Sony's Marvel superhero sequel has summer's first weekend to itself, but will battle high expectations and franchise fatigue
Sony's big-budget superhero tentpole “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” officially kicks-off the summer box office season Friday, with analysts projecting an opening in the $95 million range.
If it comes in just a little above that, it will be the year's biggest opening weekend, ahead of another Marvel movie — Disney's “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” That sequel opened to $95 million in April.
“Amazing Spider-Man 2” will most likely not match the $114 million debut of the first “Spider-Man” movie 12 years ago — which was the first movie to open a $100 million weekend — or the $151 million that “Spider-Man 3” opened to in 2007.
And that points to the challenge Sony faces as it seeks to launch a cinematic universe, much like Disney has done with Marvel's Avengers and Warner Bros. hopes to do with a “Justice League” film headlined by Batman and Superman.
While Marvel and DC's heroes have recently dominated theaters, the wall-crawler ain't what he used to be at the domestic box office. Franchise fatigue could be setting in; every “Spider-Man” film has made less in the U.S. than the one that preceded it.
But Spider-Man is still among the most iconic of Marvel's superheroes, and while his popularity may ebb and flow — as has that of Superman and Batman over the years — the character remains one of the most recognizable and beloved comic book heroes in the world. And Sony is betting big, having already set two more Spidey movies for 2016 and 2018.
Also, “Amazing Spider-Man 2” is also serving as a launch pad for two spin-off films Sony currently has in development — a “Sinister Six” film from writer-director Drew Goddard and a “Venom” movie, based on the popular villain.
A major part of the strategy is that Spidey appears to be spinning a wider web at the overseas box office, and the studio believes that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” will top the $490 million that 2012's “The Amazing Spider-Man” brought in internationally.
That confidence stems in part from the $132 million the film's made in its first two weeks of release abroad. It will roll out in China and Brazil this weekend, along with about 40 other foreign markets. China in particular could provide a bonanza; “Amazing Spider-Man” took in $48 million there two years ago – but took a bit of a hit because Chinese officials pitted it against “The Dark Knight Rises.” This time, a haul in excess of $100 million is likely.
Domestically, the notion of a $90 million opening weekend being seen as anything other than a smashing success is hard to grasp, but that's the baggage that comes with opening on this date — and with a production budget of more than $200 million, even after tax breaks.
Marvel films have opened on the first weekend in May for the past seven years, and two have posted the biggest openings in history: the $207 million of “The Avengers” in 2012, and the $174 million of “Iron Man 3” last year.
“Amazing Spider-Man 2” should have no trouble topping the opening of the previous film, which debuted with $65 million in July of 2012. That film revitalized the franchise, which had been dormant for five years. But whether this sequel can top the $262 million domestic haul of the first movie remains to be seen.
Marc Webb returns to direct, from a script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Jeff Pinkner. Stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone also return, joined by Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti and Dane DeHaan. Marvel Entertainment's Avi Arad produces, along with Orci and Kurtzman.
Sony will have it in a saturation-level 4,300-plus theaters, including a full complement of IMAX 3D and Premium Large Format screens. Showings for the film will begin Thursday night in roughly 3,000 locations.
The tracking has remained steady at $95 million since it came online three weeks ago, and the studio has mounted a major promotional campaign behind it. Sony is flooding social media and the internet with an unusually high number of clips and advance peeks.
Reaching non-comic book fans is a key part of the puzzle, because while hardcore Marvel fans will certainly turn out, the box-office heights that Spidey hits will hinge on its ability to connect with mainstream moviegoers — particularly families.
“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” was dominating advance sales at online brokers Fandango and MovieTickets.com on Wednesday, but that's to be expected since there are no other films opening wide this weekend. Focus Features is rolling out the Elizabeth Banks comedy “Walk of Shame” on roughly 50 screens.
The social media numbers on “Amazing Spider-Man 2” are strong, but not in the same league as those of “The Winter Soldier” on Twitter or Facebook. That's true of the reviews, too: Spidey is at 65 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, while “Captain America” sits at 89 percent.
Still, Steve Rogers and his pals could provide a boost for Peter Parker and his crew, and not just because the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” trailer has been playing with “Winter Soldier” for weeks. The Cap sequel has also ran previews for Fox's “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” another Marvel saga which debuts in three weeks.
“That success helps because it has raises awareness of the genre and gets the fan base fired up,” said Rentrak Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Having ‘Captain America’ provide a marketing platform for another one of their movies, even if it is from another studio, fits right in with the classic Marvel strategy.
“And let's face it,” Dergarabedian continued, “at least for the next few weeks, this is Marvel's universe.”