‘Madame Web’ at $26 million spells trouble for Sony superheroes

The film, based on a character with clairvoyant powers, delivered the lowest opening weekend of any picture in the Sony Spider-Man universe so far.
Last Updated 21 February 2024, 03:46 IST

By Thomas Buckley

Spider-Man movies have been a gold mine for Sony Pictures. Spinoffs like the new Madame Web not so much.

The latest film in the studio’s Spider-verse, Madame Web took in $26.1 million in ticket sales at domestic theaters in the six days spanning Valentines’ Day through Presidents’ Day, researcher Comscore Inc. said Tuesday. The second-place finish highlights the difficulties creating new hits around its Marvel Comics star.

Bob Marley: One Love, a Paramount Pictures release about the reggae singer, took in $51.5 million during that period to top the weekend box office.

“It’s a big miss,” said Joanna Robinson, a co-author of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, a book about Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel cinematic universe. Sony marketed the picture “somewhat deceptively — the women are barely in their suits, and that seems a misfire to me.”

Since acquiring the film rights to Spider-Man for $7 million in 1999, Sony’s eight live-action and two animated movies featuring the web-slinging superhero have grossed more than $8.9 billion in theaters worldwide. But efforts to create something like the MCU, with its vast stable of popular characters, have faltered.

Sony’s strategy got off to a strong start in 2018 with Venom. The film, starring Tom Hardy, overcame terrible reviews to gross more than $856 million worldwide. The 2021 sequel, Venom: Let There Be Carnage, amped up the silliness of the first picture and was similarly panned by reviewers. Yet it generated a still strong $507 million in cinemas.

But another spinoff, 2022’s Morbius, starring Jared Leto, took in just $167 million globally and was such a critical fiasco that the online memes it spawned convinced Sony to re-release the picture in cinemas later that year just so audiences could mock it together.

With its slow start, Madame Web could end up doing even worse. The film, based on a character with clairvoyant powers, delivered the lowest opening weekend of any picture in the Sony Spider-Man universe so far.

Madame Web features Dakota Johnson, star of the Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy, in the lead role, along with Sydney Sweeney, from HBO’s Euphoria series and Anyone But You, a Sony romantic comedy that became a sleeper hit.

Written and directed by S.J. Clarkson in her feature-length debut, the film has been panned by both audiences and critics.

The performance of Madame Web adds ballast to the notion that audiences have become more choosy about superhero films after Disney flooded cinemas with more than two dozen Marvel movies in the past decade.

That spandex fatigue may extend to this year. While Sony has dialed back plans for two films based on Spider-Man spinoff characters, El Muerto and Silver Sable, the film division of Japan’s Sony Group Corp. has two more scheduled for this year. Kraven the Hunter, featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson as one of Spider-Man’s adversaries, is due for release in August, and Venom 3 is scheduled for November.

The problem may not be so much fan fatigue as quality. In the past year, releases from Disney, such as The Marvels and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, delivered underwhelming returns at the box office and failed to break even.

Yet fans have shown they will respond at times. The trailer for Marvel’s upcoming July release Deadpool & Wolverine garnered 365 million total views after debuting during the Super Bowl this month — the most of any movie in history. The previous record was held by Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home.

“If Sony were to hold its Spider-Man offshoots to the same standard as the core franchise, those films based on lesser-known characters could become as important as Peter Parker, both financially and reputationally,” Robinson said.

(Published 21 February 2024, 03:46 IST)

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