Spidey sets a new standard for movie openings: rule the world

Times Staff Writers

“Spider-Man 3” gave new meaning to the term “worldwide web” this weekend, snaring $373 million in ticket sales in a record display of Hollywood’s global reach.

Fans in 107 countries lined up for Peter Parker’s third outing, which shattered the previous mark by 47% and launched the movie industry’s extended summer season in blockbuster style.

“Spider-Man 3” crushed the North American record with an estimated three-day total of $148 million in the U.S. and Canada, topping last summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”


And it piled up unprecedented opening numbers in Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Italy, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere since its Tuesday launch in many territories.

“In your deepest, darkest, most secret desires you could never expect it to do so well,” said Amy Pascal, Sony’s studio chairwoman. “We’re floating.”

The huge weekend is the culmination of three trends building in Hollywood for years: the rising importance of the international audience, the tendency to open films simultaneously in many countries to prevent pirated versions from hitting the streets before the originals reach the screen and the practice of showing the same movie on multiple screens at multiplexes.

“Spider-Man 3,” whose superhero originated in the old Marvel comic books, is a much-anticipated sequel that appeals to various age groups. The original “Spider-Man” in 2002 was the first movie to gross more than $100 million domestically in an opening weekend.

Later this month, Walt Disney is expected to pull out all the stops to try to reclaim the opening-weekend crown when “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” hits theaters.

“Spider-Man 3,” starring Tobey Maguire as the web-slinger, drew fans of the franchise such as the Pham family of Westminster, which planned its weekend around the film and bought tickets Tuesday for the 7 p.m. show Saturday.


“We decided we would leave at 4, eat dinner, then 5:30 at the latest we would have to get in line,” said Kim Pham, with her husband and four daughters ages 9 to 18, at the Century 20 Bella Terra in Huntington Beach.

“This summer, we were planning on it being a moviegoing summer,” she said. “This is the first movie of the year the family has seen as an entire group.”

The results come as encouraging news to an industry looking for a string of summer movies to lift this year’s domestic box-office results above $10 billion for the first time. Theater owners and studios are banking on such sequels as “Shrek the Third” in two weeks, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” on Memorial Day weekend and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in July.

Even more important is the financial effect such films can register internationally at a time when foreign ticket sales account for 63% of the world market, up from 50% five years ago.

More than 4 out of every 5 moviegoers around the world this weekend went to see “Spider-Man 3.”

The previous record worldwide gross for an opening was set by “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith” at $254 million in 2005 (or $304 million if its Thursday domestic opening is included). In the U.S. and Canada, “Pirates” had set the standard with a $135.6-million three-day launch.

“Spider-Man 3,” in which Maguire’s character is reunited with love interest Mary Jane Watson (played by Kirsten Dunst) and battles villains Sandman and Venom as well as his own dark side, cost about $400 million to produce and release. But Sony declared the expensive gamble a success.

“If anything makes the dollars we spend to make and market these big movies make sense, it’s the one-world approach,” said Jeff Blake, Sony’s president of worldwide marketing and distribution.

“It’s no longer just a question of, ‘How did it do at the Mann Village in Westwood?’ ”

“Spider-Man 3” came none too soon for Hollywood, which was coming off of three straight weeks of sluggish results. The industry’s summer slate got off on the wrong foot in 2005, when the epic “Kingdom of Heaven” flopped, and last year’s season opener, “Mission: Impossible III,” fell shy of lofty expectations.

Industrywide ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada surged 73% from the same weekend a year ago, thanks to “Spider-Man 3,” and year-to-date they are running 6% ahead of 2006, according to research firm Media by Numbers.

The “Spider-Man,” “Shrek” and “Pirates” sequels are expected to turbocharge this month’s results, while studios are banking on productions such as “Harry Potter,” “Transformers,” “Ratatouille” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” to carry the rest of the summer.

“Spider-Man 3” benefited from the soft competition in the marketplace.

Also working in its favor was its wide release: The movie was slung into a record 4,253 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. It also played in an unprecedented number of other territories.

Even so, the PG-13 rated film earned the highest per-theater average ever in North America for a broad release -- an estimated $34,807.

A distant No. 2 at the U.S. and Canadian box office this weekend was the thriller “Disturbia” with $5.7 million, followed by “Fracture” in third place.

Moviegoers put up with lengthy lines to see the first special-effects extravaganza of the summer season.

Ralph Hartounian tried to take his 7-year-old daughter, Nicole, to an 8 p.m. show Saturday at the AMC Burbank 16, but all screenings until 10:45 p.m. were sold out -- and the line for that one stretched for two blocks from the downtown multiplex.

So they trekked to the nearby mall to catch a 9:05 showing, lining up more than an hour early.

“She picks the films,” said Hartounian, a 45-year-old mortgage broker, nodding at his daughter.

“I love Spider-Man from the comic books and the first two movies,” Nicole said.

At the Huntington Beach multiplex, the movie played on five screens, drawing fans such as Daniel Samawi.

Friends say the 14-year-old considers himself a self-styled Spider-Man with a penchant for climbing things and jumping off rocks. On Saturday night, Daniel donned a Spider-Man T-shirt and sat at the front of the line, about an hour before the movie started, with tickets he bought online the night before.

“I’ve been counting the days for ‘Spider-Man,’ ” the Westminster resident said. “I don’t read the comic books, but I’ve seen the other two and I like them a lot. In this one, there’s, like, three bad guys.”

“Spider-Man 3,” which also set single-day marks with the industry’s biggest Friday, Saturday and Sunday grosses, could claim more records because no other heavyweight releases are due until DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek the Third” comes out May 18.

Its ultimate level of success may depend on word of mouth. Moviegoers interviewed this weekend said they would recommend it, although some expressed reservations.

“I really like the story line and all the action,” said Debbie Hornish, 15, of Fountain Valley. “I thought it was funnier -- and more sad -- than the first and second.”

The eldest Pham daughter, Jackie, 18, called the movie “enjoyable” but added, “I can’t quite say it lived up to the hype. I’m not sure it was the best way to end the ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy.”

The weekend’s other new releases were overwhelmed at the box office. Warner Bros. counter-programmed with the romantic comedy “Lucky You,” starring Drew Barrymore and Eric Bana, but it managed only $2.5 million in the U.S. and Canada.



And the runners-up are...

These are the five movies that broke opening-weekend records at the box office before “Spider-Man 3” landed. Four of the five were released during the month of May. Figures are for U.S. and Canadian theaters only.

Pirates of the Caribbean:

Dead Man’s Chest

Studio: Disney

Release date: July 7, 2006

Opening gross: $135.6 million



Studio: Sony

Release date: May 3, 2002

Opening gross: $114.8 million


Star Wars: Episode III

Revenge of the Sith

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Release date: May 19, 2005

Opening gross: $108.4 million


Shrek 2

Studio: DreamWorks

Release date: May 19, 2004

Opening gross: $108 million


X-Men: The Last Stand

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Release date: May 26, 2006

Opening gross: $102.8 million





Box-office results

Preliminary figures (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:

*--* 3-day Movie gross Total Spider-Man 3 $148.0 $148.0

Disturbia 5.7 59.9

Fracture 3.4 26.5

The Invisible 3.1 12.3

Next 2.8 11.8

Lucky You 2.5 2.5

Meet the Robinsons 2.5 91.8

Blades of Glory 2.3 111.6

Hot Fuzz 2.1 16.1

Are We Done Yet? 1.7 46.1


Industry totals

*--* 3-day gross Change (in millions) from 2006 $190.0 +72.6%

Year-to-date gross Change (in billions) from 2006 $2.92 +6.0%


Source: Media by Numbers