Based on the history of Spider-Man movies, here’s my conservative estimate for how its going to do this Weekend (spoiler: I think quite well!)
It has felt like an eternity getting here. After leaving off on a truly fantastic cliffhanger at the end of Far From Home, Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home has taken a long and winding path to get to silver screens this weekend; a path that has taken it from being a straight-up Spider-Man sequel film, through a pandemic (and pandemic filming) and into unforeseen territory involving multiverses and heavy, HEAVY rumors about past Spider-Men making cameos in the film, alongside the confirmed returns of heavy-hitting villains from the previous Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield led iterations of this long and hallowed character’s franchise. All this madness and anticipation, I feel, has put No Way Home in a particularly tough spot, not only having to serve as a major shot in the arm to movie theaters after two weeks (not to mention another two years!) of underwhelming grosses since Thanksgiving, hopefully reigniting the box office and pushing us ever so slowly back to normal, but the film also is being saddled with some very unnecessary negativity. Coming out as this year’s final major film (outside of The Matrix: Resurrections) and being surrounded by Oscar hopefuls popping into wide release for the rest of the month, No Way Home is being looked at as a bit of a commercial infestation, indicative of wider moviegoing trends where original, non-brand-based fare (like this weekend’s other new release, Nightmare Alley; unless you count Guillermo del Toro as a brand) flops and gets no attention as the “comic book blockbuster du jour” takes all the money for itself and all the air out of the room. Yes, I have seen some make this film out to be the death of cinema, right alongside others who hail it as the most anticipated of the year, and also others who look at it as the cinematic box office equivalent of Jesus Christ. Frankly, it saddens me, 1) because this movie is not being allowed to stand on its own as just a Spider-Man film, and 2) because it makes predicting box office a living nightmare.
I will concede, No Way Home is absolutely the biggest and most anticipated film of the year. With rumors swirling for months about the multi-verse cameos (Into the Spider-Verse did it first and did it great!), as well as information leaking that the events of the film will directly lead into the events of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness-which, if rumors are to be believed, is going to be an Avengers-level event film-it makes sense No Way Home has apparently broken many worldwide presale records, especially given that this story is supposed to move the entire MCU storyline forward significantly (especially after the last few MCU movies have been primarily setups for new characters) and for the very fact that it is a Spider-Man movie. Removed from all the MCU hoopla, the fact of the matter is that Spider-Man, as its own brand is a huge moneymaker by itself. After all, the first Tobey Maguire film was the first film in history to have an opening weekend of over $100 million dollars, largely setting a precedent for most comic book movies going forward. It is for this reason, specifically when anticipating the opening for No Way Home, I think it best to look at the movie more so in terms of the Spider-Man film series rather than the MCU as a whole. While Disney’s Marvel brand certainly factors into the appeal here (and I’ll make a reference to it in predictions), I am taking a slightly more conservative route here in predicting the outcome for the Spider-Man character.
Based on trailers, we know the focus of this movie is going to be primarily on Spider-Man and his legacy on film. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange does indeed factor in substantially, but given that Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro appear (among others), the main appeal here is seeing a gigantic roster of Spider-Man’s traditional comic book rogues gallery appear together, primarily rooting intrigue in this film in Spider-Man’s specific mythology. Factoring that into the equation and treating the film as just a Spider-Man sequel gives us something of an idea of where to place expectations in regard to the box office. Interestingly enough, this is technically only the second time that we’ve been able to get the third installment in a proper Spider-Man film trilogy after Tobey Maguire’s tenure as the character. Looking further into the numbers, we see that Maguire’s Spider-Man films followed a specific trajectory with opening weekends. His first Spider-Man, which followed his origin story where he worked to balance school (and work) with a burgeoning career as a superhero while facing off with an icon villain, opened to a historic $114.8 million. Spider-Man 2, the more critically acclaimed of the trilogy which traces similar beats to the first film while also deepening the character emotionally, took a bit of a downturn with a lower opening weekend of $88.1 million (though still highly successful overall) before taking a huge upswing (no pun intended) with Spider-Man 3 and delivering a $151.1 million opening weekend; one which I am inclined to think stepped largely from curiosity around seeing a certain abundance of specific villains appear altogether. Critical reception notwithstanding, that certainly proved potent.
