The webbed wonder is back, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The second in a proposed four Marvel Entertainment movies about Peter Parker, the teen blessed or cursed with arachnid DNA, ASM2 earned $92 million at the North American box office, according to preliminary estimates from Sony Pictures. It reaped a B-plus from the CinemaScore polling of early attendees (an A-minus from those younger than 25), attracting a mostly male crowd (61%) and a big share of families (33%). As the front-man for the big summer movie season, Spidey is soaring again.
But how high? $92 million sounds like a nice starting number; and it is, even for a movie that cost at least $250 million to produce and nearly $200 million more on marketing. But amid its lofty competition — previous Marvel epics that opened this weekend — ASM2 is only so-so.
A rebooting, and often a retelling, of the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, which ran from 2002 to 2007, the new series features Brit actor Andrew Garfield as Peter and luscious Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, under the direction of Marc Webb. The first film in the new series, which opened two years ago on the week of July 4, earned $75 million the first three days (Tuesday to Thursday) and another $62 million that weekend. So comparisons of ASM and ASM2 don't really apply. The true standard for the new picture is its brethren in the Marvel movie family: the superhero movies of early May.
Marvel, the world's canniest entertainment company, definitively altered the Hollywood calendar a dozen years ago. Before then, the summer movie period began in earnest the weekend before Memorial Day, as it had for a quarter-century, ever since the May 25, 1977, opening of Star Wars. But on May 3, 2002, the original Spider-Man made its debut and earned $114.8 million; it was the first picture to gross more than $100 million in its opening three days, and did so at on a weekend with no holiday and when kids were still in school. Suddenly, the first week in May was the ideal time to launch both an action film and the summer blockbuster season.
The following year, Marvel opened the second X-Men movie, X2: X-Men United, to a robust $85.6 million weekend. And from 2007, every first May weekend has boasted a Marvel movie: Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million), Iron Man ($98.6 million), X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85.1 million), Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Thor ($65.7 million), The Avengers ($207.4 million) and, last year, Iron Man Three ($174,1 million).
So, in the Marvel early-May cosmology, ASM2 falls below the almighty Avengers, which still accounts for the biggest opening weekend for any movie, the three Iron Man films and the two Spider-Man episodes released on this date. (Spider-Man 2 opened June 20, 2004, and earned $88.2 million.) The movie's opening gross also didn't quite match the $95 million taken in four weeks ago by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which established the all-time record for a movie in the normally cruelest month of April.
(READ: Corliss's review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Ticket prices have risen by nearly a third since 2002, both because of inflation and for surcharges for 3-D and IMAX screenings. So the more exact comparison is in "real dollars." And in that category, ASM2 is near the bottom of Marvel's previous openings for this weekend: it beat only the two franchise-starters, Wolverine and Thor, and sequels are supposed to open stronger than the films that birthed them.
Here are the real-dollar domestic grosses, in millions, for Marvel movies opening the first weekend of May:
The Avengers, 5/4/12, $207.4m (original gross) = $211.5m (real dollars)
Iron Man Three, 5/3/13, $174.1m = $183.3m
Spider-Man 3, 5/4/07, $151.1m = $174.8m
Spider-Man, 5/3/02, $114.8m = $157.3m
Iron Man 2, 5/7/10, $128.1m = $129.7m
X2: X-Men United, 5/2/03, $85.6m = $113.0m
Iron Man, 5/2/08, $98.6m = $109.3m
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, $92m = $92m
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 5/1/09, $85.1m = $90.8m
Thor, 5/6/11, $65.7m = $66.7m
The opening-weekend gross, even for a widely promoted action film with a familiar title and a dedicated fan base, can't accurately predict the final revenue. Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Avengers all eventually earned at least three times the amount they took in on the first weekend, while Marvel's Hulk, directed by Ang Lee and released in 2003, earned more money its first three days ($62.1 million) than in the rest of its domestic run ($60.05 million). Deciding they had gone wrong, the Marvel execs ordered up a reboot, The Incredible Hulk, five years later — and it earned almost exactly the same as its disgraced predecessor. But both Hulk movies were released in mid-June, by which time action-film fatigue sets in with audiences deluged for six weeks by movies about muscular guys saving the world.
Make no mistake: in the movie business, it's the worldwide box office that counts much more than the domestic figures. And in the early global stats, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is doing fine. In its third week of release it has earned $277 million abroad, including a record-breaking opening in India, a nation long resistant to Hollywood films. ASM2 opened in China today (a work day) and earned a record $10.4 million — a terrific start for this huge and growing market. Last summer the sci-fi saga Pacific Rim did bigger business in China ($111.9 million) than in North America ($101.8 million). Marvel must hope that Peter Parker can pick the People's Republic's pockets clean.
(READ: Corliss's review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
The company's other entries took a while to realize their international potential. For the first two films in the original series, the foreign revenue share was just over 50%. With Spider-Man 3 it jumped to 62%, and the Amazing reboot amassed 65% of its $752.2-million total take from overseas markets. The biggest blockbusters, like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises, typically earn about two-thirds of their worldwide gross from abroad, and so have Marvel's recent Thor, Wolverine and Captain America sequels.
With its gaudy early foreign numbers — currently 75% of the total gross — ASM2 looks to do boffo business abroad. Now the movie just has to convince tens of millions of Americans that it is more than just a minor Marvel.