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Another Record for ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’: The Feast-or-Famine Box Office Future

Wherever the latest "Spider-Man" is placed among all-time movies, it is different from any past blockbuster in outside-the-box performance.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home” fell to #2 following last weekend’s moderate debut of “Scream,” but it could return to #1. With $707 million domestic to date, COVID may ding its final take — all theaters are closed in Ontario and Quebec, representing six percent of the North American market — but a staggering $775 million still remains a reasonable expectation.

Headlines say “Spider-Man” is the #4 domestic release of all time, which only makes sense if you believe that ticket prices  went unchanged in the last century. (Based on adjusted box office, it ranks at #28.) However, this is no time for quibbling; “No Way Home” holds at least four real-world records of its own.

The last blockbuster to exceed every expectation was “Titanic”

Guided by precedents, box-office grosses tend to operate in a predictable and narrow range. “No Way Home” is the eighth installment of the 20-year-old “Spider-Man” franchise, which has seen domestic grosses ranging from $202 million to $403 million. Given the underperformance of nearly every film last year, an estimate of $400 million domestic seemed highly optimistic.

Instead, “No Way Home” will nearly double those expectations — even with an Omicron headwind. The last film that overperformed by this degree was “Titanic.” James Cameron’s 1997 film (in adjusted grosses, #5 all time) took in $659 million in its initial run ($1.24 billion adjusted).

It ignored the law of diminishing returns

The range of potential grosses for any franchise is usually narrow. Although there can be some variance, any increases are usually small. The 2012 “Skyfall” was a recent exception; the third Daniel Craig James Bond film saw an 80 percent increase over “Quantum of Solace.” The November 2021 release of “No Time to Die,” easily the pandemic’s most-discussed delayed release and Craig’s final effort, became the lowest domestic grosser of Craig’s five Bond films.

In 2021, Disney’s Marvel releases all came in near the bottom of the MCU box office. “Spider-Man: Far from Home” grossed $390 million in 2019. That “No Way Home” will double the previous “Spider-Man,” is stunning.

Unprecedented domination

Over the five weeks of its release, “No Way Home” accounted for 66 percent of the domestic gross. Even “Avengers: Endgame” accounted for 54 percent. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” a Christmas release, did 48 percent. “Avatar” was 34 percent, “Titanic” and E.T.” each represented 30 percent.

“No Way Home” dominance extends beyond its own release dates; it dwarfs everything released in 2021. Usually the gap is small between the #1 and #2 films in a year — somewhere between $20 million and $100 million, with a maximum of 50 percent more.

In the past 40 years, only “Titanic” and “E.T.” more than doubled the next biggest film; “No Way Home” will gross at least 350 percent as much as #2, “Shang-Chi.” Discrepancies like that just don’t happen in any conventional box-office scenario.

GHOSTBUSTERS, l-r: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Harold Ramis, 1984. ©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

“Ghostbusters”

Everett Collection

“No Way Home” is the biggest film in Sony history

The last time a distributor set an internal record (based on adjusted grosses) was Paramount’s “Titanic” nearly a quarter century ago. (Disney, for all its massive hits, has yet to top the $1 billion adjusted for 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”)

Sony, formerly Columbia Studios, has a nearly century-long history that includes “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the 1961 “West Side Story,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Tootsie” among films with the equivalent of over $500 million. “Ghostbusters” held Columbia’s previous record of $657 million. Also of note: Sony, the sole major studio without its own streaming platform, just released the biggest film in its history. That matters.

Anomaly or the future?

It’s unlikely we’ll see another year like 2021 with its Covid restrictions and the absence of product (knock on wood). Warner Bros. will release “The Batman” March 4, which could echo the appeal of “Spider-Man.” It could augur a new normal: One film thrives while everything else struggles.

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