Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Saves Theaters, Smothers The Competition

A little picture starring a young upstart actor named Tom Holland arrived in theaters over the weekend, and it's called "Spider-Man: No Way Home." It features a popular costumed superhero you may or may not have heard of. As it turns out, this fella is quite popular all around the world, and that led to one of the biggest box office rollouts in the history of cinema. Not just since the pandemic, of all time. While everything else just got absolutely snuffed out and trampled in its wake, this movie's downright spectacular performance proved that global event movies can still be a thing on record-breaking levels, and just about every sort of person will still go to the movies under the right circumstances. Let's dig in to the numbers.

Spider-Man Has a Downright Heroic Debut

Director Jon Watts' "Spider-Man: No Way Home," riding a wave of praise from critics and massive online hype, opened to a downright stunning $260 million domestically. That number comes directly from Sony Pictures, making it the second-biggest domestic opening weekend of all time, trailing only "Avengers: Endgame" ($357 million). Estimates previously had it at $253 million, which would have put it just below "Avengers: Infinity War" ($257 million). Just to put these numbers into context, the biggest opening weekend prior to this since the pandemic began belonged to "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," which opened to $90 million — roughly 2.9 times less than "No Way Home." To further showcase just how big this is, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" had been the domestic box office champion for 2021, earning $224 million during its entire theatrical run. And make no mistake, that was a damn good number, but "Spider-Man" beat it handily in a single weekend.

Worldwide, it opened to $594.2 million, making for the third-largest global debut in history. Taking in $334.2 million in overseas markets, it made for a staggeringly flashy opening, the kind that we thought we might never see again in the theatrical marketplace. The only movies to ever open bigger were "Avengers: Endgame" ($1.22 billion) and "Avengers: Infinity War" ($640.5 million). It's the MCU's world, we're just living in it.

Nightmare Alley (and Everything Else) Suffers Tragically

Unfortunately, the success of the latest entry in the "Spider-Man" franchise was seemingly detrimental to literally everything else. To that end, Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley," a prestige drama viewed as a serious Oscar contender, also debuted in 2,145 theaters this weekend, earning a downright miserable $2.95 million. With an estimated budget of $60 million, that's just about as bad as Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story" debuting to just over $10 million last weekend against a $100 million budget.

Speaking of "West Side Story," it will not leg-out like "The Greatest Showman" did a few years back, as it plunged 67.7% in its second weekend, taking in just $3.4 million. It has made only $27 million worldwide thus far. While the long Christmas weekend may get families out to see it here in the coming days, it just isn't going to get anywhere near a face-saving number for Disney's 20th Century Studios. Also of note, "Nightmare Alley," which serves as the follow-up to del Toro's Best Picture Oscar winner "The Shape of Water," is also technically a Disney movie, hailing from Searchlight Pictures.

Why did Disney release "Nightmare Alley" the same week as "No Way Home" knowing full well that it would likely steamroll the competition? A great question, and possibly something to address in detail elsewhere, but it's truly a shame for those who want to see more in theaters than just gigantic blockbusters and horror movies. Like so many other movies that will be in the awards season conversation, all that can be hoped for is a boost once major awards nominations/wins begin rolling in. But it will likely be a year of award winners that relatively few people have seen, save for maybe "Dune."

Much Has Changed

To illustrate just how little there was left on the table for any movie not having "Spider-Man" in its title, the other nine entries in the top 10 this weekend grossed just over $21 million collectively. Nine movies combined couldn't make a tenth of what "No Way Home" did. The 10 spot was straight-up fighting for table scraps, as "Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City" took its last gasps of breath, taking in $280,000 in its fourth weekend. As Olivia Rodrigo might say, "God, it's brutal out here."

Just to give another example from relatively recent history, the weekend "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opened six years ago around the same time in December 2015, it made $247.9 million domestically, a then-record number. But that same weekend, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" opened as well, making $14.2 million, while the Tina Fey and Amy Pohler comedy "Sisters" also opened, earning $13.9 million. Both were (relatively speaking) successful examples of counter-programming. For further context, the other nine entries in the top 10 that weekend grossed nearly $55 million.

While there are lots of ways to look at this, the big takeaway from this writer's perspective is that people aren't just going to the movies as a weekend activity as much anymore. A movie has to command one's attention in a way that makes it worth leaving the house. That, to me, is the difference between those other nine movies earning $55 million seven years ago, and $21 million today. Especially when we consider that the Omicron variant is causing concerns around the globe, making what "No Way Home" did all the more amazing.

And the Rest...

Disney's "Encanto" took the number two spot with $6.5 million, giving it a $175 million global total currently. That's not too bad on the Covid curve, but it's not what any studio wants for a big-budget animated musical with great reviews hailing from Lin-Manuel Miranda. But the movie arrives on Disney+ next week, which likely means it will be very lucky to cross the $200 million mark. That might be fine if Disney looks at it as a streaming play with a theatrical component.

"Ghostbusters: Afterlife" continued to perform well enough, taking in another $3.4 million in its fifth weekend. It now sits at $173 million worldwide and might be able to get to $200 million, but it's looking less and less likely by the day. However, its $75 million budget will allow this to be a success either way at this point. Ridley Scott's "House of Gucci" added another $1.85 million, coming in sixth, and now stands at $106 million worldwide. If it can hang in there throughout awards season, it might make back most of its $75 million budget. Though it won't turn a profit in its theatrical release.

Marvel's "Eternals" came in at number eight and took in $1.19 million. It is now just $300 thousand away from crossing the $400 million mark, and I fully expect to be writing another post any day (or hour) now about the divisive superhero flick crossing that milestone.

Looking ahead to the holiday weekend, we get "The King's Man," the long-delayed prequel to "The Kingsman," "The Matrix Resurrections," and "Sing 2" attempting to take some shine away from Spidey and the villains of the Marvel multiverse.