in the MCU:
Well, those movies will all take place in the world that we’re now creating for Peter Parker. They’ll be adjuncts to it, they may be different locations, but it will still all be in the same world and they will be connected to each other as well.
Pascal even went on to say that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man from the forthcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming—which is a part of the MCU—could possibly make an appearance.
So, officially, no, the Venom movie isn’t actually in the MCU, but Spider-Man may somehow swing between the two continuities. It’s possible that Sony may attempt to make throwaway references to the MCU, a la the Marvel TV shows (“Oh yeah, you remember that time aliens attacked NYC?”), but it’s unclear whether Marvel would allow such a thing.
It’s certainly a confusing time to be a comic book fan, but that’s pretty much always been the case.