Turning back to our contemporary Tom Holland Spider-Man flicks (the Spider-Man: “Something to do with Home” series if you will), we do see a roughly similar trajectory in terms of not just the box office, but also the movie’s stories. Homecoming saw Peter Parker early in both high school and his superhero career, having just been introduced to the MCU in Civil War, and trying to balance the two parts of his life while facing off against a famous (if less iconic) foe in the Vulture. Far From Home, while tonally different and much more expansive in scope from Spider-Man 2, did still take a bit more of an introspective approach to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man; having him deal with the emotional ramification of coming back from the MCU blip as well as the emotional impact of Tony Stark’s death. Now we have No Way Home which, almost exactly like Spider-Man 3, is generating tons of buzz as people clamor to see several iconic villains team up against Spider-Man onscreen (though to be fair, reviews of this movie seem noticeably better than Spider-Man 3).
With that in mind, it comes as little surprise that this trilogy has, up to this point, seen a very similar pattern of opening weekends at the box office, with Homecoming opening to a remarkably similar $117 million versus Spider-Man‘s $114 million and Far From Home taking a Spider-Man 2-like dip to $92.5 million (which, to its credit, is notably higher than Spider-Man 2‘s opening weekend back in 2004). Remarkably, the similarities also extend to the film’s releases, with the first two Spider-Man movies seeing regular summer releases before having their respective sequels actively take advantage of of the July 4th holiday weekend to have extended rollouts; Spider-Man 2 opening on a Wednesday, June 30th, 2004, to roll into the weekend (with a 5-day gross of $152 million), and Far From Home opening on a Tuesday (insane), July 2nd, 2019, and rolling out through the week before barreling into the weekend (comparisons are not exact here, but No Way Home‘s total by the end of the weekend was $185 million over 6 days). With that, it is more than reasonable to assume that No Way Home, based on how Spider-Man 3‘s opening weekend, will notch at least $150 million. I know there are some pundits out there who are pegging it at $200 million, but I’m very reluctant to think that way given that we are still in the wake of a pandemic and there are new variants popping up. Still, at least in the US, the box office has been thriving, particularly for the superhero fair, so a $150 million baseline seems very appropriate. The big question now is, where is the ceiling?
This question is what the MCU connection, Doctor Strange, and the multi-verse scenario all complicate and make it hard to get a read on. As of yet, the movie has only opened in Korea, where it notched a pandemic record opening day gross of $5.8 million, so it’s likely to deliver on the box office front, but just how high can the film reach. I personally can’t help but feel that the $200 million projections are coming from the idea that No Way Home is looking to be this year’s Avengers: Infinity War (if we are considering Multiverse of Madness to be an Avengers: Endgame-style film), which itself opening to $257 million in 2018. As stated above, that seems to be a bit of an overestimate given that this film is rooted so heavily in Spider-Man’s mythos rather than the MCU at large. Still given its supposed connections to the more MCU-centric Multiverse of Madness, with Doctor Strange playing a very significant role, there is a comparison here that is much better suited; one that is particularly poetic given that its the film where Tom Holland’s Spider-Man debuted: Captain America: Civil War.
Released “way back” in the summer of 2016, Civil War had originally been imagined as a much more Captain America-focused feature; that is before Batman vs Superman was announced. The much-maligned (I feel unfairly) DC picture has been noted by the Russo Brothers, who directed Civil War, as the major impetuous for Kevin Feige to greenlight the film and turn what was originally Captain America 3 into what is affectionately referred to by many as Avengers 2.5. Bringing in Iron Man, Black Widow, and all the other Avengers (save for Thor), with the extra addition of a new introduced Spidey and Ant-Man, the film worked as a de facto team-up movie that gave what could have been a rather straightforward threequel a level of weight and spectacle that it wouldn’t have had in its original incarnation. Now, we won’t be able to know exactly what a Spider-Man:….um…Three…Home? (clearly this Home– motif is getting old) would have looked like without the multiverse inclusion, especially given that we have no idea whether or not it was planned from the onset (though it would have likely put all of its emphasis on Peter’s identity being revealed and that media frenzy), but the team-up movie template that has been laid upon this one is similar enough to that of Civil War, given just how many characters are showing up here, that it is reasonable to see No Way Home open close to Civil War‘s $179 million. Plus when we add in the appeal from seeing older Spider-Man movie characters returning, that broadens the age demographic that the film will appeal to and likely pull in which thoroughly cements the film’s likelihood of having such a high gross. For that reason, I feel it is safe to assume that No Way Home will absolutely open between $150-$180 million this weekend. Maybe it will go higher, which would be great, but that range feels the most comfortable given history. If I had to peg it with an exact number I would probably argue for $175 million, largely on the basis of anticipation for the film and given how closely it seems to follow the Civil War template, but I fully expect myself to be off the mark on that front. Still, no matter what happens, we are absolutely looking at the highest opening of the year and the pandemic overall. Good on you, Sony, and good on you, Spider-Man.