Spider-Man vs. COVID: Can ‘No Way Home’ Hit $1 Billion in Global Box Office During a Pandemic?

·5-min read

A handful of movies have been able to find box office success in this unpredictable pandemic year, but none have been able to gross $1 billion worldwide. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will try to be the first — despite the rise of the Omicron variant.

The Sony/Marvel Studios tentpole, the third solo outing for Tom Holland as the webslinger, certainly has the hype. As TheWrap noted earlier this week, presales in the United States have been the highest for any film since “Avengers: Endgame” in spring 2019, and first-day sales even exceeded that of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in December 2017.

Similar records have been broken in other countries. In South Korea, one of the 13 countries to get the film on Wednesday night, 755,000 tickets sold in presales, more than double the country’s presale pandemic record set by the Marvel film “Eternals” with 348,000 tickets. An opening day total of $5.3 million has been reported, which is also a pandemic-era record in Korea.

In India, where the film is released on Thursday, more than 500,000 tickets were sold in the first day of presales, second only to “Endgame” among non-local films. And in the U.K., where first screenings are currently unspooling, top chains Odeon and Vue are reporting combined presales of more than 550,000 tickets, more than triple the number sold for this year’s James Bond film “No Time to Die.”

So the pieces are in place for “No Way Home” to top the $295.8 million opening of its summer 2019 predecessor “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” and possibly even the $381 million global opening of Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 3,” which has held the record for Sony’s largest-ever global opening since 2007. The question is how much COVID-19 will play into the film’s box office fortunes both this weekend and over the next two months.

At least right now, there aren’t signs of too many hurdles. In a few countries, the new winter wave of COVID infections has forced movie theaters to change how they do business. In the Netherlands, for example, movie theaters and other businesses must close between 5 p.m. and 5 a.m. To counter this, cinemas have opened for early morning screenings, and strong presales have been reported for showtimes as early as 7:30 a.m. Some other countries, most notably Germany and France, are requiring proof of vaccination to enter theaters.

The good news is that the capacity restrictions that plagued theaters worldwide during the first half of 2021 aren’t in place right now in many major territories, but that could change in the coming days and weeks. In South Korea, where daily new infections passed 7,000 for the first time, Prime Minster Kim Boo-kyum is preparing to impose new social distancing measures as early as Friday.

If those measures affect theaters, it could suppress the box office for “No Way Home” in a country where “Far From Home” grossed $56.3 million. And if the winter surge fueled by the Omicron variant leads to more restrictions in other territories, that will damage the film’s potential legs during the critical final week of December when holiday moviegoing is at its peak and end-of-year blockbusters make the biggest chunk of their overall grosses.

But the biggest obstacle between “No Way Home” and $1 billion is China, where the film does not yet have a release date. With political tensions increasing, only a precious few Hollywood films have gotten to open in the lucrative market as officials have focused on building the local film industry and keeping the spotlight on Chinese films. Sony has not even received a Chinese release date for its other Spidey-related film, “Venom: There Will Be Carnage,” and each passing day makes it less likely that both films will find their way into Chinese theaters.

And while a January Chinese release is still possible for “No Way Home,” a $1 billion global gross will be a challenge without the lucrative market. “Far From Home” grossed nearly $200 million of its $1.13 billion total from China. Moreover, Boxoffice Pro editor Daniel Loria cautioned that the new film draws heavily from Spider-Man’s entire cinematic history — which could also dampen its reception by Chinese audiences. “The ‘Spider-Man’ films from the 2000s were released before China became such a major theatrical presence and don’t have the same cultural legacy as they do in much of the rest of the world,” he said. “I’m interested in seeing how this movie is received considering how much it is based on previous films that Chinese audiences might not be as familiar with.”

Still, there’s no doubt that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will be a hit for Sony — but analysts are reluctant to set $1 billion as the measure of success given that COVID-19 has disrupted all measurements of box office success this year. And even if the film breaks records, pandemic-era ones or otherwise, the overall December box office will still fall well below pre-pandemic levels.

“The true measure of success for ‘No Way Home’ with regards to the wider industry is whether it can create momentum to impact other titles and create a more sustained interest in moviegoing,” Loria said. “Because my biggest concern isn’t about how much ‘Spider-Man’ makes. It’s about how people over 40 didn’t show up to see ‘West Side Story’ and what it is going to take to bring them back to theaters.”

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