By Walid Habboub
Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last six months, then you know that this weekend marks the debut of the most anticipated film of 2002, Spider-Man. The real question becomes how big is Spider-Man going to be, seeing as how it is almost a certainty that the Sam Raimi-directed film will break at least one box-office record? Well, let's look beyond the hype - or try to, anyway - and hopefully a few films will help us along the way.
The most immediate comparison to Spider-Man that comes to mind is the 1989 release Batman, a tent-pole in movie history and a movie that truly redefined the marketing of movies and helped define what movie hype was all about. Back in 1989, Batman shirts and paraphernalia littered pop culture, as Tim Burton's dark vision of Gotham and the masked hero captured the imagination of people, but more importantly, it captured their wallets. To give you an idea of how huge Batman was, up to ten years after its release, only two movies had a better per-screen average than Batman, and those were the Jurassic Park films. Its $26,299 adjusted per-screen average is second only to Jurassic Park's $27,163. That ranking includes such mega-openers as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Independence Day.
So if we were going to label Spider-Man as the Batman of a new generation, would we get sued by Pepsi? I mean, would we be drawing an accurate comparison? There's very little question that both films are at least on par as far as cultural awareness goes; in fact, I would say that Spider-Man is a little ahead of Batman in that department. Batman relied heavily on a campy-but-very-popular '60s television series and 40 years of comic-book popularity. It also relied on sporadic animated shows. Spider-Man, on the other hand, relies on a campy-yet-very-popular '60s cartoon and 40 years of popularity in comics. Also, Spider-Man had a top-rated Saturday morning children's cartoon for five years running. Both can be considered icons of pop culture, and are two of the top three most popular superheroes ever created. Of course, the main differentiator between the two films is that Batman was breaking new ground, while it still remains to be seen if Spider-Man is.
I firmly believe that Spider-Man equals Batman in the cultural icon capacity, and Sony seems to be thinking along the same lines. The hype machine has been in full gear the past month, not that Sony needed to push it along. The buzz level on Spider-Man is almost as high as it was for the first Potter film, and being an adult and subject to more Spider-Man news, I would probably say that it is a bit higher. And the buzz does not only surround the fact that this is a movie about a cultural icon, much like Planet of the Apes was. This was that, but it looks like it is made well and will just kick all kinds of tail. Raimi has put together a slick-looking film that absolutely screams EPIC from the screen. The grandeur of the city of New York is on display in its fullest glory here, and Raimi has created a vibrant, kinetic equivalent of Gotham that completely sucks a viewer in. The film looks like it only used two sets while filming. It looks like it is made on a scale much larger than any other film and effect George Lucas attempted to achieve with Episode I, but failed miserably. Spider-Man just screams that it is the next big thing, regardless of what it is about. And Sony seems to think it has a quality film on its hands. The early screenings are reminiscent of what Warner Bros. did with The Matrix, and are an obvious attempt to build early word-of-mouth; the results have not been unfavorable so far, with generally positive reviews being given. Without a doubt, the hype goes beyond character recognition and a solid pre-existing fan base. Spider-Man is being sold as THE event movie of the year, even including hot stars and a high cool factor.
So talking numbers, I believe Spider-Man is a lock to gross $70 million, and feel confident about an $80 million open as a minimum. The film just has way too much going for it to not do this well. Beyond brand recognition, the film has more cross-generational appeal than Harry Potter, Planet of the Apes or its comic-book predecessor, X-Men. The movie also has cross-cultural appeal, as it will draw heavily from all cultural demos, much like X-Men did. The story of Peter Parker is universal, and so will the audience be. The film also has the inflated market that Batman didn't have, and when adjusting for screen counts and inflation, it isn't out of the question to think that Batman would be an $80 million-opener these days, so why wouldn't Spider-Man be?.
So I'm obviously completely sold on the hype and that this could very well be the biggest movie of the year. My guess would be an $86 million opening, with a total north of $300 million, though I do not expect people to start wearing their Spider-Man shirts to work on casual Fridays.