Amazing Spider-Man 2 managed to capture an estimated $37.2 million dollars over the weekend but was easily bested by an R-rated comedy that was produced for less than the superhero movie’s likely catering budget. The fantastic debut of Seth Rogan and Zac Efron’s Neighbors earned $51.1 million, the second largest debut for a non-sequel and non-spin off R-rated comedy. The film captured much of Spider-Man‘s audience and any hopes of the superhero movie building off a decent opening weekend. Peter Parker will go up against Godzilla next weekend and will likely watch its already tepid box-office returns get run into the ground.
Produced for only $18 million dollars, Neighbors was looking like a winner even before the weekend began. Combining an easy to understand story concept, positive word of mouth from preview audiences, and bankable star Seth Rogan paired with up-and-coming leading man Zac Effron, the film was a box-office no-brainer. By Saturday morning, the film had made back its entire production budget and, by Sunday, likely its marketing budget as well. The film was projected to make $35 million for the weekend, but the stunning amount of money it brought in guarantees a longer theater life than expected.
Amazing Spider Man 2 will have no such luck and its tepid returns will cast a dark cloud over the future of the once thought can’t-miss franchise. The Spider-Man movies were already suffering from a case of diminishing returns; Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were critical smashes that easily set new standards for superhero box-office success, both grossing around $800 million dollars worldwide. Spider-Man 3 grossed a comparable amount overall but had significantly lower returns domestically while Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider Man reboot continued the domestic slide. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is projected to barely grind out $200 million in the States, a seemingly impressive number until one learns the combined production and marketing budget is estimated to be somewhere around the $500 million dollar mark.
Not that the film is likely to lose money. Overseas box office has so far guaranteed each Spider-Man a profitable return on investment, and Sony is counting on this and already planned future The Amazing Spider-Man movies to keep the money flowing. But a decrease in tickets sold means audiences are tiring of the franchise, and at a time when others, like Marvel’s Avengers movies, keep getting more popular. At half a billion dollars apiece, Sony executives might be wondering if going ahead with more movies might be a mistake.
Meanwhile, over at Universal studios, the party is likely to continue well into the coming future. Even with a glut of the usual summer blockbusters about to roll into national multiplexes- Godzilla, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Maleficent before June even begins- Neighbors is positioned to keep bringing in large crowds. One of its biggest strengths is its broad appeal; 53 percent of opening night audiences were both female and over 25, meaning even with monsters and mutants ready to peel off younger male audiences the film will still attract people looking for something different. Excellent word of mouth should also keep the film on peoples’ minds while Universal will likely keep the marketing dollars flowing as, at this point, it is pretty much all profit.
The success of Neighbors might end up being a positive development for Hollywood. For the price of one The Amazing Spider Man, studios can easily make 14 films with Neighbors’ budget. The upside of these smaller films will never be in the Avatar/The Avengers billion dollar range, but the financial risk is also next to nothing, in relative terms. Maybe studios will try to rein in costs and attempt more low-risk films with substance over flash. More films that take chances. It is a nice thought. Everyone knows, of course, the flash will never go away; the upside is too great to pass up. But it is more than likely the tepid response to a film like the current Spider-Man now could end up grounding this or another franchise in the future and end up costing a studio or two some massive amounts of money.
Opinion by Andrew Elfenbein