There was no possible way to predict that 2020 would turn into what it turned into. There were signs that we would have another massive pandemic in our lifetimes, but no one ever thought it was actually going to happen. When it comes to the movies, theaters and theater owners were riding high. When we attended CinemaCon 2019 in March, the idea was that nothing could stop the box office train. Things were rolling at a truly insane rate, and movies were bringing in numbers that were blowing minds. What was considered a "flop" by 2018 or 2019 box office standards was frankly insane. The year ended with yet another Star Wars movie crossing the billion-dollar mark, and everyone thought this train couldn't be stopped.
Then it did.
The writing was on the wall that 2020 even before the pandemic, couldn't possibly live up to the box office returns of 2018 or 2019. Even as things return to normal, there just hasn't been a movie that has really managed to bring people back to theaters even as Covid numbers started to drop. Even Marvel, who were the biggest players at the table, had three movies come out in 2021 that did well but not great. Until Spider-Man: No Way Home came in and managed to tap into the mindset that we all had in 2018 and 2019, that we needed to see this movie on opening weekend or else.
Of course, it helped that Spider-Man is one of the biggest superheroes of all time. Two of the four Marvel movies in 2021 were based on new properties [not that that has stopped a Marvel movie from crossing a billion dollars, looking at you Black Panther and Captain Marvel]. The social media buzz around Spider-Man: No Way Home was extremely similar to Avengers: Endgame and other Marvel movies released before the pandemic. The idea that you needed to see this movie as soon as it came out, or it would be spoiled for you, was pervasive. The Fear Of Missing Out was strong with this one and unlike anything we've seen from movies since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
No matter your opinion on Spider-Man or Marvel movies, it does mean that there is still a burning desire to go to the movies if that movie taps into the right mindset with the right marketing. Spider-Man: No Way Home infamously leaked all over social media, yet those same people that had seen social media posts with spoilers still ran out to see the movie first thing opening weekend. Something about the spoilers and the expected storylines really made people think that spoilers would ruin the impact of the film. Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals were just not able to tap into that feeling to the same extent. Was it the featured character, was it because it's a culmination of previous Spider-Man movies, or a combination of all of them?
While it cannot be understated how important it is to the industry that Spider-Man: No Way Home is doing well, the real proof of whether or not audiences have returned to movies can be found in the other recent movies that did well over the course of several weeks. That means that there is a demand not only for people to see the movie but maybe for people to see it more than once. While Spider-Man: No Way Home made more money than Shang-Chi, the latter had a smaller second-week percentage drop. Free Guy did very well over the course of several weeks, as did No Time To Die, Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. That big week explosion and appealing to FOMO will net you big grosses opening weekend, but whether or not you'll be able to maintain it is the real fight that Peter Park has to face next.
Summary: For the first time in the cinematic history of Spider-Man, our friendly neighborhood hero is unmasked and no longer able to separate his normal life from the high-stakes of being a Super Hero. When he asks for help from Doctor Strange, the stakes become even more dangerous, forcing him to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
Spider-Man: No Way Home, directed by Jon Watts, stars Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau with Marisa Tomei. It was released on December 17, 2021.