Let the Games Begin
In a crowded summer blockbuster season, someone's going to get hurt. Will it be Spider-Man?
Their spider sense is tingling: Sony Pictures is going to open Spider-Man 3 just after the stroke of midnight on Thursday with the obvious and highly achievable goal of smashing past a $100 million opening weekend.
Sony needs to prime the cash pump because Spider-Man 3 gets the audience to itself for only a couple of weeks before the other giant sequels start to roll out: Shrek the Third, rapidly followed by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and then Evan Almighty with Steve Carrell—all that before Transformers blasts its way into theaters on July 4 weekend. The rest of the summer brings you a Harry Potter and Ocean's Thirteen and The Simpsons Movie and another Fantastic Four, not to mention the by-all-accounts-hilarious Judd Apatow sleeper comedy Knocked Up. Whew.
For you in the seats, the spectacle should be both deafening and blinding. And if you're happy, the studios may also be very happy: The number crunchers expect record box-office returns this summer. But anxiety has to be running even higher than usual because of the intensity of the competition. The question is whether all these movies can survive this roller derby, and if not, which gets hurt? Let's just consider the early contenders for now because, frankly, we're overwhelmed by so much "product."
The movie that needs to make the most money is also the first out of the box, Spider-Man 3. Sony Pictures has expressed extreme displeasure that we've reported that the movie is likely the most expensive ever made, having crossed the $350 million mark. The studio says the film cost a mere $270 million, which keeps it under the inflation-adjusted cost of the longtime "most-expensive-ever" title holder, Cleopatra ($290 million in today's dollars). Still, as far as we can tell, Spider-Man 3 is the most expensive picture ever admitted to. (When it comes to setting records, however, stand by for James Cameron's Avatar.)
DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg has said that "everyone" will see Spider-Man, Shrek, and Pirates, but the key will be which one gets the most multiple viewings. His argument, not surprisingly, is that Shrek will prevail because it's only 81 minutes long. The math, at least, is on his side: Pirates is a butt-numbing 170 minutes, Spider-Man is 140 minutes.
A distribution executive at a studio that has nothing to do with any of the films just mentioned predicts that Spider-Man will open huge, at about $120 million. The film is an event with a following, and there is nothing in theaters right now that anyone wants to see, according to this executive. But the question is the strength of the movie's eight legs. "Shrek and Pirates have broad, broad appeal," this executive says. "With Spider-Man, the word is out that it's dark." Taking into account the movie's cost, our veteran believes that could mean trouble.
Other arguments may support that view: The second Shrek did massively better than the first ($920 million worldwide versus $484 million). The second Pirates also outdid the original, taking in more than $1 billion versus $654 million. But Spider-Man 2 grossed about $40 million less than the first installment, pulling in $783 million.
Sony believes it left money on the table with Spider-Man 2 because the film didn't open until July. But that dubious logic created its own bind: The rush to meet the earlier date for Spider-Man 3 was a contributor to the film's staggering expense. And a former insider at the studio says the first Spider-Man got a big boost when it opened in May 2002 because Star Wars: Episode 2, which opened a couple of weeks later, was a bit weaker than anticipated. That left Peter Parker with an open field for longer than expected. This time, though, the executive expects Shrek and Pirates to be formidable.
Let the games begin. (link)
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Shia LaBeouf by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images. Photograph of Justin Timberlake by Getty Images. Photograph of Spider-Man courtesy Columbia Pictures.