Does ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’s’ Strong Opening Mark a Turning Point for the Slumping Summer Box Office?

July 3, 2019, 5:17 PM UTC

It was an unusually super Tuesday at the box office this week, with Spider-Man: Far From Home swinging to the rescue of a slumping summer box office with $39.2 million on its first day in theaters. 

That puts it above The Amazing Spider-Man, which opened to $35 million back in 2012, to set a new all-time record for Tuesday openings, not adjusted for inflation. 

Heading into the holiday weekend, the Jon Watts-directed tentpole—Marvel’s first post-Avengers: Endgame and second standalone with Tom Holland’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man–should benefit from solid reviews and lingering Endgame fever, so much so that a haul somewhere around $150 million isn’t out of the question. 

It should be said that the Fourth of July frame isn’t necessarily a boom time for moviegoers, with frankfurters and fireworks tending to keep audiences out in the sun, but Marvel movies are the one box-office attraction you can never rule out.

Analysts have learned time and time again the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most superhuman characteristic is its staying power; Endgame, despite being the 22nd movie in the franchise, is primary evidence of this, having obliterated box office records in April to become the second highest-grossing film of all time. 

But even if Spider-Man: Far From Home doesn’t get quite as high as $150 million, an opening in the realm of $125 million is expected by most analysts, which puts it $8 million above the launch of Holland’s last outing, Spider-Man: Homecoming, two years ago.

Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe rarely suffer from the same front-loaded openings that afflict other sequels, and Spider-Man: Far From Home’s spectacular first numbers position it clearly as the box-office savior Hollywood’s taken to praying for in recent weeks. 

It’s been unexpectedly choppy waters at the 2019 summer box office, once expected to set new highs for moviegoer turnout. But with the exception of Endgame, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, Toy Story 4, and now (if it indeed launches in line with expectations) Spider-Man, high-profile sequels have been falling left and right. 

June was a particularly rough month, with supposedly anticipated sequels like The Secret Life of Pets 2, Godzilla: King of Monsters, and Dark Phoenix all underperforming. Meanwhile, attempted reboots Men In Black: International and Shaft opened low enough to send those franchise’s new architects scurrying, chastened, back to the drawing board. 

Dark Phoenix, Fox’s final X-Men film before surrendering the property to their new Disney overlords, could lose as much as $100 million; its final gross will barely squeak past the franchise’s previously lowest openings. The title was a strange calculation from the get-go, a more downbeat entry that was designed to both send off the mainline X-Men franchise five years after its last well-received entry (2014’s Days of Future Past) while asking audiences to care about the emotional arc of Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, a character they’d barely gotten a chance to meet in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. 

A few of these titles were linked in their now-failed efforts to make audiences invest in a particular corner of their franchise, one that hadn’t yet been explored on screen. That gamble largely hasn’t been paying off, and—especially when coupled with ill-advised marketing campaigns that relied too heavily on benefiting from built-in audiences without making a convincing case for the flicks as standalone entertainment—has spelled disaster for a few studios.

Whether Spider-Man: Far From Home marks a turning point in the box office, or simply a much-needed shot in the arm delivered by the market’s biggest hitmaker, remains to be seen. 

Jon Favreau’s big-budget Lion King remake for Disney is out July 19 and expected to roar loudly at the box office, aided by the impossible star power of Beyoncé and Donald Glover in the lead voice roles. A $150 million opening weekend, at least, seems certain; many would bet money on something more in the $200 million range.

Disney’s glossy reboots of their classic animated catalog have made for some of the most no-brainer box-office blockbusting in decades; they haven’t all been runaway successes, yes (here’s looking at you, Dumbo), but most have connected in a fairly massive way, and The Lion King is as iconic as it gets.

Alice in Wonderland ($1.02 billion worldwide), Beauty and the Beast ($1.3 billion), The Jungle Book ($967 million), and Aladdin ($818 million and still adding to its haul) have all hit on the winning formula of pairing a beloved property with a director packing distinct visual imagination. In Favreau, who directed The Jungle Book and previously launched the MCU with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney has hired possibly the safest bet possible for this Lion King

The more interesting test of whether summer will escape its sequel doldrums can be expected in Hobbs & Shaw, Universal’s testosterone-and-propane-fueled expansion of the Fast & Furious universe, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Long-range tracking for the spinoff has the film opening around $100 million, which would make it the summer’s last big hit. 

One lesson executives have been learning this summer could pertain to how one grows a franchise and, more directly, to the value of patience in expanding a universe, giving audiences time to invest in characters before sending them off on side-quests. That’s the Marvel formula, and Universal likely studied it intently before greenlighting Hobbs & Shaw. Johnson’s ultra-jacked government agent, Hobbs, is in part credited with blowing Fast & Furious out into a global box-office phenomenon since his series debut in Fast Five back in 2011, while Shaw, Statham’s scowling British rogue, has enjoyed a boosted on-screen character arc in segueing from antagonist to ally across the past two entries. The pair have earned the audience goodwill necessary to launch their own movie. And especially given how badly the summers flagged behind expectations, they could drive away this season’s biggest success story.

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