In Spider-Man, Uncle Ben tells his nephew Peter Parker that “With great power comes great responsibility.” As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the entertainment industry, the “great responsibility” of resuscitating the movie business lies on the shoulders of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

The enormous box office potential of Spider-Man: No Way Home will be negatively impacted by the ongoing pandemic. The challenges of releasing a major blockbuster during the time of COVID are great and need to be fully explored. Nevertheless, the film, which swings into theaters on December 17th, has several enticing factors that could drive fans to return to the movies.

With no Disney+ at home viewing option, an appealing time-traveling premise that brings back beloved heroes and villains from previous films, and a historically great release date, Spiderman: No Way Home should serve as a litmus test about the ceiling of today’s box office.

The anemic box office gross of the last two years has been driven by the COVID 19 pandemic and has threatened to forever change the way that movies are consumed. The movie industry’s rapid contraction during the pandemic served as a stark reminder about the ripple effects of the COVID crisis on the entertainment sector.

Bad Boys for Life, the number one movie of 2020 was the lowest-grossing yearly number one since 1995.[1] The cumulative gross of all 2020 releases was the lowest since 1981.[2] 2020 films grossed over nine billion dollars less than 2019 films!

[3] The complete and utter collapse of the box office sent shockwaves through the industry. Bloomberg business writer Tara Lachapelle theorized that “We have learned to live without movie theaters. Even the ones that make it through the crisis may find that online-streaming apps have stolen away audiences for good.”[4] The way audiences consumed movies changed during the pandemic and the tech industry sought to solidify the new normal. 

The rise of streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime had already siphoned fans from movie theaters and allowed them to watch high-priced content from the comfort of their homes—threatening the old direct to theater model. The pandemic accelerated the necessity for an at-home viewing option for consumers. As a result, both Warner Brothers and Disney began offering audiences the ability to access high-end blockbusters on their respective streaming services. The move boosted subscriber counts for HBO Max and Disney+ respectively, but deflated box office grosses.

This led to tension between actors and the studios culminating in a Scarlett Johansson lawsuit against Disney. Johansson alleged that Disney violated the terms of her contract by simultaneously releasing Black Widow on Disney+, which negatively impacted the film’s box office and hurt Johansson’s earning power. The case was ultimately settled, but the precedent for star-driven litigation had been established. Fortunately, for Tom Holland and the other stars of No Way Home, they will not have to contend with a Disney+ release. They might, unfortunately, have to deal with new concerns about the Omicron variant. 

In order to watch the webslinger in December, audiences must go to a movie theater, which will increase sales as long as fears about the new Omicron COVID variant do not deter fans. After Black Widow’s Disney+ release and subsequent Johansson lawsuit, Disney announced that the next Marvel release: Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would be released exclusively in theaters.[5]

Shang Chi became a box office success and currently stands as the number one film of 2021 with a domestic gross of nearly 225 million dollars.[6] Buoyed by the positive result, Disney announced that the remaining 2021 Marvel slate would only be shown in theaters upon release.[7] 

The Omicron variant and fears about the transmissibility of the virus roiled markets this week and created a sense of concern amongst a COVID weary nation. Confirmed cases in the US could cause citizens to avoid crowded areas and once again continue the box office tailspin for the foreseeable future. Still, the addition of popular characters in No Way Home could aid in getting audiences back into cinema seats. 

Superhero movies have benefited financially from the nostalgic inclusion of fan-favorite heroes and villains. Spider-Man: No Way Home’s incorporation of beloved characters from previous movies could supercharge the box office. The film sees the return of Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, Electro, and Lizard. This coupled with the potential of all three actors who have portrayed Spider-Man joining together makes the film a must-see event for Spidey fans young and old.

The origins of this massive team-up lie in the innovations of Marvel Studios at its inception. Since they did not initially have the film rights to box office behemoths Spider-Man and the X-Men, Marvel Studios decided to build towards a superhero team of their B and C list comic roster. The record-breaking success of 2012’s Avengers served as proof of concept. Avengers grossed an astonishing 623 million domestic dollars and 1.5 billion dollars worldwide.[8] 

At the time, both marks ranked second only to Titanic. For context, Avengers nearly equaled the domestic box office gross of Iron Man and Iron Man 2 combined![9] Audiences delighted in seeing the various individual superheroes team up to fight the forces of evil. The familiarity with heroes such as Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man made their joining forces all the more tantalizing for fans. As Marvel released more hit movies, box office totals for team-up projects of all shapes and sizes continued to soar.  

