We’re just about halfway through the summer, and it already may be one for the record books—even if only a few actual records have been set. Marvel’s lesser-known superhero team, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are now the stars of two incredibly successful Marvel Studios movies. Even less surprising is the fact that Warner Brothers’ Wonder Woman movie has also exceeded all expectations, making it obvious the studio should have given the Amazon warrior her own movie decades ago.
There are, however, also a number of really big bombs, from Ridley Scott’s latest Alien movie to the failed R-rated comedy Baywatch, starring an A-lister and a teen heartthrob. We of course have a couple more big movies coming up in the next few weeks, like Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight and Despicable Me 3, but the movie that’s really going to hold a lot of people’s interest in how well it does is Sony and Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man: Homecoming, opening on July 7.
It’s been 15 years since Sony’s first Spider-Man movie helped kickstart the 21st century’s current wave of superhero blockbusters at the box office, although the latest installment does have to face a number of hurdles.
So to look at the box office prospects for the second reboot of Marvel Comics’ popular character, we have to go back to the year 2000 when superhero movies were not the norm and trace it to its current MCU glory.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy
New Line had success with their version of Marvel’s vampire Blade, starring Wesley Snipes, and a sequel was put into play with a then-little-known Guillermo del Toro set to direct. 20th Century Fox had an even bigger hit with X-Men—at the time a $54 million opening was considered big, even if its $157 million domestic gross wasn’t. Those two movies opened the floodgates for other studios who had bought the movie rights for Marvel characters during the company’s financial problems in the 1990s. Everyone was hoping to try their own hand at bringing Marvel Comics’ characters to the screen, but it would still be a few years before Marvel Studios would venture off on their own to make Iron Man, a historic moment that would eventually be tied into the success Sony previously had with Spider-Man.
When director Sam Raimi came onboard to direct the first Spider-Man movie in 2000, those were definitely different times, although even back then Spider-Man was one of Marvel Comics’ most popular heroes. And yet, even a mega-director like James Cameron couldn’t get a movie off the ground.
Raimi had built a growing fanbase with his genre franchises around The Evil Dead and 1990’s cult superhero hit Darkman, starring Liam Neeson. Still, nothing at the time showed he could helm a mainstream summer blockbuster based on such a popular character, let alone make one work with lesser-known actors like Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as his respective Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
The buzz and the hype around the project continued to grow with the first footage shown at Comic-Con 2001 and each successive trailer, but the movie also had to contend with an unfortunate teaser poster involving the World Trade Center that had to be shelved after 9/11. Despite this tragic context, there was something in the air after the terrorist attacks that put America in a place where they were desperately needing heroes like Spider-Man.
By this period in the early 2000s, Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park held the record for a movie’s opening weekend with $72 million, but that was with the help of Memorial Day holiday weekend. When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone opened with $90.3 million in late 2001, it was thought we were edging closer to a movie cracking the $100 million opening. Sure enough, when the original Spider-Man opened in the coveted summer opener slot on May 3, it did so with an astonishing $115 million opening.
Of course, nowadays that isn’t particularly impressive as we’ve seen over 30 movies open with more than $100 million in the past 15 years, including three movies breaking the $200 million opening benchmark. That was still quite a coup for Sony, especially when Spider-Man grossed $403 million domestic, making it the sixth highest grossing movie of all time.
A few years later, Raimi’s Spider-Man 2—to this day, still considered one of the better superhero offerings—got an early start on Fourth of July weekend, opening on June 30, 2004 with $40.4 million in a single day and $152 million in its first five days. It would go on to make $373 million domestic, about $30 million less than the first movie.
Nevertheless, it was considered a global success and Raimi began work on Spider-Man 3, which would introduce a number of new characters into the Spider-Man universe, including the popular villain Venom and Mary Jane Watson’s biggest competition, Gwen Stacy. They would be played by Topher Grace and Bryce Dallas Howard, years before the latter would star in bigger blockbusters like Jurassic World.
Spider-Man 3 was released as the kick-off release of the summer of 2007, opening with an astounding $151 million, at the time the biggest opening weekend for any movie ever. Reviews may not have been as gung-ho as Raimi’s previous two movies but they were still fairly positive for a movie that would be scorned by fandom for a number of reasons, from introducing too many characters to a jazz club number performed by a goth Peter Parker. This one ended up grossing $336.5 million domestic, $40 million less than the previous movie, showing that the movie didn’t have as much repeat business as the earlier movies. (It also received a “B+” CinemaScore rather than the “A-“ of the previous two movies, which shouldn’t be that big a deal.)
Still, it had done well enough to warrant a fourth movie featuring this team, so it was a little strange when the franchise got…
The First Reboot
With three years having passed since Spider-Man 3, Sony began to start figuring out how they could continue that franchise. Although Sam Raimi was up for a fourth movie with Tobey Maguire, Sony didn’t think the fans wanted to follow a Peter Parker who was going to turn 40 in a few short years. (This same problem has also plagued Marvel Comics with Peter Parker getting so older, getting married, etc.)
The decision was to start anew with Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, an actor who had roles in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and David Fincher’s The Social Network. Growing superstar Emma Stone would also revert back to her natural blonde hair to play the role of Gwen Stacy,
To direct it, Sony brought on Marc Webb, who had only directed the Sundance favorite (500) Days of Summer, and work began on the movie which would have Spidey facing Dr. Curt Connors, the Lizard, as played by Welsh actor Rhys Ifans.
The Amazing Spider-Man would debut over the Fourth of July weekend in 2012 with $137 million in its first five days, showing that audiences were ready for a new Spider-Man and would give Garfield and Stone a chance after the disappointing Spider-Man 3. It didn’t quite make the $300 million plus of the Sam Raimi films, falling just short by $40 million.
