Sony’s ‘Spidey’ team triumphs

Group effort catapults comicbook hero into history

HOLLYWOOD — Weaving a screenplay out of “Spider-Man’s” torturous development arc and shepherding the comicbook adaptation to its historic $114.8 million bow created a veritable web of intrigue. And no single film exec can take credit for the arachnid onslaught.

“It really was a team effort,” a Sony spokeswoman insists.

Actually, some suggest the biggest credit may be due the studio’s legal team, which toughed out an arduous, years-long court fight over “Spidey” rights to win the Culver City studio the right to make the pic at all.

The legal squabble — involving at different times entertainment rivals Carolco, MGM and Viacom– was greatly complicated by the bankruptcy reorg of comics giant Marvel. James Cameron, who wanted to make a “Spider-Man” pic and wrote a detailed screen treatment with Leonardo DiCaprio in mind for the lead, got disgusted by all the wrangling and ankled the project.

But Sony stuck things out. So sharing in the “Spidey” limelight are studio execs including Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal, production exec VP Matt Tolmach, digital operations prexy Yair Landau and pic producer Laura Ziskin, along with Marvel-ites Stan Lee and Avi Arad.

The creative team’s first important decision was attaching helmer Sam Raimi (“The Gift,” “Darkman”), and Raimi’s debut decision was casting Tobey Maguire (“The Cider House Rules”) as “Cider-Man,” er, “Spider-Man.” Initially considered a controversial choice, thesp’s casting now looks like genius.

It’s amazing what a little $100 million-plus opening can do to convert the skeptics.

“It’s a movie that appeals equally to younger males and older females, and we haven’t seen a movie like that for a while,” observes Sony marketing/distribution kingpin Jeff Blake, who along with marketing prexy Geoff Ammer neatly balanced fears of over-marketing the pic with the need to ensure good marketplace awareness of its May 3 bow.

The rest, of course, is history — box office history.

In the past, Hollywood has marked in weeks how quickly pics reach $100 million in box office. But in the case of “Spider-Man,” that record would have to be marked in hours over its third day of release.

The “Spidey” bow surpassed previous record opener “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by a whopping $24.5 million. But that feat is even more amazing when one recalls that Warner Bros.’ unspooled Harry Potter in November on roughly 8,100 screens, or 8% more screens than “Spider-Man” went out on its first weekend.

Note, too, that “Harry” beat a more than 4-year-old record held by Universal’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” — at $90.2 million — that was set over a four-day Memorial Day frame.

“Spider-Man” was helped by a shorter running time than “Harry,” at 2 hours vs. 2:35, which helped Sony squeeze in more showtimes. It also appears older-skewing, PG13-rated “Spidey” drew better at midnight showings than did PG-rated “Harry.”

Meanwhile, the opening record set by “Spider-Man” may be daunting, but it’s not unbeatable. It’s still possible — at least theoretically — to beat the amazing “Spider-Man” mark, as pic didn’t sell out all its shows in all markets by a long shot.

Still, there’s no shortage of B.O. records to write in the industry record books for the time being:

  • The $43.6 million in B.O. pic rang up Saturday, May 4, beat the one-day mark set by “Harry Potter,” which rang up a then-record $33.5 million on its second day of release, Nov. 17.

  • Pic recorded the all-time high for average gross per venue average, at $31,769.

  • Pic more than doubled the studio-best opening perf of $50.1 million set by Sony’s “Men in Black” in July 1997.

  • And “Spidey” spun career bests for Raimi and all cast members including topliner Maguire, whose previous best bow came with 1998’s “Pleasantville,” at $8.9 million.