Spidey swings to new heights

Sony's superhero sequel puts spin on record book

This article was updated at 7:14 p.m.

Spidey lived up to his hype, but so did the more rotund high-flyer, Michael Moore.

Making more money in six days than any film in history, Sony’s “Spider-Man 2” sold $180 million worth of tickets since Wednesday.

Leading strong box office results over the Independence Day weekend, “Spider-Man” grossed $115.8 million from 4,152 theaters during the four-day span, taking the record for a holiday long weekend from “Shrek 2,” which grossed $95.5 million in its second week of release over the Memorial Day weekend.

While Spidey was responsible for more than half of all biz over the weekend, Michael Moore’s doc “Fahrenheit 9/11” continued its boffo run, grossing $21 million in four days after expanding to 1,725 playdates.

Cume on the doc, which is being distribbed by Lions Gate and IFC Films, now stands at $60.1 million. Helped by doubling its number of locations, pic had a shallow sophomore slump of just 31% Friday through Sunday compared with last week.

Walt Disney’s patriotic doc “America’s Heart and Soul,” a feel-good response to Moore’s doc, managed slim results, opening weakly with just $173,000 from 98 theaters over the four-day span.

In its first six days, “Spider-Man 2” is running $36 million ahead of the 2002 original webslinger saga’s perf, which eventually amassed a U.S. cume of $404 million and $822 million worldwide.

Pic shattered the previous record by a six-day opener — $92 million for 2000’s “Mission: Impossible 2.” “The Matrix Reloaded” opened on a Thursday and grossed $152 million in its first six-day span, counting sneaks from Wednesday and the take from the following Tuesday.

Strong siblings

Weekend also solidified Spider-Man’s status as the Marvel Comics empire’s most valuable franchise.

While the popular diagnosis for the spotty 2003 summer movie was that Hollywood suffered from a case of sequelitis, “Spider-Man 2,” “Shrek 2” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” have been the studio pics to do best at the wickets this year.

Playing in its seventh week, DreamWorks’ ogre toon added another $7.9 million, bringing cume to a staggering $410.2 million. The top-grossing pic of 2004, “Shrek 2” passed the original “Spider-Man” this weekend to become the all-time fifth biggest domestic grosser.

Continuing saga

Pascal said the lesson of the success of “Spider-Man 2” and “Shrek 2” is that all sequels are not created equal.

“I was never afraid of getting into the sequel business. I think there were some sequels that didn’t work,” she said.

“My rule is that when the story is about continuing characters you love, it’s better,” she said. “Because your characters are growing and your audience is growing with them. They’re like soap operas. You end one story with a cliffhanger and then you need to do the next one. It’s not like a new episode where it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first one.”

Marketing for “Spider-Man 2” emphasized just that, with TV spots signing off, “The story continues on June 30.”

Sony marketing head Geoffrey Ammer said the studio’s strategy was “to bring to the marketplace the idea that we had a better film.” The campaign began in January, he said, with a plan to get the pic national press on a weekly basis starting at an unveiling of materials at ShoWest. The effort also received help from almost unanimously positive reviews.

In addition to the records “Spider-Man 2” set this weekend, Sony vice chair Jeff Blake said it was on pace to be the fastest film ever to make $200 million.

“We should be there by Wednesday, day eight, beating ‘Spider-Man’ by one day,” he said.

Exit surveys by the studio found the aud was nearly evenly split between males and females, 52% male and 48% female. Aud was also evenly balanced by age, attracting 55% people under 25 years old and 45% adults older.

“It’s a great sign of the ongoing playability,” Blake said.

“Spider-Man 3” is already in the works and slated for release on May 2, 2007. That will be a return to the original’s launch pad in the first week of May. “Spider-Man 2” originally was slotted for May 7 of this year, but moved back because of production delays.

Opening on a weekend where July 4th fell on a Sunday was an obstacle for “Spider-Man 2,” with Sunday’s grosses dipping a steep 35% from Saturday. But Sony’s estimate for the weekend includes a healthy bounce-back on Monday since most people have the day off.

Pascal said she preferred the May window because “it’s a different play time when you’re all by yourself in the market.” She added, though, “$180 million is a lot of a money.”

‘Chicks’ on top

Rounding out the top five films after “Spider-Man 2” and “Fahrenheit” was Revolution and Sony’s “White Chicks,” which grossed $12 million over the four days from 2,800 engagements. In its second week of release, the Wayans brothers laffer has a cume of $47.1 million.

“DodgeBall,” from 20th Century Fox, is still playing wide in its third week at 2,953 locations. It minted $10.5 million in the frame, bringing cume to $86.7 million. At No. 5, New Line’s romancer “The Notebook” continued its steady run, pulling in $10.3 million from 2,323 theaters.

Several pics debuting in limited runs did strong business.

MGM’s Cole Porter biopic “De-Lovely” opened with $384,000 from 16 screens over four days, giving it a strong $24,000 per-screen average. Castle Rock’s “Before Sunset,” the first pic from the Warner Independent Pictures label, picked up $303,000 from 20 screens, a $15,150 average. Fox Searchlight’s thriller “The Clearing” bowed on 56 screens, earning $647,098 during the frame, an $11,555 average.

Nielsen EDI estimated the weekend’s total box office at $225 million for the four-day span. That’s up significantly from last year’s July 4 frame total of $136 million. But, because the holiday fell on Friday last year, that is a three-day figure.

“Spider-Man 2” has pushed the summer season total well into the black. For the first nine weeks of summer, Nielsen EDI said total box office stands at $2.04 billion, up 12.8% from the first nine weeks of 2003’s summer season.

Year-to-date, 2004 box office stands at $4.69 billion, 6.9% ahead of where it was at the same point last year.