LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - By the time “Spider-Man 3” opens in North America and Britain on Friday, the superhero will have already ensnared moviegoers around the world.
Columbia Pictures started rolling out the third installment of its lucrative comic-book adaptation on Tuesday in 16 countries — eight each in Asia and Europe.
First-day sales in those markets, which include Japan, South Korea, Germany and France, totaled $29.2 million, the Sony Corp.-owned studio said on Wednesday.
In every case, the new film outperformed its predecessors, and set industry records in 10 of them. On a comparable basis, “Spider-Man 2” opened to $15.6 million in 2004 in those markets, while “Spider-Man” bowed to $10.6 million in 2002.
With a budget of $258 million, according to Columbia — or upward of $350 million, if the Hollywood gossip machine is to be believed — “Spider-Man 3” reunites stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst with director Sam Raimi.
As is often the case with superhero sequels, the action is a little darker. Some influential critics were not overly enthusiastic. The Los Angeles Times said the film possessed “an ungainly, cumbersome feeling.” The Times of London described it as “a daft, highly polished couple of hours of fantasy fun.”
But the Rotten Tomatoes web site (http://www.rottentomatoes.com), which aggregates movie reviews, indicated that 71 percent of critics liked the film.
No one expects the film will have any trouble dominating ticket sales in North America, at least until “Shrek the Third” opens on May 18, followed a week later by another trilogy-closer, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”
“Spider-Man 3” could “very likely” break the three-day opening record of $135.6 million set exactly a year ago by “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” said industry analyst Brandon Gray, president and publisher of Box Office Mojo (http://www.boxofficemojo.com).
Comparisons with “Spider-Man 2” are difficult because it opened on a Wednesday. But the “Pirates” sequel beat the old three-day record of $115 million set by the first “Spider-Man.” That figure would be about $130 million in today’s money after adjusting for ticket price inflation, according to Gray.
Sony Pictures vice chairman Jeff Blake said it would be a “pretty daunting” task to surpass the “Pirates” sequel.
“Everywhere we’ve opened so far has been the biggest ‘Spider-Man’ ever. That’s our goal,” he said.
Another analyst, Paul Dergarabedian of Media By Numbers LLC, said “Spider-Man 3” could also break the single-day record of $55.8 million, also set by the “Pirates” sequel.
“The box office has been in a lull for the past few weeks, and I think people are just waiting for ‘Spider-Man’ to hit the theaters, and then it’s going to explode on Friday,” he said. “This one could surprise a lot of people. It could do even better than we think.”
Also helping its cause is the fact that “Spider-Man 3” will open in 4,253 theaters, up from 4,133 for the “Pirates” sequel and 3,615 for “Spider-Man.” The saturation release ensures no one will have trouble seeing the movie this weekend, but it also means the film could burn out more quickly.
“Spider-Man 2” grossed $783 million worldwide, about $40 million short of the first one. The North American contribution fell $30 million to $373.6 million. The first sequel cost about $200 million to make, nearly double that of the original.
Gray said the diminishing returns were not cause for great concern given the franchise’s lofty start. Moreover, the “Spider-Man” franchise appears to be in better shape than the “Batman” and “Superman” films were at the same stage in their cycles, he added.