“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Sony) exploded with Thursday preview grosses of $50 million, ranking behind only “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Force Awakens” in pre-opening day totals.
In the past, any film with previews over $40 million went on to opening weekends over $200 million. That now looks like a strong possibility for “No Way Home,” higher than consensus predictions around $200 million.
Only two December openings grossed over $200 million int heir opening weekends. “The Force Awakens” is top at $248 million, while “The Last Jedi” took in $227 million. Like “No Way Home,” both launched in mid-December.
In its first week, it’s likely that “No Way Home” will become the top-grossing film of 2021 (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” at $224 million is the current leader), perhaps as early as Sunday (although it is more likely to take a little longer).
This impressive performance came with help from very early start times (3 p.m. in many places, rather than the customary 7 p.m. or later), maximum availability of IMAX and other special-format higher-priced tickets, and very little competition.
International results, with some countries starting midweek, are also very strong. It opened in 15 territories December 15 with an initial $43.6 million take, including $10.1 million in the U.K. That was 50 percent better than “No Time to Die” (United Artists), which has grossed about $500 million on a per-capita basis.
This performance is a balm after a week of bad exhibition news including disappointing numbers for “West Side Story,” a nearly $1 billion judgment against Regal parent Cineworld, and announcements that deplete an already-weak Q1 2022 release calendar.
The full weekend will provide a more detailed portrait, but already “No Way Home” validates that for certain films — franchise films, especially comic-book related, particularly from Marvel — remain the cornerstone of theatrical viability. Anything short of that confirmation would have been devastating. This should settle the question of whether top-IP films will maintain theatrical exclusivity.
The next question: Will this encourage studios to reconsider their shifts to streaming platforms? Results to date for “West Side Story” reinforce the perception of a new normal by many decision makers: Non-franchise films aimed at adult audiences are a massive risk.
To that effect, Disney moved “Deep Water,” Adrian Lyne’s adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith mystery starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, from mid-January date to Hulu only. Universal turned “Marry Me,” the sole Valentine’s Day rom-com, into a day-and-date Peacock title. Michael Bay’s “Ambulance” and Blumhouse’s “Black Phone” (both Universal) vacated February for April and June, respectively.
Does that hint of Omicron worries? Perhaps, but what’s certain is the first two months of 2022 will be weak and unlikely to sustain “Spider-Man” momentum. None of this diminishes “Spider-Man,” but no matter how big it can’t make up for the many other variables.