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'Spider-Man' still has box office bite, to Sony's relief

'Spider-Man' still has box office bite, to Sony's relief

Takes in about $117 million
'Spider-Man' still has box office bite, to Sony's relief
Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.
Photographer: Columbia/Marvel

LOS ANGELES — Spider-Man swung back into theaters in triumphant fashion over the weekend, prompting a window-rattling sigh of relief from Sony Pictures, which has been struggling to end a prolonged fallow period at the box office.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming,” the sixth web-crawler story to arrive on the big screen in 15 years, overcame worries of franchise fatigue to take in about $117 million at cinemas in the United States and Canada. Sony had been conservatively estimating an $80 million arrival. Independent box office analysts had hoped for roughly $100 million.

“I usually like to play it cool, but on this one I may have done a little dance,” Thomas E. Rothman, Sony’s movie chairman, said Saturday. “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” directed by the relative newcomer Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland, collected an additional $140 million overseas.

The big turnout offsets concerns that moviegoers are tiring of sequels and reboots, which have become Hollywood’s bread and butter. Recent disappointments have included “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “The Mummy” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

Unlike those films, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” received lavish praise from critics.

“The audience gets fatigued when films do not deliver an exciting, satisfying experience,” Rothman said. “There is too much competition now for any franchise to rely on a sense of audience obligation to succeed. You have to hit a bull’s-eye on quality.”

Rothman would know: Sony has tried for years to find its creative footing. He took over the studio in 2015, setting in motion a grueling turnaround effort and finding modest hits like “The Shallows” and “Baby Driver.” But the movie business is a slow one, and Rothman has mostly struggled to move past flops that were already in the pipeline when he arrived, including “The Brothers Grimsby,” “Inferno” and “Pixels.”

In February, Sony took a $1 billion write-down on its movie and television production business. This year — until Spidey showed up — Sony has been in last place among the seven biggest Hollywood studios, with 4 percent domestic market share. To compare, Disney had 24 percent. Even the mightily struggling Paramount had 6 percent.

If nothing else, the strong results demonstrate that Sony still has marketing muscle. The resurrection of Spider-Man after two humdrum movies (“The Amazing Spider-Man” and a sequel) and a sad Broadway outing also validates Sony’s plans for a cinematic Spiderverse. In the works are offshoot films like “Silver & Black,” about the female superheroes Silver Sable and Black Cat, and “Venom,” with Tom Hardy playing that razor-toothed antihero.

Sony and LStar Capital spent $175 million to make “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” not including global marketing costs. But the movie — in an unusual agreement between rival companies — was creatively steered by a group that included Rothman; Amy Pascal, the former Sony chairwoman who is now a producer; and Kevin Feige, who runs the Disney-owned Marvel Studios.

In particular, Feige, whom Rothman called “exceptionally brilliant,” worked to re-center Spider-Man as a boy trying to understand his place in the world, both as a crime fighter and as a teenager. Disney also agreed to loan one of its principal characters to the reboot effort: Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr.

In return, Holland’s Spider-Man will appear in Disney-produced “Avengers” movies. But Disney mostly saw “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as an elaborate toy commercial; Sony sold its Spider-Man merchandise rights to Disney in 2011.

Sony bought the movie rights to Spider-Man in 1999 and must keep making films to keep them. A sequel to “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is to begin production in the spring.

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