Sometimes, you have to stand back and marvel (no pun intended) at the vast Hollywood hype machine working exactly as intended. This weekend, for instance, everyone expected "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" to kick off the summer season by opening unopposed at around $100 million, and it did, taking in an estimated $92.0 million in its first three days. The second biggest movie of the week, the 10-day-old "The Other Woman," came in with $14.2 million.
And yet, even with numbers that big and victory that unequivocal, there is reason for Sony to feel restive and room to wonder why the movie didn't do better. In fact, a number of pundits guessed the weekend gross right on the nose; few actually expected it to break the $100 million barrier. Good as those numbers are, they're only so-so compared to both previous "Spider-Man" movies and to other Marvel superhero movies. Given the movie's sure-to-be stiff competition from such upcoming May releases as "Godzilla" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past," Sony would have been a lot happier with higher numbers that would have suggested the film has the momentum to outlast all newcomers and be the biggest hit of the summer. At $92 million, no one is thinking that.
Again, everything and everyone in this sequel did what they were supposed to do. That includes participating in the massive worldwide awareness campaign (indeed, stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, and others have spent weeks dutifully touring the globe and then every imaginable U.S. talk show, talking up their film). The film itself didn't much please critics, but that also is to be expected; among audiences, it scored a B+ at CinemaScore, meaning it should receive respectable word-of-mouth recommendations.
More than many Marvel heroes, Spider-Man appeals to families and to young children. Studio polling suggests that a full 33 percent of this weekend's "Amazing Spider-Man 2" audience consisted of families, and that, of the remainder, 51 percent was under 25. So Sony's decision to reboot the franchise a couple years ago with a new director (Marc Webb) and newer, younger, fresher actors than Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst -- even though that pair and director Sam Raimi had scarcely just finished making three ultra-successful "Spider-Man" movies -- has apparently paid off.
There's also the overseas grosses. Usually, these superhero spectacles do even better abroad than they do here, and "Amazing Spider-Man 2" has performed as expected there, too. In fact, its stars' globe-hopping has paid off to the tune of $277 million already earned overseas, three times as much as the movie has earned here. At this rate, it should have little trouble equaling or surpassing the $490 million foreign gross of 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" or that film's $752 million worldwide total.
Still, this is a Marvel movie we're talking about, so the merely huge seems much more disappointing than the mundanely gargantuan. Remember, last year on this weekend, "Iron Man 3" opened with $174.4 million. And that was for its aging protagonist's third movie. Which, in turn, was the first one to show just how long the coattails of Marvel's "Avengers" were (as have the subsequent successes of last winter's "Thor: The Dark World" and last month's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," still the No. 4 movie this weekend, with a domestic take of $237 million to date). Six or eight years ago, could you have imagined a time when a lower-rung Marvel hero like Iron Man was a bigger box office draw than Spider-Man? And yet, that's how it is, since the "Spider-Man" franchise operates outside the Disney/Marvel wheelhouse that has so successfully pushed the "Avengers" family of heroes on all fronts. Even Fox's "X-Men" movies contain a multitude of heroes who can theoretically cross-promote each other (and sometimes do, even when Wolverine goes off the reservation by himself). Poor Spidey is out there all by his lonesome, with no super-friends to help enhance the drawing power of his franchise.
But even by Spider-Man's own lofty standards, "Amazing Spider-Man 2" seems to fall short. Yes, the movie did open bigger than its predecessor's $62.0 million, but that was on a more competitive holiday weekend (Independence Day 2012), not an early-summer weekend that the movie had all to itself. Of course, the original "Spider-Man" with Tobey Maguire opened on such a weekend in 2002 (on May 3), and it debuted with $114.8 million, a record at the time. (And that was at 2002 ticket prices, with no 3D or IMAX to inflate the tally.) Maguire's last installment, 2007's "Spider-Man 3," opened the same weekend (May 4 of that year) and premiered with $151.1 million.
So it's telling that no one expected "Amazing Spider-Man 2" to open anywhere in the ballpark that Maguire, Dunst, and director Sam Raimi built with the first three "Spider-Man" movies, much less in the even bigger arena that Disney and Marvel Studios have built for Iron Man, Captain America, and the other Avengers. They've all set the bar so high that not even a younger, lither Webslinger can vault over it.
Photo courtesy Sony