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What a difference a decade can make.
In 2009, the list of the top-10 grossing films in North America didn’t include one superhero pic. The glory instead belonged to installments in the Transformers, Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, along with Avatar, The Hangover, The Blind Side and family pics including Up.
Fast-forward to 2018 — a record year for the box office — when the genre occupied six of the 10 slots, led by Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and hybrid Incredibles 3.
The winning streak continues in 2019. The most recent example is Spider-Man: Far From Home, which opened to a huge $185 million domestically over the long July Fourth holiday, including $93.6 million for the weekend itself.
The only tentpole to have earned more over Independence Day weekend was Transformers: Dark of the Moon in 2011 ($97.9 million), not adjusted for inflation. Far From Home did, however, top Spider-Man 2 to boast the biggest six-day July Fourth debut of all time. It also is Sony’s best six-day opening ever.
Worldwide, the tentpole has cleared $600 million in its first 10 days, prompting analysts to predict a $1 billion-plus finish for the movie when all is said and done.
Sony — which needed a major win after the disappointing performance of summer reboot Men in Black: International — made Far From Home in partnership with Kevin Feige’s Disney-owned Marvel Studios, whose Marvel Cinematic Universe is largely responsible for the superhero boom, beginning with Iron Man in 2008.
Box office observers say superhero pics have become family movies, in addition to winning over younger males, an increasingly elusive demo when it comes to moviegoing.
Males made up 57 percent of ticket buyers for Far From Home, while 31 percent of the audience was between the ages 18 and 24, according to PostTrak.
“The superhero genre is seemingly unstoppable with audiences who have an insatiable appetite for films from the genre and, in particular, for the characters and connected storylines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” says analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.
Spider-Man: Far From Home basked in the glow of Marvel and Disney’s late April 2019 blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, which has earned almost as much globally as Avatar, the top-grossing film of all time, unadjusted.
Thanks to the involvement of Feige and Marvel, Far From Home‘s plot was able to piggyback on Endgame, and sees Tom Holland’s Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) and Samuel Jackson’s Nick Fury adjust to a world without Iron Man and other key Avengers to defend it.
“The film also features a perfect romantic pairing with Tom Holland and Zendaya both commanding huge numbers of Twitter followers with a combined 20 million fans. These young and exciting stars make the film particularly attractive to both young males and females who can find someone on screen with whom they can relate and root for on a very human level,” adds Dergarabedian.
Far From Home, buoyed by glowing reviews and stellar audience exit scores, was able to avoid the franchise fatigue that has plagued a slew of other franchise installments this summer.
After just six days in release, the Spider-Man installment is already the No. 5 title of 2019. Endgame is No. 1, followed by Marvel and Disney’s female-fronted Captain Marvel at No. 2. Other wins for the genre this year include Warner Bros. and DC’s Shazam!
Comparisons to Sony’s other Spider-Man films are tough, since most opted for a traditional three-day weekend launch. Far From Home is a direct sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, which scored a three-day debut of $117 million in July 2017 on its way to earning $880 million globally, not adjusted for inflation.
Homecoming launched later in July following the July Fourth weekend; Far From Home opened on a Tuesday in advance of the holiday. With direct assistance from Marvel, the pair of films have revived the web-slinging hero following the two Amazing Spider-Man films, which earned $758 million and $709 million, respectively, at the global box office. Earlier, Spider-Man 3, the final film in the trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, topped out at $891 million globally, unadjusted.
Of course, not every superhero film succeeds. Fox’s X-Men spinoff Dark Phoenix crashed and burned following its early June release, earning less than $65 percent domestically and $246 million globally to date.
Nor has the genre been able to rescue the box office overall.
Domestic revenue year to date is still down more than 8 percent, while the official summer season is running behind by 5 percent, according to Comscore. Worldwide, the forecast is brighter, with revenue running behind by about 1 percent, according to other box office analysts.
The next major studio superhero pic is Warner Bros. and DC’s Joker, which hits theaters in early October.
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