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‘Spider-Man’ Opens to $253 Million This Weekend, Changes the Movie Business

“Nightmare Alley” also opened wide and grossed 1 percent of “No Way Home.” Can big-budget adult movies still survive in theaters?

Tom Brueggemann

17 mins ago

Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home”


There are a few weekends that changed the course of the movie business. One was June 20-22, 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” invented the wide-release blockbuster. Another is December 12-17, 2021, when “Spider-Man: No Way Home” opened to $253 million domestic — and Spielberg’s “West Side Story” dropped 68 percent in its second weekend, to gross $3.4 million.

Sony’s Marvel movie is the savior film to answer theaters’ prayers. For now, its outstanding performance saved the exhibition business. With the biggest opening weekend since “Avengers: Endgame” set the opening record in April 2019, “No Way Home” proves beyond doubt that an audience will race to theaters for for certain films.

Here’s the rub. With $357 million, “Endgame” represented 88 percent of the total box office, with another $45 million from other titles; no new releases wanted to compete on that weekend, or the one before it. This weekend, “Spider-Man” provided 92 percent of the total, with just $22 million from other titles. These included the aforementioned “West Side Story” and the debut of Guillermo Del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” both in wide release.

“Nightmare Alley”

Searchlight Pictures

Those movies that don’t star Spider-Man could seal the theatrical fate of non-franchise movies that appeal to older audiences. This weekend, the combined gross of “WSS” and “Nightmare Alley” represents 2.5 percent of “No Way Home.” Surely Omicron anxiety was a factor in that terrible performance, but it’s also a vivid representation of a months-long trend that no Marvel hero can touch.

“No Way Home” is the ninth film since 2002 about one comic book character. It received good but hardly spectacular reviews and corralled (in unadjusted terms) the third-biggest opening weekend ever, topping all “Star Wars” December debuts. In three days, it grossed more than the full domestic runs of any film released in the last two years.

All of this reinforces what we knew: There is a massive and seemingly inexhaustible audience for Marvel IP. It also tells us something we didn’t want to know: Big-budget theatrical movies that target adult audiences are a massive and unsustainable risk. Further holiday results could challenge that conclusion, but films like “West Side Story” and “Nightmare Alley” now bear burden of proof.

This weekend improved the result from the same pre-Christmas weekend in 2019 by nine percent. It represents the second time we’ve seen a boost since the theaters reopened and brings our four-weekend rolling comparison to 65 percent. Can Spider-Man carry the weight of saving the holiday box office? “Encanto” comes to Disney+ this Friday and other holdovers are unlikely to add much.

About 25 million people went to North American theaters this weekend. Historically, massive opening films provide a couple of virtuous cycles: Interest in a hit inspires not only increased interest via word of mouth, but also supports attendance for other titles. This weekend, only one of those truisms held true.

“The Lost Daughter”


The weekend saw a plethora of top-talent limited-run titles in theaters but they don’t contribute to the box-office story because their distributors don’t report. Amazon had “Being the Ricardos” and “The Tender Bar,” Netflix has Maggie Gyllenhall’s critically acclaimed “The Lost Daughter” as well as Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” Apple has “Swan Song” starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. United Artists also had a one-week qualifying run for “Cyrano.”

Spot checking theaters playing these films suggests minor response, which should be ascribed to neither the films’ quality  nor their ultimate streaming appeal. In the case of Netflix, the New York Times defers their still-influential film reviews until a film starts to stream.

One limited film that does report and still doing very well is UA’s “Licorice Pizza.” Its four 70mm theaters had a fourth weekend per-theater average of $22,000, which is better than nearly any platform first weekend this year. It dropped 50 percent, but that’s normal for mid-December — particularly from a very high level. Its real test will come with its 750-theater expansion on Christmas Day.

The Top 10

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A+; Metacritic: 72; Est. budget: $200 million

$253,000,000 in 4,336 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $58,349; Cumulative: $253,000,000

2. Encanto (Disney) Week 4; Last weekend #2

$6,528,000 (-35%) in 3,525 (-225) theaters; PTA: $1,852; Cumulative: $81,545,000

3. West Side Story (Disney) Week 2; Last weekend #1

$3,416,000 (-68%) in 2,820 (no change) theaters; PTA: $1,211; Cumulative: $17,982,000

4. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Sony) Week 5; Last weekend #3

$3,400,000 (-52%) in 3,282 (-553) theaters; PTA: $1,036; Cumulative: $117,250,000

5. Nightmare Alley (Searchlight) NEW – Cinemascore: B; Metacritic: 70; Est. budget: $60 million

$2,958,000 in 2,145 theaters; PTA: $1,379; Cumulative: $2,958,000

6. House of Gucci (United Artists) Week 4; Last weekend #4

$1,854,000 (-55%) in 1,907 (-1,500) theaters; PTA: $972; Cumulative: $44,886,000

7. Eternals (Disney) Week 7; Last weekend #5

$1,192,000 (-62%) in 1,900 (-1,300) theaters; PTA: $627; Cumulative: $163,598,000

8. Pushpa: The Rise (Hamsini) NEW – Cinemascore:; Metacritic:; Est. budget: $

$(est.) 1,100,000 in 400 theaters; PTA: $2,750; Cumulative: $(est.) 1,100,000

9. Clifford the Big Red Dog (Paramount) Week 6; Last weekend #7; also on Paramount +

$400,000 (-69%) in 2,840 (-421) theaters; PTA: $320; Cumulative: $48,586,000

10. Resident Evil: Raccoon City (Sony) Week 4; Last weekend #6

$280,000 (-87%) in 719 (-1,853) theaters; PTA: $389; Cumulative: $16,733,000

Additional specialized/limited/independent releases 

The Novice (IFC) Metacritic: 83; Festivals include: Tribeca 2021; also on Video on Demand

$11,500 in 37 theaters; PTA: $311

Red Rocket (A24) Week 2

$80,760 in 16 (+10) theaters; PTA: $; Cumulative: $198,895

The Scary of Sixty-First (Utopia) Week 3

$10,379 in 3 (+2) theaters; Cumulative: $20,656

Flee (Neon) Week 3

$5,064 in 7 (+3) theaters;  Cumulative: $47,951

Licorice Pizza (United Artists) Week 4

$89,175 in 4 (no change) theaters; Cumulative: $1,290,000

Drive My Car (Janus) Week 4

$46,200 in 27 (+21) theaters;  Cumulative: $219,382

C’mon C’mon (A24) Week 4

$38,891 in 102 (-467) theaters; Cumulative: $1,741,000

Julia (Sony Pictures Classics) Week 6

$19,038 in 257 (+212) theaters; Cumulative: $369,274

Belfast (Focus) Week 6; also on Premium VOD

$75,000 in 207 (-612) theaters, Cumulative: $6,800,000

Spencer (Neon) Week 7; also on Premium VOD

$12,753 in 40 (-188) theaters; Cumulative: $7,077,000

The French Dispatch (Searchlight) Week 9

$129,000 in 180 (-130) theaters; Cumulative: $15,822,000

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