Much to nobody’s surprise, Spider-Man: No Way Home made a ton of money this weekend—enough for it to have the third-biggest worldwide opening of all time and the second-biggest domestic opening of all time, pandemic be damned—and now box office experts are racking their brains to try and solve the mystery of how this movie found so much success when nearly every other movie is struggling to get much attention in theaters.
We’re not box office experts here, we merely have an academic curiosity about it, but it seems likely to us that Spider-Man: No Way Home made a lot of money because… it’s a movie about Spider-Man, one of the most beloved superheroes across multiple generations. Also, it’s a known-quantity superhero movie that went straight to theaters, with no option to stream it at home, so people would want to see it no matter what. Also, people are sick of worrying about COVID, and it was just a matter of time before something caused the dam to burst, which every movie studio has been betting on since last fall.
But let’s hear what the experts had to say: Variety ran the numbers and determined that Spider-Man is a popular character, having appeared in nine standalone movies in two decades (counting Into The Spider-Verse) and a handful of the biggest movies of all time beyond that—to say nothing of the Venom movies, which are propping up Sony’s nascent Spidey-related cinematic universe—which account for trillions of dollars in box office money.
David A. Gross, owner of film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, told Variety that “most big series struggle to maintain their success this late in their run,” but 20 years in, “Spider-Man is exploding.” That’s a bit like being surprised that one McDonalds location can make money even after every other McDonalds location has made money, but it is probably fair to point out that people started to get pretty sick of Star Wars after Disney released the last movie, and Spider-Man is as popular ever (if not more popular).
Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, gave Variety some more useful information, noting that each of these superhero movies “is its own entity from production to marketing to release and reception,” so No Way Home’s success doesn’t mean Jared Leto’s upcoming Morbius will automatically be as popular just because it’s somehow connected to MCU Spider-Man. On the one hand, yes, obviously. The money that these movies make fluctuates, and when Ant-Man And The Wasp fails to live up to Avengers: Infinity War, people don’t start grabbing life preservers so that they can get out before the ship sinks.
On the other hand, the fact that No Way Home’s success won’t necessarily translate to other movies is important to note because No Way Home’s success might not mean anything on a grander scale. Like we noted above, there were a lot of factors working in its favor, and unless every movie is now about Spider-Man and he fights a bunch of old villains from other movies and there are a bunch of big secrets and spoilers that people are dying to see, then the big lesson that Hollywood can take from this is that… people like superhero movies, and they’re willing to risk getting COVID to see superhero movies and only superhero movies, which is the lesson offered by other movie that came out in the last 13 months or so.
Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for Comscore, saw things differently in an interview with Vulture, saying that this past weekend “may be the most important box-office weekend ever” and “a real turning point” for the industry. That would be good, since seeing a movie in a theater is a different experience than seeing it on your stupid home TV and there was a time when it seemed like COVID would really kill theaters, so the fact that No Way Home made record-breaking levels of money is a good sign that theaters could bounce back to pre-pandemic levels… but again, this is one particularly huge movie. It will probably keep making money as the weeks go on, but nothing else did much of anything this past weekend, so until No Way Home’s money starts to trickle down to other films, it still might just be a one-off thing.
But maybe the real takeaway is that people are somehow still surprised that Marvel movies, even Marvel movies put out by Sony, are popular? Or that COVID hasn’t dampened anyone’s enthusiasm for quippy heroes and portals in the sky and British people playing New Yorkers? Sometimes it seems like mankind is willingly throwing itself into oblivion, but it’s a heartwarming testament to human perseverance to know that movies with Spider-Man in them will always make money.