Hello, Summer Breakout! ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Exceeds All Expectations in Early Shows

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony) amassed $17.35 million in Thursday shows starting at 2 p.m. That’s $150,000 behind what the previews for “Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3” (Disney) did four weeks ago, on its way to a $118.4 weekend.

That’s a huge jump from 2018’s “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” In a much different environment (evening-only shows on a dead mid-December Thursday), it grossed $3.5 million before a surprising $35.4 million initial weekend.

These results position the second “Spider-Verse” to see a potentially bigger weekend than “Guardians.” Many schools are now closed for summer vacation, elevating Friday’s potential audience. And though it won’t get as high a percentage of viewers who opt for premium screens, Sony does control many of them.

That level of achievement would be a welcome surprise. Before improved tracking last weekend, industry consensus was $60 million-$70 million opening. Even after increased interest was seen, the guess was still under $90 million.

Several factors elevate “Spider-Verse”:

— The first film was critically acclaimed, won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and grossed a surprising $194 million in its Christmas 2018 release;

— “Spider-Man: No Way Home” remains the biggest domestic hit since 2019, and this is the next film from that Marvel subset;

— The new film is receiving rapturous reviews (86 score on Metacritic, rarely seen for a studio release);

— It comes after the unexpected massive success for the animated “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal), now over $560 million domestic (biggest of 2023 so far). “SMB” showed significant adult interest for an animated film, and it’s one with less-obvious appeal than “Spider-Verse.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” Sony

Add this: Although business was uneven, May’s three top releases (“Guardians,” “Fast X,” and “The Little Mermaid”) all played at levels at or near expectations — nothing groundbreaking, but enough audience interest to give hope for the summer. But with none expected to reach $400 million domestic (an achievement ticked by two May releases last year), a void remains to be filled. “No Way Home,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and “SMB” show when the public is excited, the potential is there.

Perhaps “Spider-Verse” is the hero film that theaters seek. It’s a great start (to note: “SMB” with its Wednesday opening skipped previews, so there is no comparison). This is a week later than “Maverick” last year, which rose to $709 million on the back of terrific word of mouth. It created enough theatrical goodwill to boost the entire summer. If “Spider-Verse” can do the same thing, it will be a crucial plus to a summer season that so far is slightly below last year.

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