Clever world-building strategies coupled with intelligent use of the time travel trope helped the superhero genre reach new heights in the latter part of the 2010s. The X-Men franchise was in a period of transition during the early part of the twenty-first century. The original cast, which had starred in three successful movies had been replaced by a different set of actors who sought to tell the origin story of the team. Although X-Men First Class was well received by critics, the movie disappointed at the domestic box office.[10] The film became the lowest domestic grossing X-Men movie up to that point.[11] The lack of box office success created an environment where the decision was made to combine both generations of X-Men characters.

The result of this multi-generational team up was the mammoth smash X Men: Days of Future Past. The film used time travel to allow the original X-Men actors to share the screen with the actors who were recast in their old roles. Once again, the story building worked wonders for the bottom line. Days of Future Past became the highest-grossing X-Men movie of all time grossing $746 million worldwide.[12] 

Remarkably, the X-Men franchise went from the box office lows of First Class to the highs of Future Past in only three years. No Way Home’s use of the time-traveling trope could help goose sales in a similar way. X-Men laid the blueprint and Avengers: End Game improved on the massive potential of time traveling partnerships.

Marvel Studios built upon the time-traveling team-up genre to create the highest-grossing worldwide movie of all time with Avengers: End Game. The 2019 release briefly surpassed Avatar raking in an astronomical $2.79 billion at the global box office.[13] End Game, like Days of Future Past and No Way Home, employed the science-fiction concept of time travel as a means to connect characters from different timelines.

The love and reverence for the Marvel characters and the desire to see them interact in the closing chapter of a cinematic journey a decade in the making propelled Disney to the top of the box office. Spider-Man seeks to emulate the business success of his time traveling brethren. The nostalgic blending of characters through films, however, is not the only secret sauce of success. The date a film is released can also make or break the bank. 

The weekend before Christmas release date has boosted the return of at least three major films, making Spider-Man: No Way Home’s debut date a potential gold mine. Titanic, Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens share the week-before-Christmas release date and the distinction of being atop the all-time box office chart at the completion of their respective runs.

James Cameron’s two epic films did not start with huge opening weekends, however, they both used Christmas, New Year’s, and the January dead period to create lengthy box office runs. Titanic grossed over $600 million domestics[14] after its 1997 opening, while Avatar grossed over 750 million dollars[15] a dozen years after Cameron’s first record-setting release.

Conventional wisdom, however, was that a movie could not score a record-breaking opening weekend in December due to holiday events and plans. JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in theaters on December 18th, 2015, and sent the box office to a galaxy far, far away. The film opened to an astronomical 247 million dollars and beat the previous opening weekend record by 19 percent![16] The success of the Cameron and Star Wars movies in December should serve as a reminder to Spider-Man die-hards and movie executives alike that massive opening weekends and record-breaking box office are possible during the cold months of winter.

At this moment in time, interest in Marvel’s final 2021 release remains sky high. No Way Home has the highest presales on Fandango since Avengers: End Game. Senior media analyst Paul Degarbedian believes that No Way Home will become the first 100 million dollar opening weekend of the pandemic era.[17] 

In order for that to happen, the film needs to deliver and audiences need to show up in droves. The strong bond between audiences and Spider-Man was movingly depicted in Spider-Man 2 when Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man attempts to stop a crowded train from derailing into the Hudson River.

Spidey’s repeated attempts to stop the train are initially unsuccessful as he is heckled by the train goers about his lack of progress. The audience offers no solutions and passively critiques Spider-Man’s strategy. Spider-Man strains and strains, even ripping his costume in the process to stop the train in its tracks. Ultimately, he successfully leverages his webs to stop the train short. Exhausted from his effort, he begins to collapse into the water below. Before he can fall, the same cat-calling audience, who previously stood by, sprang into action. The passengers grab Spider-Man and pull him to safety. The group holds Spider-Man aloft on their shoulders before letting him rest and recover.

In Spider-Man’s moment of need, the audience was there to pick him up. Will audiences pick up this new Spider-Man and by extension the movie industry and lift them to heights not seen since before the pandemic? We will get our answer in two weeks. Grab your popcorn.




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