Worldwide 'Spidey' web

$148 mil U.S. debut sets record

Redefining the definition of a blockbuster, "Spider-Man 3" leaped from one boxoffice record to another during the weekend, ensnaring an unprecedented $148 million in North America according to estimates from distributor Sony Pictures. It easily catapulted past the previous record holder for an opening weekend, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which bowed to $135.6 million in July.

On its opening day Friday, "Spider-Man" grabbed $59.3 million, setting a single-day record by outdistancing the previous record of $55.8 million, also held by "Dead Man's Chest."

With international returns amounting to an estimated $227 million, the worldwide purse for the high-flying sequel already stands at $375 million. While Sony has officially pegged the movie's budget at $258 million — bystanders have speculated that it is even higher than that — the record-shattering bow set the PG-13 film from director Sam Raimi on course to become one of the biggest-grossing films of all time.

Utilizing a script by Raimi, his brother Ivan Raimi and Alvin Sargent, the Columbia Pictures production retained the core cast from the first two films, headed by Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, while introducing such new characters as Sandman, played by Thomas Haden Church, and Venom, played by Topher Grace. Avi Arad, Laura Ziskin and Grant Curtis served as producers, with comics creator Stan Lee (who cameos in the movie), Kevin Feige and Joseph M. Caracciolo serving as exec producers.

"We're really proud of everyone who made the movie and everyone who marketed it," Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Amy Pascal said Sunday.

Calling the results "spectacular," she said the studio already was at work on the now inevitable "Spider-Man 4." "We're a lot further on than we usually are," she said. "We usually don't talk about the next movie until the current one is released, but we're already talking about what we want to do in the next one." She added that conversations about bringing back Raimi and the other principals would begin once a script is in place because "that's what they sign on to do."

Said SPE chairman Michael Lynton: "I'd say first and foremost this is a fantastic shot in the arm for the studio, not that the studio wasn't already doing well. But this is an amazing way to start off the summer, both for the industry and the company."

The mind-boggling grosses immediately overshadowed the movie's steep budget. "The movie cost what it needed to cost to tell the story," Pascal said. "It has lots of effects. Two different (versions of) Spider-Man, a red one and a black one. New villains like Sandman and Venom. It's a big, operatic story."

The other films in the marketplace simply moved aside to make room. The weekend's only other new wide release, Warner Bros. Pictures' PG-13 gambling tale "Lucky You," produced with Village Roadshow and starring Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore, folded its cards with a sixth-place showing and an estimated $2.5 million from 2,525 theaters for a $996 per-theater average.

Paramount Pictures' release of the DreamWorks thriller "Disturbia," which held the top spot for the past three weeks, proved resilient even if it did drop to a distant second. Taking in an estimated $5.7 million, the film fell 37% as its cume grew to nearly $60 million.

"Spider-Man's" numbers accounted for 80% of the weekend's total boxoffice of $185 million. In contrast to the same weekend last year, when "Mission: Impossible III" opened to $47.7 million, the overall weekend was up 68%, according to Nielsen EDI.

Any way you sliced it, the "Spider-Man" returns were record-shattering.

Its Saturday gross of $51 million was the biggest Saturday of all time, knocking down previous record holder "Shrek 2," which took in $44.8 million on May 22, 2004.

If the Sunday estimate of $37.7 million stands, it will be the biggest Sunday of all time, beating out the $35.4 million established by "Dead Man's Chest" on July 7.

"Spider-Man" bowed in 4,252 theaters, the widest opening of all time, supplanting "Shrek 2," which launched in 4,163 theaters.

The superhero franchise also knocked off a per-theater average of $34,807, the highest ever for a wide release and larger than the previous record, $33,296, notched by "X-Men: The Last Stand" when it launched in May 2006.

The film played on 84 Imax screens in North America, setting a new opening-weekend record with $4.8 million — the previous IMAX record was set two months ago, when Warners' "300" captured $3.6 million. Selling out at its Imax stands, "Spider-Man" achieved a per-screen average of $57,000.

"We've migrated from being a business that showed 45-minute nature documentaries that didn't bring in teenagers and moviegoers in their early 20s. We're now capturing that core audience," Imax Filmed Entertainment chairman and president Greg Foster said. He added that he expects "Spider-Man" will play on Imax screens until Warners' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which will include 20 minutes of 3-D footage, arrives July 13.

Online ticket sellers Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com also reported record-shattering business. On Friday, "Spider-Man" broke Fandango's daily and hourly sales records, while Movie Tickets.com broke a record for the most tickets sold site-wide in a single day and "Spider-Man" set a single-day sales record for a film.

According to Sony, the opening-weekend audience was 54% male and 46% female, and 63% were under 25. Critics roughed up the picture a bit: As of Sunday, RottenTomatoes.com had posted a 62% approval rating from critics nationwide. But the studio's survey said that more than 50% of moviegoers sampled said "Spider-Man" was better than the first two films in the franchise.

Meanwhile, on the margins, several exclusive releases managed to find receptive audiences.

Fox Searchlight's "Waitress," from the late actress-turned-director Adrienne Shelly, bowed in four theaters in Los Angeles and New York, earning an estimated $91,470 for a per-screen average of $22,868. After a Wednesday opening, its cume is $111,144.

Lionsgate introduced Sarah Polley's Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her," starring Julie Christie, in four theaters, collecting $56,000 for a per-screen average of $14,000. First Look Pictures launched the omnibus film "Paris je t'aime" in two theaters, where it found $37,777 and a per-screen average of $18,889.
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