Weekend Box Office

Box Office Guru Preview: Spidey Senses Tingling For a Record Opening Weekend

by | May 3, 2007 | Comments

Will the friendly neighborhood webslinger reclaim the holy grail of the movie biz – the opening weekend box office record?

After attacking most major markets around the world throughout this week, Sony’s global assault hits North America on Friday with "Spider-Man 3," the much-anticipated super hero sequel which ushers in a new summer movie season with a bang. And it could indeed be a record bang.

Director Sam Raimi returns with his illustrious cast including Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the new mega-budgeted tentpole film following up on a pair of Spidey films that together grossed an eye-popping $1.6 billion worldwide earlier this decade. In the new PG-13 adventure, Peter Parker tries to take his relationship with his galpal Mary Jane to the next level just as three new villains enter the scene looking for some love and affection of their own from Spider-Man. James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, and everyone’s favorite lady in the water Bryce Dallas Howard co-star. The new saga features the super foes Sandman, Venom, and the New Goblin.

With an official production cost of $258M (and some speculate that it is actually higher), Spider-Man 3 stands as the most expensive movie yet to hit theaters. But despite the enormous pricetag, and not to mention the extravagant marketing tab, the super sequel stands a chance of approaching $1 billion in global box office this summer with tons more cash coming from video, television, and merchandising. So the eye-popping budget almost seems justified.

Sony staked its claim to the first weekend of May over a year ago and competing studios took the warning by making sure they did not program anything worthy against it, or even on the weeks before and after its opening. That puts "Spider-Man 3" in the enviable position of having the entire marketplace all to itself for a full two weeks before the next summer sensation, "Shrek the Third," hits the marketplace. Spidey should easily have over $250M in the bank before the ogre pic opens giving the super hero a mammoth headstart in the annual race for the summer crown.

The lack of competition will be key this weekend in "Spider-Man 3"’s attempt to break the all-time opening weekend record set last summer by "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest" which exploded to $135.6M over a regular Friday-to-Sunday period. As big as that bow was, there was still a potent $60M spent on the rest of the top five films that weekend. This frame, look for the films in the two through five slots to collect only a third of that amount. The advantage the Venom flick has over the last "Pirates" is that the current marketplace is so dead that multiplexes will be handing over every possible screen. Whereas a July film might only get three or four screens at a venue, a tentpole release in early May can spread like black alien goo to a fifth, sixth, or seventh screen at the same multiplex since there’s absolutely nothing else of value to waste auditoriums on. This increases the grossing potential significantly.

Running time will not be an issue as "Spider-Man 3" actually runs about 10 minutes shorter than "Dead Man’s Chest." Thanks to the weak marketplace (last weekend was the worst frame in seven months), Sony has booked a record 4,253 locations for its bow this weekend breaking the previous high of 4,163 theaters for the launch of 2004’s "Shrek 2." The studio is not reporting its total print count, but based on other megablockbusters of its type, it can be safely estimated that over 8,000 total screens will offer up this new super hero flick. Possibly over 9,000. By comparison, the second "Pirates" hit set sail in 4,133 theaters with over 8,500 prints while "Star Wars Episode III" took off with over 9,400 prints in North America in mid-May 2005.

The marketing campaign has been running on overdrive with numerous red carpet premieres around the world over the last two weeks. The push seems to be helping as "Spider-Man 3" has surpassed the opening day marks of its two older brothers in every market. The event film grossed a stunning $29.2M on its first day in 16 territories on Tuesday breaking the all-time opening day record in ten of them including France, Italy, Hong Kong, Egypt, Belgium, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines. The tally was more than the first-day grosses in the same countries of the first two "Spidey" films combined. By Sunday the juggernaut will be playing in a stunning 107 markets across the globe. North American audiences may follow suit and push "3" ahead of the then-record $114.8M opening of the first Peter Parker pic from five years ago this very weekend. That same size audience turning out this weekend at today’s ticket prices would unload about $130M domestically.

