By Adam B. Vary
Updated June 22, 2012 at 01:05 PM EDT
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

  • Movie

When Spider-Man debuted 10 years ago on the first weekend of May, it broke through what seemed at the time to be an unbreakable box-office barrier, becoming the first movie ever to earn over $100 million on its three-day opening weekend — $114.8 million, to be exact. That was a whopping 27 percent improvement over the previous record-holder, 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which banked $90.3 million over its first three days of release. A new really high-water mark for box-office achievement had been set, and as Hollywood began to truly understand the financial potential of comic books, the ensuing decade of blockbuster cinema was born.

Ten years later, according to The Hollywood Reporter, tracking reports estimate the debut for Sony Pictures’ reboot of the Spidey franchise, The Amazing Spider-Man, at $125 million or more. While that is certainly good news for Sony, Andrew Garfield’s spandex-clad web-slinger is nonetheless swinging into quite a different marketplace. A $125 million debut just doesn’t quite mean what it used to, but figuring out what it does mean isn’t all that easy, either. Here’s why:

One, since the first Spider-Man flick’s record-smashing kickoff, 20 more movies have opened over $100 million, and the benchmark for true headline-grabbing success just got much higher: Marvel Studios’ omnibus superhero movie The Avengers opened on the first weekend of May this year and became the first movie to break the $200 million barrier.

Two, in the aughties, it became a matter of course for studios to open their mega-budget tentpoles in over 4,000 locations. Spider-Man‘s theater count: 3,615. The Avengers‘ theater count: 4,349. And IMAX and 3-D surcharges goose grosses that much further.

Three, that $125 million tracking figure for The Amazing Spider-Man is for a six day frame, spanning from Tuesday, July 3 through Sunday, July 8. Thanks to long weekends for most Americans, the Independence Day holiday is pretty much never shorter than five days when box office receipts are concerned. (For Superman Returns, Warner Bros. managed to stretch it over seven days.) Which is to say, comparing a six-day frame in July to a three-day frame in May is not exactly a precise science.

And finally, there’s the niggling issue of inflation. According to Box Office Mojo, 2002’s Spider-Man opened to $157 million in 2012 dollars, a difference of over $42 million. (That’s more than John Carter made in its entire opening weekend.)

In an effort to simplify, and to help provide some historical context, I’ve compiled a list of all the superhero movies that have opened over $100 million, as well as the debut figures for every July 4 holiday box office champion since 2002, and then adjusted all of their grosses for inflation. (In 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen spent a full week in theaters before the July 4 holiday weekend, so I didn’t include it in this round-up.) The result makes it (more-or-less) clear that while a $125 million debut for The Amazing Spider-Man would be respectable, it would not set the box office on fire, either:

Spider-Man 2

Wed., June 30, 2004

$229 million in 6 days, adjusted for inflation ($180 million actual gross)

The Avengers

Fri., May 4, 2012

$207 million in 3 days


Tues., July 3, 2007

$179 million in 6 days ($155 million actual)

The Dark Knight

Fri., July 18, 2008

$175 million in 3 days ($158 million actual)

Spider-Man 3

Fri. May 4, 2007

$174 million in 3 days ($151 million actual)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

Wed., June 30, 2010

$162 million in 5 days ($158 million actual)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Wed., June 29, 2011

$162 million in 5 days


Fri., May 3, 2002

$157 million in 3 days ($115 million actual)

X-Men: The Last Stand

Fri., May 26, 2006 (Memorial Day weekend)

$148 million in 4 days ($123 million actual)

War of the Worlds

Wed., June 29, 2005

$139 million in 6 days ($113 million actual)

Superman Returns

Wed., June 28, 2006

$130 million in 7 days ($108 million actual)

Iron Man 2

Fri., May 7, 2010

$129 million in 3 days ($128 million actual)

Men in Black II

Wed. July 3, 2002

$119 million in 5 days ($87 million actual)


Wed., July 2, 2008

$114 million in 5 days ($103 million actual)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Wed., July 2, 2003

$95 million in 5 days ($72 million actual)

One final note: Box-office tracking is an even less accurate form of prognostication than the local weather report. That $125 million figure could fluctuate widely in either direction when real people buy real tickets to see Andrew Garfield walk on subway ceilings and make out with Emma Stone. So with all that contradictory data bouncing around your brain, how much do you expect The Amazing Spider-Man to make over the July 4 holiday?

Read more:

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon

  • Movie