Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thoughts on Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, ten years after its surprising and record-setting $100m+ debut.

Ten years ago, we had our first $100 million opening weekend.   Ten years ago, feeding off twenty years of anticipation, positive reviews, and a post-9/11 atmosphere that craved distinctly American heroism, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man pulled off the unthinkable.  And really, looking back on that fabled three-day weekend in May 2002, that's the thing that sticks out.  In these days of heavily-publicized box office tracking reports, with every blogger with a website playing box office pundit, with studios having mastered the art of saturation-level opening weekends down to a science, Spider-Man's record Fri-Sun debut was a complete surprise.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone had just broken the three-day record six months ago with $92 million.  Spider-Man wasn't even supposed to be the biggest movie of summer 2002, with that honor theoretically going to Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones.  Spider-Man was supposed to be the warm-up play, the summer kick-off picture that wetted the appetite for the big guns coming down the pike.  It was The Mummy, the Deep Impact, or the Twister of the summer movie season.  But as I discussed four years ago, sometimes the summer kick-off films surprise you.  Even so, with buzz building and free press galore coming from mainstream entertainment sources, pundits like myself were optimistically predicting an $80 million debut, followed by a somewhat quick plunge once Attack of the Clones brought the thunder 1.5 weeks later.  But as we all know, something very different happened.

Spider-Man opened with $39 million on its first Friday, a single day record that lasted one day until its $43 million Saturday gross.  By Sunday the film had wracked up $114 million, besting 'the boy who lived' by $22 million and becoming the first film in history to reach the century-mark over its opening weekend.  But it didn't stop there.  Terrific word of mouth and a lack of competition led to a record non-opening weekend of $72 million over its next Fri-Sun frame.  How big was that number? At the time, it would have been the fourth-biggest weekend of all-time.  Its third weekend, even up against the $80 million Fri-Sun debut of Attack of the Clones (the fourth-biggest opening weekend in history, now chalked up as disappointing thanks to Spider-Man's record run), the web-slinger pulled in another $46 million over its third weekend.  It pulled in another $35 million over the four-day Memorial Day holiday weekend, sending it to $333 million and racing towards $350 million in record time.  To give you some idea of the strength of its weekend-to-weekend run, it's second weekend still ranks fourth among all second weekends, only Avatar has ever had a stronger third weekend, and only Avatar and Titanic had stronger fourth weekends even ten years later.  But then, oddly enough, it started behaving like a regular movie just after Memorial Day.  Despite earning $333 million over its first 18 days, it would be earn just $70 million more over its entire run, topping out at $403 million, or the fifth-biggest domestic grosser of all-time (ironically the same slot where Batman ended its run back in 1989 with $251 million).

Spider-Man was uncommonly leggy for a mega-blockbuster, with drops around 35% for each of its weekends after opening until after Memorial Day weekend.  But then, be it due to losing screens or the sheer number of moviegoers who had already seen it multiple times in theaters over the first month, it began to basically collapse.  It was a sobering reminder that even the leggiest blockbuster was basically finished after two months.  Spider-Man crossed $333 million by the end of its fourth weekend yet needed another six weeks to cross $400 million.  Spider-Man crossed the $400 million mark on its tenth weekend and needed another six weeks to earn another $3.5 million.  With the arguable exception of Avatar, TitanicThe Sixth Sense, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, pretty much every would-be leggy blockbuster in recent times (The Dark Knight, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, How To Train Your Dragon, etc) was still pretty much played out by the end of their second month.  Spider-Man wasn't really a game-changer in any real sense.  The second wave of comic book movies was already kicked into gear by Blade and X-Men and it wasn't until the 2008 1-2 punch of Iron Man and The Dark Knight that any other comic book film got anywhere near the heights of the Spider-Man franchise.  The big-budget four-quadrant global blockbuster fantasy film kick was kicked into gear by the 1-2 punch in 2001 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the RingSpider-Man was more a case of being the right movie at the right place at the right time.

