Bullets Over the Box Office: Spidey, Spidey, Spidey Ho

Once again, sequelitis lays waste to all who dare stand before it.

If there’s one thing you don’t want to do while franchise fatigue is raging across the land, it’s opening the first sequel of the third iteration of a superhero in a decade. What chance could that possibly have in this environment?

Especially coming up against an original, fresh, non-franchise like Toy Story 4 . . . .

In looking over this summer’s box office, I keep coming back to reversion to the mean. Now and then you get a movie you might have expected to do better, where a different date would’ve helped, where a better campaign could’ve connected, maybe, possibly.

But by and large, if you step back, most things end up doing just about what you’d expect a movie like that to do. Far From Home is the follow-up to a tremendously well-liked rethinking of the character who remains, arguably, America’s most beloved piece of superhero IP. And so, bully for it.

But while franchise fatigue the phenomena might be struggling to preserve its foothold at the box office, it remains alive and well in the hearts and minds of the media. The evidence for it, as the LAT puts it:

The result is a rare win in what has so far been a summer dominated by franchise fatigue. While movies like “Men in Black: International,” “Dark Phoenix,” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” have disappointed both critically and commercially, Marvel’s films have consistently performed well.

Yeah, just Marvel films. And also Pixar films. And John Wick 3 if you want to split hairs. And now Spider-Man, which is half not-Marvel . . . .

But apart from that, franchises are dead, dead, dead!

Based on the evidence of Men in Black:InternationalDark Phoenix, and Godzilla.

Getting back to reversion to the mean, can you name any summer in the history of moviegoing when that trio of films would’ve been surefire, or even likely hits? Say each of them were the first of their franchises even? At any time ever?

Other Spidey/Sony/Box Office thoughts:

• The Marvel universe dodged a bullet here. The original Sony/Marvel/Spidey deal to co-produce these movies stipulated that if this Spidey cleared a billion, Marvel would get to oversee a third. If it hadn’t, full control would have reverted back to Sony, which raised the specter that America’s Most Beloved Entertainment Executive would look to cash in/out every way possible, as well as grab complete unexpurgated credit for the victory and thrown superhero canon to the wind. (Not something he was ever a fan of in the first place). It was feared he would have tossed Spidey and Venom together for a quickie mash-up that very potentially could’ve sunk both.

• That said, for all the internal issues, AMBEE has, by hook or crook, kept the hits coming, it can not be denied.

• Sony now has a new six-day opening champion! Fascinating if you want to get a sense what’s on the line here: When you look at Sony’s top all-time openings, six of the top seven are all Spider-men. The seventh being a Bond film, from that now-departed franchise. And number eight being Venom. That’s coming pretty darn close to a one-character studio.  Plus Jumanji with a question mark.

• Even more fascinating is to look at Sony’s all-time highest grossers. For one thing, the original Ghostbusters is still on the top ten in unadjusted, 1984 dollars. Which gives you a sense of the chaos that’s been happening at the studio in the last 30 years.

• Also: Hancock! One of Sony’s all-time top ten! Who knew? The only property in the top 10 that’s not currently reanimated or departed (007). Why aren’t we hearing more about the Hancock cinematic universe? And spinning off the all the supporting Hancock characters? Surely Johnny Galecki would see the sense in revisiting his immortal “Jeremy” character for a standalone? And Hayley Marie Norman would jump at the chance to return to the role of “Hottie.”

• Somewhat incredible to note that this could be Sony’s first ever, non-Bond billion-dollar movie.

• Far From Home is also the second widest release in movie history, having opened on 4,634 screens. The top ranks of this prize are shared with every other studio major release this summer. Clearly in this case, it allowed them to suck up every last penny, but at some point, even in this digital age, it’s going to cost money to be on that many screens. For future research: What sort of additional burden do these extra-wide openings put on their films, and what kind of risk are you piling on when you have it playing everywhere and it’s not a monster hit.

• Toy Story 4 still struggles to live down its failure to meet NRG projections for its opening weekend. Plagued by shame and self-doubt, the film stumbles wearily across $300 million domestic in 17 days. And quite possibly it could stall out at $800 or $900 million and fall short of Toy Story 3’s billion mark! Franchise fatigue bites back hard!

• As we were saying, it’s impossible to release indie movies anymore. Pretty much people just want to watch those on Netflix. It’s also impossible to sell comedies, a genre which is deader than the shipboard musical romance.

And it’s certainly, completely impossible to open against a movie like Toy Story 4 and then go into a second weekend against a humongous Spider-Man opening. I mean, where will a little comedy that nobody wants in the first place find the oxygen to reach an audience in the middle of all that?

Perhaps you hadn’t heard, but Far From Home had a Waze tie-in! And a takeover of the Discovery Channel! Not to mention, excuse me . . . a Global Snapchat Lens.

In the middle of all that you’re going to release a light comedy about some British guy named Hamish pretending he wrote Doctor Robert?

This has been a tough week for narratives.

• But let’s cut to the chase about the difference between Yesterday and Late Night, why one succeeds, and the other, despite the entire media establishment assembled in phalanx for it, fails.

Consider the pitches:

Yesterday: What if all the Beatles had been erased and you were the only one who remembered them?

Late Night: The problems of trying to open the minds of a network talk show’s writing room stuck in a creative and demographic muddle.

Again, getting back to reverting to the mean, we can quibble about release strategies, date, campaign, but just knowing the log lines, how much would you guess each of those would make?

• When you look across the spectrum at the way these two films have been received and covered, we’ve come to this bizarre place where the boundaries between the roles of critic, political activist, fanboy, and box-office reporter have completely dissolved. Everything has to play a role in some larger greater good narrative, which is fine if critics want to see the world that way and offer criticism through the lens of “How does this help the movement.”  It’s harder to justify if you’re supposedly covering box office for the film industry and filtering your business analysis through that lens.  Or that lens watered down via general media hoopla.

• In any event, last time I checked these companies, even poor little Amazon, had relatively robust marketing departments. Since when is the survival of their films dependent upon dragooning the help of the last remaining under-paid journalists in America to service their cause?

• Horror marches on. Another narrative having hard times this weekend: the idea that a film with an audience will be wiped away in its second week by a new premiere. In theory, Far From Home should have swallowed up Annabelle’s exact audience, but there it is, still selling tickets.

• As for Midsommar. Which we read is a near-complete disaster at $10 million. Once again: reverting to the mean. What do people think this should do? A movie about some anthropology grad students going to a slightly creepy Swedish folk festival. How much do you think that should make?

Okay, he made Hereditary. This isn’t that, or anything like that. No doubt, if he wanted to, he could’ve made another Hereditary. Given the results there, he probably could’ve gotten in line to make Venom 3, or a Birds of Prey spin-off. But instead he made a movie about some anthropology grad students going to a Swedish folk festival and encountering some ambitious weirdness. A $10 million opening for that sounds perfectly fine.

• Three million for a Pavarotti documentary isn’t nothing. The big showdown between Luciano and Leonard (Cohen) awaits next weekend! Have your narratives locked and loaded!

• Aladdin has done the impossible and is now equal to 1,842 Swept Aways.

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