How Sony’s ‘Spider-Verse’ Franchise Struck Box Office Gold… Again

Spidey’s still got it. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” a sequel to Sony’s 2018 Oscar-winning “Into the Spider-Verse,” collected $120 million in its box office debut — a towering figure that’s more than triple the original’s opening weekend.

The first film, one of the intial cinematic introductions to the multiverse, started with a softer $34.4 million but turned into a word-of-mouth sensation during its theatrical run, which ended with $190 million in North America and $384 million globally. Now, thanks to the goodwill from “Into the Spider-Verse” and quality to match the hype, the follow-up film has managed to become a blockbuster from the jump. Already, “Across the Spider-Verse” has generated $208 million worldwide, including $88.1 million at the international box office. It cost $100 million.

“It’s really rare that sequels increase their box office,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Usually, the law of diminishing returns applies.”

There are a few reasons that “Across the Spider-Verse” delivered that stellar degree of box office growth. For one, the studio made a movie that resonated with audiences (who awarded it an “A” CinemaScore) and critics (it holds a 95% average on Rotten Tomatoes) alike.

“There was a time when the term ‘sequel’ was thought of as a cheap money grab,” Dergarabedian adds. “This movie didn’t fall into that trap.”

At the same time, the Spider-Man brand has never been stronger following the behemoth success of 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” With $814 million in North America and $1.9 billion globally, the threequel (which stars Tom Holland as the title hero and remains entirely separate, for now, from the animated franchise) is the third-highest grossing domestic release in history and the sixth-biggest movie ever worldwide. Peter Parker’s appeal clearly spans far and wide.

But with its “Spider-Verse,” Sony didn’t bank on brand recognition to fill movie theater seats. In fact, analysts consider the “Spider-Verse” series a master class in revisiting a popular character. Unlike, say, “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast” or Disney’s other recent adaptations of its classics that were criticized as formulaic (at best) or shot-for-shot remakes (at worst), this version offered a new perspective of Marvel’s friendly neighborhood web-slinger, who has been portrayed in live-action forms by Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and Holland.

In this universe, Spider-Man takes the form of Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teen of African American and Puerto Rican descent who is bestowed with superhuman powers. Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers and Justin K. Thompson directed the PG-rated sequel, which follows Miles and Gwen Stacy (a.k.a. Spider-Woman) as they attempt to save their fellow Spider-People from a villain called The Spot.

“‘Spider-Verse’ took a well-liked superhero, gave the storytelling an original visual style and voice, and created a unique experience,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “The look, tone and point-of-view are entirely fresh.”

Imax screens, where tickets run at a higher price, were also key in boosting overall grosses for “Across the Spider-Verse.” It’s yet another reminder in the importance of premium formats, which made up 20% of the film’s overall grosses. (That’s not the best sign for Greta Gerwig’s upcoming “Barbie,” which isn’t getting an Imax run since Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” opens on the same day and will occupy most of those screens.) In the case of Spidey, Imax accounted for $13.5 million in North America (11.2% of the film’s opening weekend tally) and $20 million globally.

“This is how the theatrical system works right now. You have a blockbuster, you want to maximize the cash flow. [The] best way to do that is Imax/PLF screens,” Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, wrote on Twitter. “Audiences are gladly paying for that premium experience.”

Imax’s CEO Rich Gelfond showed his support for the “Spider-Verse” by calling it “one of the most visually dazzling franchises in cinema.” He added, “We are excited to see audiences overwhelmingly choose Imax to experience it.”

Box office experts view “Spider-Verse” as Sony’s clearest triumph in crafting a viable comic book franchise outside of Holland’s interpretation of the character, which shares DNA with Disney’s sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe. So naturally, Miles Morales isn’t going anywhere. Long before “Across the Spider-Verse” opened in theaters, Sony announced a third installment, “Beyond the Spider-Verse,” for 2024, while a female-centric spinoff is in development.

Otherwise, the studio has found mixed results with its so-called Sony Universe of Marvel Characters. “Venom” and its 2021 sequel “Let There Be Carnage” were theatrical winners with a combined $1.3 billion, but neither were critical darlings. Ditto for Jared Leto’s vampire-inspired “Morbius,” which failed to charm audiences as it tapped out with $167 million. Up next, “Kraven the Hunter,” starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and “Madame Web,” featuring Dakota Johnson, will test the appeal of comic book fans.

There’s a broader upside. After the outsized debut of “Across the Spider-Verse,” analysts believe that summer blockbuster season has a shot of hitting $4 billion for the first time in the pandemic era. That’s important because the stretch between May and August is regularly among the most lucrative of the year.

“I’m going out on that limb because we have 20 more wide release films this summer compared to last summer,” Dergarabedian says. “The performance of ‘Spider-Verse’ only emboldens my projections. It’s these overperformances that get the box office within the $4 billion range.”

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