Its box office triumph was among the last times I could honestly say I was shocked by a mega-success of one of these kinds of movies.  Its unexpected quality was certainly a part of its success, coming off an uncommonly bad summer season with audiences relieved at a predetermined blockbuster actually taking the time to be a real movie.  With its emphasis on character and story-telling over web-slinging action, Spider-Man really felt like a 'full meal' compared to the likes of Tomb Raider and Planet of the Apes.  I'll go into why the movie was as good as it was later next month, when I discuss the entire Sam Raimi trilogy in the lead up to the reboot.  But I still distinctly remember being weirdly thrilled sitting there in a darkened theater, watching the opening credits and listening to yet another classic Danny Elfman superhero theme.  It seemed unreal to me that I was finally seeing a Spider-Man movie, and it seemed all the more 'unreal' that it turned out to be so damn good.  Sorry folks, you just can't repeat that kind of anticipation with a quickie reboot.  Ten years later, it's the feeling of 'surprise' that sticks with me the most.  The surprise at how damn satisfying the movie was, the surprise at how big its opening weekend turned out to be, and my surprise at how well it played all around the country as it was perhaps the movie that America needed at that time.  Yes, it would have been a smash hit without its 9/11-timeliness, and the 'New Yorkers unite' climactic moment is among the silliest in the movie (why didn't Green Goblin just kill those people and go on with his business?), but it clearly was a movie that benefited from the unfortunate world events at the time.

Ten years later, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man still holds up as among the better origin story comic book pictures of our time, and its groundbreaking success still feels completely earned if only by virtue of how unforced it felt at the time.  Its success was earned, which in this predetermined record-setting blockbuster era, feels almost quaint.

Okay, time to share your Spider-Man thoughts.  Please comment below.

Scott Mendelson            


corysims said...

Great reminder Scott of the opening day that completely crushed me.

On the eve of Avengers monstrous weekend ahead, I was thinking about that opening day 10 years ago and how amped I was for Spider-Man. I'm a big Star Wars fan and Episode II was always going to be there that summer but, like Batman in '89, I was most looking forward to Spider-Man.

To this day, I've never been letdown as much as that film. Never. And what made it was worse was everyone else loving the film.

For months you've spoke about how it would be bad for the industry if Amazing Spider-Man did gangbusters at the box office and I totally agree. But, to play devil's advocate, I really want to love one Spider-Man film in my lifetime and I hope this film is that film.

Still, it's amazing how big the box office has gotten since Spider-Man's historic weekend.

Brett G. said...

This is the only time I can remember ever being shut out of a movie after arriving at the box office--showtimes were selling out left and right, and I ended up seeing it later in the day than I'd anticipated. Huge shocker, and I knew right then and there that comic book movies were firmly legitimate. X-Men paved the way, but Spider-Man solidified it.

Magali said...

I don't want to sound like an immature, biased fan girl, but I will say it- I think Sam Raimi is awesome & I love his work!

Scott Mendelson said...

Obviously you and I disagree. I'm actually not that big of a fan of Spider-Man 2 and am mezzo on Spider-Man 3 (a kitchen sink movie with lots of good stuff balanced out by some serious story problems), but I think the first film is a pretty great stand-alone movie (Willem Dafoe brings everyones' game up a notch). I hope you get your great Spider-Man movie. I'll be interested in your thoughts next month when I do a 'In defense of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy' essay.

corysims said...

I'm in the same boat with Spider-Man 2 and 3 as you, although I have some problems with the logic of the action in Spider-Man 2 and the dragging out of the drama in that one.

But with the first one, I just couldn't get into the tone, although I know it's pretty much on the money with the character. I didn't dig, at all, MJ's declaration to Peter at the end. Flat out hated that moment. The visual effects were dated the moment it was released. I didn't dig Goblin's outfit. The New Yorker's helping Spider-Man moment...I understand why it's there considering the time at which the film was released but it was an eye roll moment for me. I feel horrible saying it but I never got over that moment.

Now, having said all that, I haven't watched the film in 9 years. There's a possibility I might think differently in my old age, since I had kids. I'll probably revisit the trilogy before Amazing comes out....

Scott Mendelson said...

I hate the 'I must turn Mary Jane because somehow Norma Osbourne's death is my fault and you being my girlfriend puts you in more danger versus just being seen in public as my friend!' ending to SPIDER-MAN, and much of my annoyance with SPIDER-MAN 2 comes with how it takes literally the entire movie for Peter to realize how little sense that makes (if Mary Jane had told Doc Ock at the climax that she and Peter were just friends, he *surely* would have let her go, right?). I also hate the 'you mess with New York!' moment too, but in hindsight it was something that appealed to a lot of people much closer-connected to 9/11 than I personally was (I still think Goblin should have thrown a pumpkin bomb at them).

samq said...

Wow This movie really would have blown his mind. After seeing this movie i always go and play Helicopter Games.

Agnus Lisa said...

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JEREMY said...

yes yes yes his work is for all


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