Spider-Man: Far from Home dominated the marketplace on release and is well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing Spider-Man movie ever at the international box office. It’s yet another example of the old adage that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
Sony’s partnership with Disney and its decision to share its golden goose Spider-Man with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has proven to be a masterstroke. Over the last five years, the franchise has made a miraculous recovery at both the domestic and international box office to once again become a crown jewel in the studio’s vault. Far from Home marks the first time in the franchise’s history and three separate incarnations that one of its sequels will outgross the first.
Sony’s first Spider-Man film in 2002, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as the titular hero, helped to usher in the current era of superhero domination at the box office and set a new bar for opening weekend gross. Spider-Man 2 and 3 were also big successes in terms of revenue, but critics were less kind and profits declined as the series went on until Sony decided to scrap the Raimi-directed franchise. The first Spider-Man reboot came in 2012, starring Andrew Garfield as the webslinger and directed by indie filmmaker Mark Webb. While it was solid on debut, the franchise was abruptly ended after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for myriad reasons, first and foremost being Sony’s deal with Marvel to allow Spider-Man to join the MCU.
After 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the explosion of Disney’s Marvel properties, and the first Avengers movie, Sony had high hopes to create its own cinematic universe for Spidey. A third installment, spin-off films, and even a Sinister Six all-villains movie were in the works. That all was deep-sixed after The Amazing Spider-Man 2 disappointed at the box office. Its budget had ballooned out of control, reportedly ending at $250 million–plus, and it barely managed $200 million at the domestic box office, the lowest total of the franchise by far. At this point, Sony wisely realized that Disney had a magic formula for its Marvel adaptations, and rather than try to emulate it, they joined forces to ensure the long-term success of the character and boost its hugely profitable merchandising.
Spider-Man first appeared in the MCU in Captain America: Civil War and subsequently in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how much revenue Spider-Man brought to the table in these films, but, regardless, Infinity War and Endgame are the highest-grossing films in the MCU, while Civil War became the second highest-grossing non-Avengers film after Iron Man 3 (later passed by Black Panther). The heightened buzz helped Far from Home become the first sequel in Spider-Man history to do better than an original in the series. That is the beauty of the MCU formula and its larger story arcs—that they have always done an excellent job of building audience excitement, bringing in other MCU stars to bolster appeal and never letting its interstitial parts stagnate.
Social media returns for Far from Home were simply huge across the board, as it led individual weeks multiple times across all three major social media platforms over the months before its release in a busy summer schedule. Mentions spiked after Endgame debuted, as fans of the MCU were clamoring for more, and Far from Home’s proximity in time and continuation of the story meant that it was an ideal beneficiary of residual buzz from the most successful worldwide film ever. That right there is the equivalent of a film having every commercial slot during the Super Bowl. While our existing data collection does not extend back to 2014, we do have historical data for Twitter, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 only led in Twitter mentions for its Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of release and its major trailers. In other words, it was nowhere near as dominant on the service as Far from Home, and its box office returns reflected that.
Perhaps more important is that the marketing strategy for the franchise has tapped into a younger and more diverse audience. It ranks up there with the mighty Star Wars and Avengers in terms of both domestic and international engagement, a huge indicator of its future appeal as well. It also does a great job of creating separate marketing strategies for each of the major social media services, and star Tom Holland’s presence as a social media heavyweight has proven to be golden as well.
Far from Home is a platform from which Spider-Man can launch even further. With a vast coterie of villains and allies to choose from (like most Marvel heroes), and arguably the greatest merchandising potential of all the comic empire’s heroes, the sky is really the limit, especially coming off its biggest worldwide success. Tom Holland has proven to be a bankable star after five outings in the iconic red and blue spandex and is still under contractual obligation for a Spider-Man 3, which Sony will no doubt be looking to extend. Disney’s plans for phase 4 of the MCU are spotty at best, but if Sony can come up with a similar deal to include Spidey in the post-Thanos story line, it would clearly be a win for all sides, as the last few years have demonstrated.