That wasn’t bad, and Sony hoped to keep that love going by having Webb go right into production on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but that required a number of changes. The main change came out of Sony and the producers seeing the success Marvel Studios was having with their movies by creating a shared universe, and they decided to do something similar with the Spider-Man character. This meant a fairly drastic departure in tone even after establishing a new one with the reboot.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 basically had some of the same problems many fans had with Spider-Man 3, and that was having far too many new characters being introduced into the mix, between the Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn, the new Green Goblin. The idea at that point was to keep adding villains in order to create Spider-Man’s foes, the Sinister Six, even having plans to give them their own movie. That plan was clearly borne from the success Marvel Studios had by introducing individual heroes then grouping them up for The Avengers, but it wasn’t nearly as well thought out here.
The convoluted sequel was not well received, earning some of the worst reviews for the entire franchise. Although it still opened with $91 million, it ended up grossing just a little more than $200 million domestic with stronger movies getting attention that summer.
As you can see from the chart below, each successive Spider-Man movie has grossed less domestically than the previous one, which may be why Sony finally threw in the towel and decided to work with Marvel Studios rather than against it.
In the chart above, all the box office is represented by millions of dollars in domestic box office (with two of the movies opening earlier than Friday), and then the other columns represent the IMDB user rating, the Rotten Tomatoes score (representing critics) and then the CinemaScore, an independent rating system of moviegoers at actual screenings.
You can see pretty clearly that the overall domestic gross for each Spider-Man film released by Sony has dropped with each successive movie, going from the $400 million gross for the first Raimi movie to just over $200 million for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Those sorts of diminishing returns are never a good sign for a franchise as seen by the likes of DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean and presumably Michael Bay’s upcoming Transformers. When movies are losing so much of an audience with each movie, it calls for fairly drastic measures. Doing something dramatic saved Universal’s Fast and Furious franchise, and that was bringing back the stars of the original movie for the fourth installment and then adding Dwayne Johnson for Fast Five.
That would bring us to…
The Marvel and Downey Factor
After all sorts of rumors and conjecture for years, Sony finally decided to bring Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige further into the production process with their latest attempt to reboot Spider-Man. Because of this deal, it allowed the Tom Holland Spider-Man to make his first appearance in last year’s Captain America: Civil War while letting Sony borrow some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, most notably Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
This deal is also quite historic because it shows a “competing” studio realizing what Marvel Studios and their character can bring to their own properties, hopefully reinvigorating interest among fans after the previous reboot just didn’t catch on the way it should have.
Mind you, Tom Holland isn’t any more of a box office draw then Andrew Garfield was five years ago, and Oscar winner Marisa Tomei—playing a rather young Aunt May–isn’t necessarily one either. Director Jon Watts has about as much of a track record as Marc Webb, having directed two small indies including the action-thriller Cop Car.
That is mainly why it’s really up to Downey to bring in the fans of his character from the billion dollar-plus movies he’s done at Marvel.
If you look at the chart above, you can see how the “Downey effect” (or “The Avengers factor,” If you prefer) helped Captain America: Civil War do far better than Captain America: The Winter Soldier two years earlier. Some of that could be attributed to how Civil War kept the story going from Avengers: Age of Ultron a year earlier with all of those character, but Downey is still a major part of that… as is Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. To think anyone who saw and enjoyed Civil War’s epic airport fight sequences between the Marvel heroes won’t be on board to see more of the Peter Parker and Tony Stark relationship introduced in that movie is somewhat silly.
So right there, we have two of the biggest factors for Spider-Man: Homecoming to succeed: the popularity of Spider-Man, especially among kids, and the desire by older fans for a stronger iteration similar to Marvel Studios’ superheroes, and having another chance to see the latter’s most popular hero to date in an adventure with this new Spider-Man. From what we’ve seen so far, there’s only one villain in Michael Keaton’s the Vulture, which will hopefully avoid the clutter of even movies like Civil War. Chances are we’ll start hearing the early reactions to Spider-Man: Homecoming sometime next week, and if the praise is on par with that for Marvel Studios movies, then Sony should have a decent summer hit.
The Bottom Line
So that just leaves one question and that’s how the movie might do at the box office.
It seems very likely the movie will open with over $100 million, especially based on the Marvel and Downey factor, even if it might be working against the negative opinion some might feel toward the character after the last failed reboot.
Last week, Deadline reported that Spider-Man: Homecoming was tracking to make $90 to 100 million in its opening weekend, but my early gut instinct (and that Downey Factor) tells me the movieshould open closer to $125 or even $130 million. If buzz continues to build over the coming weeks—especially after people start seeing the movie later this week—it may even open closer to $150 million, which would make it the fifth highest opening Marvel Studios movie, behind the two Avengers, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War. But it would also be JUST behind Spider-Man 3 as the second biggest Spider-Man opening. Either way, it’s looking likely to be the third superhero movie of the summer to hit the $300 million mark with War for the Planet of the Apes being its primary competition in the week that follow.
This should definitely put a good light on Sony and Marvel’s plans to do two more Spider-Man movies with Holland, although who knows whether Downey or any other Marvel Studios character would appear in those?
Either way, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s presumed success may be just what Sony Pictures needs right now, not only to revive the legacy created by Sam Raimi’s trilogy, but also bringing things even closer between the Marvel properties that have been divided among the studios. More importantly, Sony Pictures really needs a hit right now, especially if they want to move forward with movies featuring Venom, which has been in development for over a decade, and another one with Black Cat and Silver Sable. It really is a time for true believers.
Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters on July 7.