Spider-Man: Homecoming's big box-office opening gives Sony Pictures a much needed boost

Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland, took in about US$117 million (S$161.7 million) in the United States and Canada over the weekend and another US$140 million overseas.
Spider-Man: Homecoming, starring Tom Holland, took in about US$117 million (S$161.7 million) in the United States and Canada over the weekend and another US$140 million overseas.PHOTO: CHUCK ZLOTNICK/ SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT- COLUMBIA PICTURES

Despite worries that audiences are tired of sequels, Spider-Man: Homecoming was a huge box-office hit on its opening weekend, giving Sony a boost

LOS ANGELES •Sony Pictures chairman Thomas Rothman finally found reason to dance for joy over the weekend after he took over the reins in 2015.

Amid a dry run of underwhelming movies from the studio, Spider- Man swung back into cinemas in triumphant fashion to provide Sony with a massive booster shot.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixth web-crawler story to arrive on the big screen in 15 years, overcame worries of franchise fatigue to take in about US$117 million (S$161.7 million) at cinemas in the United States and Canada. Sony had been conservatively estimating a US$80- million arrival.

"I usually like to play it cool, but on this one, I may have done a little dance," Mr Rothman admitted.

The movie collected an additional US$140 million overseas.

The big turnout offsets concerns that filmgoers are tiring of sequels and reboots, which have become Hollywood's bread and butter.

Recent disappointments have included Transformers: The Last Knight, The Mummy and Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which the critics hated too.

"The audience gets fatigued when films do not deliver an exciting, satisfying experience," Mr Rothman said.

"There is too much competition now for any franchise to rely on a sense of audience obligation to succeed. You have to hit a bull's-eye on quality."

Sony has tried for years to find its creative footing. Mr Rothman took over the studio in 2015, setting in motion a gruelling turnaround effort and finding modest hits such as The Shallows (2016) and Baby Driver (2017).

But the movie business is a slow one and the Sony chairman has mostly struggled to move past flops that were already in the pipeline when he arrived, including The Brothers Grimsby (2016), Inferno (2016) and Pixels (2015).

In February, Sony took a US$1-billion write-down on its movie and television production business.

This year - until Spidey showed up - Sony has been in last place among the seven biggest Hollywood studios, with a 4 per cent domestic market share. To compare, Disney has 24 per cent.

The resurrection of Spider-Man after two humdrum movies (The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and a sequel in 2014) and a sad Broadway outing also validates Sony's plans for a cinematic Spiderverse.

In the works are offshoot films such as Silver & Black - about the female superheroes Silver Sable and Black Cat - and Venom, with Tom Hardy playing the razor- toothed anti-hero.

For now, the movers and shakers behind Spider-Man: Homecoming can bask in the glory and enjoy the calm.

The movie - in an unusual agreement between rival companies - was creatively steered by a group that included Mr Rothman; Ms Amy Pascal, the former Sony chairman who was axed over its poor results and is now a producer; and Mr Kevin Feige who runs Disney- owned Marvel Studios.

In particular, Mr Feige, whom Mr Rothman called "exceptionally brilliant", worked to re-centre Spider- Man as a boy trying to understand his place in the world, both as a crime fighter and teenager.

Disney also agreed to loan one of its principal characters to the reboot effort - Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr. In return, Spider- Man will appear in Disneyproduced Avengers movies.

But Disney mostly saw Spider- Man: Homecoming as an elaborate toy commercial.

Sony had sold its Spider-Man merchandise rights to Disney in 2011.

Sony bought the movie rights to Spider-Man in 1999 and must keep making films to keep them.

A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming is to begin production in the spring - and Mr Rothman will hope to put on his dancing shoes again.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'Spider-Man has bite at box office'. Print Edition | Subscribe