The Not-Quite-Amazing Spider-Man Wins the Weekend

Marvel's sticky teen trounces Oliver Stone's "Savages" and Katy Perry's bosom but so far falls short of blockbuster status

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Jaimie Trueblood / Columbia Pictures Industries

Andrew Garfield in "The Amazing Spider-Man"

When is a big movie a bona fide hit? Simple answer: when it’s The Avengers. Murkier, multiple-choice answer: when it a) exceeds industry expectations, b) matches up well with similar earlier hits or c) earns $140 million in its first six days in North American theaters.

That last yardstick is the one copped by The Amazing Spider-Man (ASM), Marvel’s updating of a trilogy that earned nearly $2.5 billion in worldwide movie houses and concluded just five years ago. The new film launched with midnight shows early Tuesday, broke the opening-day record ($35.9 million) and kept chugging on through the holiday skein, with about $65 million over the weekend, to achieve a very tidy first-six-day sum. $140 million sounds like a lot of money, except to the Koch brothers. But in the movie landscape of megablockbusters, it’s only a decent beginning.

(MORE: Mary Pols’ Review of The Amazing Spider-Man)

No question that ASM, which cadged a radiant A-minus rating from the CinemaScore survey of moviegoers, dominated the post–Independence Day weekend. Spidey crushed his new competition, Oliver Stone’s crime-spree Savages and the concert film Katy Perry: Part of Me, while some happy holdovers — the naughty-stuffed-bear comedy Ted and Pixar’s girl-power cartoon Brave — kept their customers satisfied. With something for nearly everybody, the weekend’s gross exceeded that of last year’s Fourth of July period by some 35%.

Marvel certainly deserves kudos for nerve: remaking a huge smash origins film, the 2002 original Spider-Man, after just a decade, and casting spindly Brit art-house attraction Andrew Garfield (Red Riding 1974, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Never Let Me Go, all flops, plus the second lead in The Social Network) as gooey teen Peter Parker. The movie’s one borderline star, Emma Stone as Parker’s new girlfriend, had won fans with the teen semihit Easy A, and she also fronted The Help; but the franchise was the star. You loved what we did 10 years ago, the Marvel pitch went, now see us try it again.

(MORE: Andrew Garfield on Spider-Man)

So, how’d it do? So-so, compared with other giant action films that opened on or near Independence Day. ASM’s six-day cume is well below both the $180 million amassed by Transformers 3 last year and the $214.9 million earned by Transformers 2 in 2009. It’s also dwarfed by the $176.4 million for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (episode three) two years ago. In 2007, the last time July 4 fell on a Wednesday, the first Transformers movie took in $155.4 million in its first six days plus a few Monday-night previews (the equivalent of ASM’s midnight shows). Mind you, ticket prices were lower then. In today’s dollars, that six-day figure for the killer bots would be about $178 million.

Now compare ASM with other reboots of superhero franchises. In 2008, Marvel released The Incredible Hulk, a do-over of Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk — another stab at the same material, with the same five-year interval as Spider-Man and a comic-book adjective added to indicate that it was New! and Improved! On its opening weekend, Incredible grossed $55.4 million to Hulk’s $62.1 million and ended up earning about the same amount worldwide ($263.4 million to $254.4 million, virtually no difference in real dollars).

Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s 2005 revival of the DC Comics hero with Christian Bale, opened to $48.7 million; that amount was about the same as the first-weekend grosses for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman ($40.5 million) and the fourth film in that series, the 1997 Batman and Robin ($42.9 million) — though the first Batman went on to be its year’s biggest hit and, in real dollars, the 50th all-time top-grossing movie in North American theaters. On Box Office Mojo’s chart of all-time winners adjusted for inflation, the only superhero movies to do better than the first Batman are The Avengers (26th), Nolan’s Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight (29th) and the first Spider-Man (36th). (And if you’re wondering, the No. 1 film in movie history is … Gone with the Wind.)

That original Spider-Man was, by any standard, a palpable hit. It earned $114.8 million to become the first movie with a three-day total of more than $100 million — and that on an early-May weekend, with no school vacations or heat wave to drive people into theaters and no 3-D surcharge to inflate the numbers. In its first six days, the picture took in $144.2 million, or about $196 million in today’s dollars. It went on to gross $403.8 million domestic and $821.7 million worldwide, in thrifty 2002 dollars, or well over $1.1 billion in today’s depreciated coin of the realm.

(MORE: Corliss on the Spider-Man Trilogy)

The secret of any blockbuster is staying power, a factor that ASM will attempt to prove over the next few weeks. And foreign territories account for a higher percentage of an action film’s worldwide gross than they used to; so far, ASM has taken in $201.6 million abroad, which is a very nice start. This six-day wonder could be an eventual smash or a just-O.K. finisher. Get back to us in a few weeks for the final adjudication.

Savages only wishes it could gross $140 million in North America, the world or its dreams. The Universal sages moved the release of the Stone movie up from late September, thinking it could provide an option for the adult audience unbeguiled by another comic-book movie. But they couldn’t anticipate the favor that was found last week by two other R-rated movies, Ted and Channing Tatum’s soulful-stripper drama, Magic Mike. Savages finished well behind both of them; and its woeful C-plus CinemaScore rating indicates it won’t be picking up more adherents over the next week.

(MORE: Corliss’s Review of Savages)

As for Katy’s concert film, it wasn’t even the weekend’s top picture with Perry in the title. Katy Perry: Part of Me finished eighth, two places behind Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection.

Here are early Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. The Amazing Spider-Man, $65 million, first weekend; $140 million, first six days

2. Ted, $32.6 million; $120.2 million, second week

3. Brave, $20.2 million; $174.5 million, third week

4. Savages, $16.2 million, first weekend

5. Magic Mike, $15.6 million; $72.8 million, second week

6. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection, $10.2 million; $45.8 million, second week

7. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, $7.7 million; $196 million, fifth week

8. Katy Perry: Part of Me, $7.15 million; $10.25 million, first four days

9. Moonrise Kingdom, $4.6 million; $26.9 million, seventh week

10. From Rome with Love, $3.5 million; $5.6 million, third week