Spidey hangs comfortably knowing a big opening weekend is ahead.

Although the new tale has little competition on its second weekend, its spider legs may not be as strong as those of the previous webslinger films. The first two were very big crowdpleasers with many calling the second installment the better film. Expectations are sky high for the new one. Yes, the threequel is a fun thrill ride worthy of kicking off the summer popcorn season and boasts impressive action sequences and effects. But its weak script and cram-a-ton-of-stories-into-one-film feel will not make many fans think of it as the best "Spidey" yet. It becomes so much of a super hero soap opera by its midpoint that it won’t have the same word-of-mouth as the previous ones. While that will have no effect on the opening weekend gross, it could eat into repeat business down the road. Last summer’s "X-Men: The Last Stand" opened powerfully to $122.9M over the four-day Memorial Day frame but tumbled down to $16.1M by its third weekend.

When franchises hit the third installment, pressure mounts to offer something new to the table so casual fans don’t lose interest. What "Spider-Man 3" has going for it is the buzz that has circulated (naturally or artificially – you decide) about how this could be the final "Spider-Man" film for Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst together. That succeeds in giving the film a sense of urgency in that fans feel that this might be the last party for the beloved trio. Add in the magazine covers, talk show appearances, and globe-trotting premieres and Spider-Man has truly conquered pop culture this week which will make movie fans not want to be the only goofballs on Monday who didn’t see the can’t-miss blockbuster.

Advance ticketing has been running at a record pace. Movietickets.com has reported that sales are ahead of "Dead Man’s Chest" at the same point in the advance sales cycle and three times better when compared to "Spider-Man 2." Add in Thursday night midnight shows, and the higher-priced Imax venues where tickets run as much as $15 in New York City, and the grossing potential climbs even higher.

"Spider-Man 3" stands an excellent chance of setting a new industry record for the biggest opening in history. The marketing assault has been amazing, audience anticipation is sky high, competition is zero, and every screen out there is dumping its spring trash in favor of the Sandman flick. Towering over its foes, "Spider-Man 3" might swing into the friendly neighborhood of $140M over the Friday-to-Sunday span this weekend.

Who would dare go head-to-head against Spider-Man this weekend? The Hulk of course! Eric Bana joins forces with Drew Barrymore in the poker drama "Lucky You" which Warner Bros. is quietly dropping into the marketplace. Offered as a counter-programming option for adult women, the much-delayed film from director Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential," "8 Mile") tells of a hardcore card shark who juggles rocky relationships with his need to win a tournament. The PG-13 film could not have asked for a more unlucky frame. Although countering super hero films with chick flicks can be a good move ("My Best Friend’s Wedding" vs. "Batman & Robin," "The Devil Wears Prada" vs. "Superman Returns"), this time this film just doesn’t have the goods. Buzz is low, reviews are bad, and Drew just isn’t the draw she used to be. Plus "Spider-Man 3" boasts plenty of female appeal so the choice will be simple for most women. Not likely to find full houses in its 2,525 theaters, "Lucky You" looks to settle for a distant second place showing with about $7M this weekend.

"I’m not sure this hand is strong enough to go against Spider-Man."

Elsewhere in the land of single-digit millions, "Disturbia" will end its three-week reign atop the charts. The Paramount thriller has been enjoying good legs with second and third weekend declines of 42% and 31%, respectively. This time the fall should be harder since "Spidey" will appeal to the exact same audience. A 45% drop would give "Disturbia" about $5M for the session and a solid 24-day cume of $59M.

The supernatural thriller "The Invisible" probably burned through much of its audience on opening weekend so a 50% drop to around $4M could result. That would give Buena Vista $13M after ten days. Fellow sophomore "Next" starring Nicolas Cage should collapse as well as moviegoers showed no interest last weekend. A 50% decline should lead to a $3.5M frame and a dismal ten-day total of only $13M.

Author: Gitesh Pandya, www.BoxOfficeGuru.com

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