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July 07, 2017

Is the third Spidey the charm?

Newest Spider-Man film will test whether goodwill can overcome reboot fatigue

Sony Pictures has reason for great excitement this weekend as a new Spider-Man film is set to hit theaters. Of course, the studio also has cause for tremendous worry as another Spider-Man movie is coming out.

The release of "Spider-Man: Homecoming” is perhaps the best test of audience’s enthusiasm for well-known intellectual property vs. the mounting evidence of franchise fatigue among American filmgoers.

After all, this weekend’s offering will be the sixth solo Spider-Man outing in just fifteen years. Yet merchandise sales show that the webslinger is far and away the most popular superhero on the planet.

Created in 1962, Peter Parker was the breakout character for Marvel Comics due in part to a cartoon TV series that ran from 1967 to 1970. Its theme song would become iconic and decades later the show still inspires numerous internet memes.

For years afterward, various studios and directors attempted to bring a live-action adaptation to the big screen. James Cameron was set to direct at one point, writing a story treatment and even approaching Leonardo DiCaprio about the title role.

Eventually Sony was able to win the rights and released “Spider-Man” in 2002 with Tobey Maguire in the lead and Sam Raimi as director. At the time, superhero movies were in a bit of malaise thanks to notorious bombs like "Batman & Robin.” That all changed, however, when Spidey hit the big screen.

Raimi’s movie broke the nine-figure opening weekend barrier with a record-setting $114 million. Extraordinary legs carried the blockbuster to a domestic total of $403 million, only the third movie to ever pass that benchmark after “Titanic” and “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.”

Speaking of Star Wars, “Spider-Man” actually outgrossed Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones” which hit theaters few weeks later. Over the course of four decades, eight live-action Star Wars films have been released and “Clones” remains the only one not to finish the year #1 at the North American box office.

The initial entry was such a hit, it wound up with $821M worldwide, that it cemented the first weekend of May as the new start of summer blockbuster season.

Why was it so successful? One major reason is that people love the character and were eagerly awaiting the chance to finally see him on the big screen (just look at the success "Wonder Woman ” is enjoying right now).

The oft-forgotten contributing factor was 9/11. Released just nine months after the attacks, it was the first superhero pic since that tragic day. The filmmakers even seemed to incorporate this reality into the movie. For instance, in the climactic scene New Yorkers rally to the hero’s defense and the final shot includes a giant American flag.

The film was so well received that a sequel was immediately greenlit. In 2004, “Spider-Man 2” opened with $88M on its way to $373M domestic and $783M worldwide. Furthermore, it remains beloved by fans and critics as one of the best entries in the comic hero genre.

That tide of goodwill lifted 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” to an all-time opening box weekend record of $151 million. Unfortunately, studio interference turned the installment into an infamous mess. It made $336M in North America and $890M worldwide but the sour taste led Raimi to abandon the franchise.

Fast forward five years and Sony attempted to reboot the character with “The Amazing Spider-Man.” This time starring Andrew Garfield, the picture attempted to differentiate itself by making Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy the female lead instead of Mary Jane Watson. Despite complaints from critics that reductive superhero movies were overrunning cinemas, the film did alright.

It made $262M/$757M domestic/worldwide off a $62M opening weekend and scored a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The incredible success of “The Avengers,” however, made Sony desire their own universe of characters to rival the MCU.

Thanks to the hacking of Sony’s emails, we know exactly how the disaster that was “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” came together. Driven by the need for their own spin-offs, the entry became a bloated jumble ( Shailene Woodley’s Mary Jane ended up cut entirely from the final release).

This sequel actually opened with $91 million but poor word of mouth and a 52% RT rating led to new box-office lows for the franchise: $202 million domestic and $708 million worldwide.

In the wake of all this, Sony made a bold move to accept an offer from MCU mastermind Kevin Feige. As part of this deal, Marvel Studios is allowed to use Spider-Man in their films as well as having a consulting role on Spider-Man solo pictures. Meanwhile, Sony retains the rights to Spider-Man and all the ancillary characters.

One of Feige’s major ideas was to cast a younger Peter Parker, who is supposed to be a high school student in the early films and comics. Maguire and Garfield were 25 and 28 respectively when they first played the characters. Tom Holland, on the other hand, was just 19 when he was cast for “Captain America: Civil War.”

Holland’s small role in last year’s $1.1B blockbuster impressed viewers and raised hopes for his first solo outing.

In response, Sony is pulling out all the stops just in case there’s any weariness over the fact that we’ve reached our third incarnation of Spider-Man. Their advertising campaign has been strong and social media statistics suggest there is serious excitement.

On their end, Marvel is bringing in their biggest star to help carry the load. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man will have a supporting role in the movie and is featured prominently in trailers, posters and TV ads.

Early reviews are favorable with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and tracking projects an opening of around $100 million. I believe passion will win out over lethargy.

Prediction: $122 Million

Nick Field is the former Managing Editor of PoliticsPA and is a regular PennLive Opinion contributor. A Bucks County native, he graduated from American University in Washington, D.C.