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We Need To Talk About Spider-Man

As AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 underperforms Sony must be considering how to fix their flailing franchise. 

We Need To Talk About Spider-Man

It's easy to look at the $630 million earned globally by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and assume it's doing pretty well. I mean, that's a lot of money. It's hard to deny that six hundred million dollars is an awful lot of money, and they still have some money left to make. The film will probably end up slightly north of $700 million global, with a domestic take right around $200 million. It's not impossible that the film makes less than $200 million domestic, but I imagine Sony will do what Warner Bros did with Superman Returns back in the day and basically will it over that line by keeping it in theaters forever. Maybe they'll do what Paramount does and rerelease the film with added footage (enough was cut from the movie) or a tease or something to eke out the remaining dollars needed to hit that arbitrary line. 

Here's the reality: anything under $200 million domestic is embarrassing, and even slightly over $200 million is kind of a black eye. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the steady, steady decline in domestic box office for the Spider-Man series, with none of the films ever coming close to the 2002 orginal's enormous box office. That was a movie that set records, that helped change the definitions of blockbuster business, and set a bar that seems impossible for the franchise to clear. Here's how they've all done, domestic:

Spider-Man $403.7m

Spider-Man 2 $373.5m

Spider-Man 3 $336.5m

The Amazing Spider-Man $262m

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (to date) $172m

It's almost guaranteed that ASM2 will come in fifty to sixty million bucks lower than the reboot, which was already seventy million bucks off the last film - despite being in 3D and despite promising a change from that disliked entry. If this arc holds up we're looking at an Amazing Spider-Man 3 that earns maybe $150 million, which is absolutely terrible.

The global box office is harder to track across all five films; the global marketplace has exploded in the 12 years since the first movie was released. What we can do is see that the reboot made $752 million globally, and that Sony was feeling so confident in this new film that they in-house projected it to reach one billion dollars, that new global magic supernumber. I remember when a movie making $100 million domestic was a big deal - now that's an opening weekend! One billion bucks is where it is when it comes to these mega-franchises. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 will not make one billion dollars. 

I don't like writing about box office for a few reasons. One is that I hate boiling all this art down to some horrible commerce bullshit. But let's be real - these blockbuster movies are commerce into which, hopefully, some art is smuggled. That's why I tend to get really excited about a movie like Godzilla that is just wonderfully made, because it would have been easy to just churn it out and count the money. But the other reason I don't like writing about box office is that nobody really understands it. Box office is way more complicated than it looks, and there's a cabal of number wizards deep inside the studio basement who are chanting around an eldritch dollar sign and they're the only guys who really see the whole picture. 

Even figuring out what a movie needs to make to be successful is hard; there are theater splits and marketing partners and prints and advertising costs and ancillary revenue streams - there's a lot of stuff that happens that we don't know about, a lot of numbers that get juggled to keep it all obscure from people whose contracts include a piece of the profit. What we can go by  - and what counts for more than you think - is the perception.

That story I linked, about Sony wanting to make a billion bucks on The Amazing Spider-Man 2, that's a weird story because everybody wants to make a billion bucks. Either Sony leaked that to show their confidence in the film or someone else leaked it to make them look bad because it was becoming apparent from tracking that they weren't going to hit that number. The important thing to know is that Sony wanted to make a billion dollars with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, everybody heard that was what they wanted, and they're not going to get it. The other important thing is to look at the trend of box office and see how it is sketching out a graph that is headed down and you understand what Sony's executives are thinking right now:

"How do we fix this?"

This is supposed to be the part where I jump in and have my nerdy answers, but the reality is that I just don't know. I look at these numbers and I begin to think that maybe the story being told is that the public isn't that wildly interested in seeing Spider-Man on screen. His adventures, by their nature, have a bit of samey-ness to them. This doesn't bode well for Sony's plan to spin off a whole bunch of franchises from old Web-head. 

They're not going to get rid of Marc Webb, and I don't think they should. They bought him out of his Fox contract so he could be their Spider-godfather (that's why there was an X-Men: Days of Future Past teaser in the credits of The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and he's a fine director. He just keeps having these godawful scripts. 

They're not going to get rid of Andrew Garfield, that's for sure. He's the best part of this new series - well, except for Emma Stone, but they killed her off. 

They're not going to reboot again because Jesus Christ, how horrible would that be?

I think they're going to back off the expanded universe idea. There's barely an appetite for Spider-Man, so what interest is there in his villains? I want only the best for Drew Goddard, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that Sinister Six, previously scheduled to shoot in January, sort of fades away. Sony needs to focus on The Amazing Spider-Man 3 first, and any good ideas that could have gone into a Sinister Six movie should get folded into the third film. In fact it seems absolutely bizarre to me that there was going to be a Sinister Six before The Amazing Spider-Man 3, considering what a shitty job The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did setting them up. 

They're likely going to dip into the most popular villain well again. Will they repeat the sins of the Sam Raimi era and throw Venom into The Amazing Spider-Man 3? This is just visionless enough a franchise for me to believe it. Perhaps they'll go into the Clone Saga, which would allow them to bring Emma Stone back. It's already obvious that killing off Gwen Stacy at this point in the series was a mistake (not just in terms of severing the chemistry she has with Garfield but in terms of setting up the death of a Stacy as the cheap plot device they go to in each film. People are joking about which remaining Stacy family members die in the next entry). 

What they won't do is find a good script. Every element is in place in the Amazing Spider-Man movies except for the scripts. These have been bad films from a basic structural place; they're using the best construction materials but are following shitty blue prints. I truly believe that if Webb and his team cracked a great script they could reverse the Spider-Man trend. 

Or maybe that won't be enough. Maybe it really is simply Spider-Man's fault. Maybe swinging through the city five times was enough for audiences - they've seen it already. 

My advice? Scale it back. Stop making these movies for $250 million each. Tell a street-level story that sheds a lot of light on Peter Parker, not his dad or Norman Osborn or anything like that. Have Spidey up against the Sin Eater or in the middle of a gang war (you can even keep Osborn in the picture by having OsCorp tech getting into gang hands). Tell a story about how hard it is for Peter Parker to juggle life as Pete and life as Spidey, something these new films has totally ignored. Bring back the old Parker luck, have Pete be broke, have Aunt May be sick, have J Jonah Jameson turn the city against him (use the death of Gwen as a catalyst). Definitely drop all the dad stuff - that's been wrapped up enough to ignore it from here on out. 

Most importantly, restore to Spider-Man his true reason for being: the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility. That's why Spider-Man is a hero, not because he inspires people as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wrongly gets it, but because he knows he has a responsibility to the world. His powers make Peter Parker not a superman but a servant of the people, a truly blue collar hero who is just there to help, not to clean up the mess made by his dad. Find that aspect of Spider-Man, the side of him that has moved readers for almost sixty years, and you can save this franchise. 

Let's assume the Amazing Spider-Man franchise can be saved. What would you do? What's your big recommendation to Sony to bring this series back? Difficulty level: you can't tell them to sell Spidey back to Marvel. 

Devin Faraci's photo About the Author: A ten year veteran of writing for the web, Devin has built a reputation as a loud, uncompromising and honest voice – sometimes to the chagrin of his readers, but usually to their delight.
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