After ‘Spider-Man,’ Tom Holland Could Fill Hollywood’s Void of Millennial Leading Men

Tom Holland arrives at the premiere of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" at the Regency Village Theater on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Spider-Man: No Way Home” shows that movie theaters can still be a major power at a time when streaming services have seemingly taken over the world.

The instant box office smash also launches Tom Holland, the 25-year-old British actor whose peppy, quippy and youthful take on the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man gives the comic-book epic its zip and heart, into the top ranks of Hollywood stars. His central performance was a key ingredient in the film’s outsized success, reaping $260 million stateside over the weekend. After five days in theaters, the superhero film is sitting pretty with $328 million domestically and $750 million globally, a stunning result that’s only more impressive given the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19. At this rate, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will be the first pandemic-era movie to cross $1 billion worldwide.

What does this mean for the man who currently dons Spidey’s red-and-blue Spandex? As for his future career in Hollywood, there are at least two guarantees: bigger roles and more money. Climbing even higher up the A-list, however, will depend heavily on the type of roles he goes after.

Before Holland became a household name, he signed a multi-picture deal to star as Spider-Man and appear in additional Marvel mash-ups like “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.” After three-standalone blockbusters and his contract newly up to bargaining, Holland now gets to cash in on the box office triumphs of 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming” ($880 million globally), 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” ($1.1 billion globally) and the grand finale in “No Way Home.” Since he’s a newer name, he doesn’t currently benefit from backend deals but will profit handsomely from lucrative bonuses that are tied to “Spider-Man: No Way Home” box-office benchmarks.

According to sources familiar with similar negotiations, Holland’s asking price should leap into the low eight-figures. Prior to “Spider-Man,” he would earn under $1 million for film roles. Now, he could be making $2 million to $5 million for independent movies and anywhere from $5 million to $10 million for a leading role in traditional studio’s commercial film. Holland was recently considered for an ensemble part in an A-list director’s latest film. And though the deal didn’t close, he could have secured $1 million for a small part in a tentpole film. At streamers, which have more money to burn, Holland’s paycheck could swing to $20 million or more. As a brand name, executives may be willing to cut back on other expenses to get Holland on the call sheet. It’s the cachet that only a few stars, including Robert Downey Jr. and Gal Gadot following the zeitgeist-tapping triumphs of “Iron Man” and “Wonder Woman,” as well Dwayne Johnson and Will Smith, have been able to capitalize on.

Plus, Holland is drawing audiences at a time when Hollywood is desperate to find a new generation of leading men. The film business is suffering from an array of aging A-listers. Denzel Washington is 66, Tom Hanks is 65, Tom Cruise turns 60 next year, Brad Pitt is 59, Will Smith is 53, and even the comparatively youthful Leonardo DiCaprio is 47. The rise of prestige television and the migration to streaming has meant that the movie business has struggled to field a new crop of rising stars. But Holland, “Dune” actor Timothee Chalamet, and “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan may be filling the void among millennials. As far as female stars go, Zendaya, the MJ to Holland’s Peter Parker, is in a similar category. It also helps that Holland, with his 54.7 million Instagram followers, has a social media fluency that could be critical in a fractured media landscape and at a time when younger moviegoers, who do a lot of tweeting and TikToking, are driving a disproportionate amount of ticket sales.

A valid question: How do companies justify those eye-popping price tags? At least at traditional companies, studios are expecting to earn at least $100 million at the box office if they’re paying an actor $10 million to star in their movie. Nowadays, the issue is that few actors outside of maybe DiCaprio, Washington or Pitt can guarantee those results in an age where IP, not actors, is the main attraction. Especially in the case of “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” it wasn’t Holland’s name alone selling tickets. The Marvel Cinematic Universe installment was teased as a major crossover event, one that banked heavily on two decades of affection and goodwill toward past “Spider-Man” movies. Even major stars such as Tom Cruise only pop for audiences in certain roles — Cruise, for instance, can draw a crowd to “Mission: Impossible” and is expected to resonate with the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick,” but other action outings like “The Mummy” failed to ignite.

To that end, Hollywood insiders question whether Holland will be a box-office draw outside of “Spider-Man.” His name did little to salvage the 2021 dystopian thriller “Chaos Walking,” which sunk at the box office amid COVID-19, weighed down by bad reviews and a young-adult fanbase that failed to materialize. And his other projects, like Joe and Anthony Russo’s PTSD drama “Cherry” and Netflix’s slice of Southern Gothic “The Devil All the Time,” have veered into arthouse terrain. A huge test for Holland’s big screen prowess will be Sony’s “Uncharted,” a big-budget action adventure in which Holland is playing the young fortune hunter Nathan Drake. Video game adaptations tend to be hit-or-miss (for every “Sonic the Hedgehog” there’s a slew of “Super Mario Brothers”), so Holland’s charisma and charm will be key in filling movie theater seats for “Uncharted.” With indies like “Cherry” and the upcoming Fred Astaire biopic for Sony, he’s shown he doesn’t only want to do conventional films or comic book spectacles.

Even with towering ticket sales for “No Way Home,” Hollywood studios need proof that Holland’s name at the top of a movie poster can translate into box office receipts or subscription purchases. For every Downey Jr., Gadot or Chris Pratt (“Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jurassic World”), there are plenty of actors, such as Daniel Radcliffe post-Harry Potter or Chris Evans following Captain America, who struggled to extend their franchise stardom into other popular film roles.

With Spider-Man, in particular, that’s a pattern that has plagued past leading men, like Tobey Maguire. And it was only after he hung up his Spidey suit that Andrew Garfield was able to score an Oscar nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge” and awards chatter for “Tick Tick… Boom!”

For Holland, the world is seemingly his oyster. But he has to decide what kind of career path he’ll follow. Will he find other crowd-pleasers that guarantee him untold riches? Or will he embrace the indie scene and use his higher profile to bankroll passion projects?

The choice is his.