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'Spider-Man: No Way Home' swings to second-best opening of all time

The latest Marvel spectacle crushed pandemic-era box office records and conquered multiplexes around the world. But non-franchise films continue to struggle.
Zendaya and Tom Holland in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."
Zendaya and Tom Holland in "Spider-Man: No Way Home."Sony Pictures

Spidey reigns supreme.

"Spider-Man: No Way Home" earned $260 million in North American ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates, smashing pandemic-era box office records and netting the second-best opening of all time, behind "Avengers: Endgame."

The movie, the 27th entry in the sprawling Marvel franchise, drew enthusiastic crowds to multiplexes despite rising anxiety over the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"No Way Home" conquered box offices around the world, collecting $340.8 million from more than 60 overseas markets for a global haul of more than $600 million.

"This weekend’s historic 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' results, from all over the world and in the face of many challenges, reaffirm the unmatched cultural impact that exclusive theatrical films can have when they are made and marketed with vision and resolve," Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO Tom Rothman said in a statement.

"All of us at Sony Pictures are deeply grateful to the fabulous talent, both in front of and behind the camera, that produced such a landmark film," Rothman added.

“No Way Home” easily became the highest-grossing movie of the pandemic era, surpassing the $224.5 million that Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" has earned since it hit theaters in September.

No other film has managed to nab more than $90 million in domestic opening-weekend ticket sales since "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" in late 2019. ("Venom: Let There Be Carnage" scooped up $90 million in its first three days in theaters in October.)

"No Way Home" is the third chapter in the cycle of Spider-Man films starring Tom Holland and Zendaya. The series is a collaboration between the Disney-owned powerhouse Marvel Studios and Sony, which owns film rights to the character.

In an Instagram post, Holland thanked moviegoers for showing up in force.

"You made this possible. Your love and support means the world to me," he wrote Saturday. “Thank you thank you thank you and if you haven’t seen Spider-Man no way home yet… merry Christmas and you know what to do.”

The smash success is good news for U.S. movie theater owners, who have had dramatic ups and downs since Covid-19 reached the U.S. in early 2020.

"I think this is a pivotal moment for chains like AMC and Regal," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, a firm that tracks box office data. "The movie resoundingly puts to bed the idea that the pandemic would facilitate the demise of the movie theater."

But films that are not tied to the Marvel universe or other behemoth sagas continue to struggle at the box office, heightening industry anxiety about the theatrical viability of non-franchise dramas, comedies and musicals.

Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley," a gothic noir starring Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett, grossed just under $3 million from 2,145 locations — a disappointing opening for a release backed by A-list stars, solid reviews, Oscar buzz and a celebrated director.

Steven Spielberg's acclaimed retelling of "West Side Story" drew $3.4 million in ticket sales over the weekend, bringing the musical's domestic gross to $17.9 million as of Sunday. The remake cost at least $100 million to produce.

The commercial misfortunes of what Hollywood insiders call "adult-skewing dramas" point to one of the stark realities of pandemic-era moviegoing: Audiences over age 25 are generally more wary of Covid infection and perfectly content to stream films at home.

"I think this puts a fine point on the fact that younger-skewing movies are going to be the bread and butter of the movie theater industry right now," Dergarabedian said.

"Hopefully, as more mature viewers return to theaters, there will be more room for adult fare," he added. "We don't want to give up on that segment of the audience."