Helmer circles Columbia Pictures' Spidey spinoff

Already rewriting “Spider-Man 4″ for Columbia Pictures, Gary Ross is making a deal to rewrite to direct “Venom,” a Spidey spinoff.

Marvel Entertainment, Avi Arad and Ross will produce.

Venom, an archenemy of the webslinger in the Marvel Comics series, will be transformed into an antihero who becomes a defender of the innocent.

In “Spider-Man 3,” Venom was played by Topher Grace, who started out as Eddie Brock, Peter Parker’s newspaper rival. Infected by an alien organism that grafted itself to his skin, Brock had superpowers and strength superior to Spider-Man’s.

Grace, who just signed on to star in “Robert Rodriguez’s Predators” at Fox, is not considered likely to reprise, as the spinoff will start from the drawing board.

Even though Marvel Entertainment was just acquired by Disney in a $4 billion deal, Columbia Pictures is able to turn Venom loose in a film because the studio holds rights in perpetuity not only to Spider-Man but to the villains in his universe.

The studio is also developing another installment of “Ghost Rider.”

Fox holds the same rights to its Marvel characters, developing several spinoff features from “X-Men” and scoring a big summer hit with “Wolverine.” Fox, which made the “Daredevil” spinoff film “Elektra,” is working on “Silver Surfer,” based on the character that appeared in “Fantastic Four” sequel “Rise of the Silver Surfer.”

Col is moving aggressively to make more installments of “Spider-Man,” the studio’s most financially valuable franchise. While Sam Raimi is prepping for a 2010 production start on “Spider-Man 4,” writer Jamie Vanderbilt is currently scripting the fifth and sixth installments, films which could possibly amount to a reboot with new creative elements.

Ross, who is rewriting a “Spider-Man 4″ script originated by Vanderbilt and David Lindsay-Abaire, is also working with Columbia on rewriting to direct the film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s recovery from life-threatening testicular cancer to win a record-breaking seven Tour de France titles.

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