‘Spider-Man’ Box Office: China Could Solidify ‘No Way Home’ As 2021’s Top Worldwide Grosser
As if there was any doubt that Spider-Man: No Way Home would the biggest Hollywood earner of the so-called pandemic era (essentially all of 2020 and 2021, all due respect to pre-Covid hits like Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog), word that the third Spidey flick will likely become the first Phase Four MCU film to play in China essentially seals the deal. The film is due for release in North America on December 17, with a Chinese release either day-and-date or soon after. What this means is that the Jon Watts-directed flick may challenge China’s homegrown blockbusters for the global title in 2021. Spider-Man: No Way Home won’t just be the biggest MPA release of the last two years, it’ll likely be the top global grosser from anywhere.
Speaking of which, slight digression, but The Battle at Lake Changjin currently sits as the year’s biggest global grosser, as the three-hour, big-budget Korean War epic has earned $874 million in China alone. That’s bigger than Wolf Warrior II, which grossed $854 million in summer 2017 to become China’s biggest hit ever. The single-territory total is above Avengers: Endgame’s $867 million domestic finish, putting the film behind only Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($937 million domestic) among single-territory grossers. The Wu Jang/Jackson Yee actioner, which is pretty good by the way (it’s more nationalistic than The Eight Hundred, but no more jingoistic than something like Pearl Harbor), will start expanding into non-Chinese markets this month, with a run in Singapore beginning November 11 and a release in the United Kingdom beginning November 19.
Previews in the UK for November 12-14 have already sold out, which may just be much of the demand being prematurely filled, but we’ll see. Could The Battle At Lake Changjin become the first non-Hollywood $1 billion-plus grosser (and the first post-pandemic $1 billion grosser)? As Rachel Maddow says, watch this space. But back to Spidey, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals have not played/probably won’t play in China, which has hurt the overall global grosses (and, perhaps more importantly, the MCU’s perception of worldwide box office dominance). That Spider-Man 3 version 3.0 will play in China is amusingly ironic, since it’s a Sony flick as opposed to a Disney release. We’ll see if Sony’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, whose predecessor earned $269 million in China (toward an $854 million finish) gets a Chinese playdate.
Honestly, I’m half-surprised that this will happen, since without China it was possible that No Way Home would gross less worldwide than The Battle At Lake Changjin, thus denying Hollywood the top global grosser for the second straight year. Last year, the top grossers were Japan’s Demon Slayer The Movie ($500 million, with around $400 million from Japan), China’s The Eight Hundred ($471 million) and China’s My People My Homeland ($430 million), followed by Bad Boys for Life ($428 million, including $204 million domestic). While F9 ($721 million, including $173 million domestic and $204 million in China) and No Time to Die (a likely final total of $735 million) have excelled globally, they are the only MPA titles to come within spitting distance of Detective Chinatown 3 ($690 million), Hi, Mom ($837 million) and Battle At Lake Changjin.
That said, there’s a case to be made for China bragging that a strong Chinese gross helped Spider-Man: No Way Home soar above its Hollywood rivals, presuming it earns anywhere near Far from Home ($199 million in 2019) or even Godzilla Vs. Kong ($188 million in 2021). Heck, if the multiverse-spanning sequel does well in China and still ends up earning less globally than Hi, Mom and/or Battle at Lake Changjin, that’s a hell of a thing for China to brag about. Moreover, Spider-Man has been popular in China way before Hollywood started obsessing with the notion of tentpole bucks in the world’s biggest overseas marketplace. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy earned $4.9 million in 2002, $6.1 million in 2004 and $18.9 million in 2007, while the Amazing Spider-Man movies grossed $48.8 million in 2012 and $94.4 million in 2014.
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Spider-Man: Homecoming’s $117 million gross in 2017 was slightly above-par for a solo MCU movie, but No Way Home (as befitted an increased interest in the MCU starting in mid-2018) earned nearly $200 million out of its $1.131 billion cume. No China, no $1 billion-plus total. Now that doesn’t mean that in a normal theatrical environment any of these tentpoles needed China to score big (Fate of the Furious earned $843 million in 2017 not even counting the robust $393 million in China), but if you’re after bragging rights, well, that’s what China is good for. As noted many times, China’s recent interest in conventional Hollywood tentpole cinema is mostly about boosting the already strong global grosses of already successful movies. Frozen II earned $122 million in China, or about 8.4% of its $1.45 billion cume.
There’s almost no chance that No Way Home gets anywhere near Frozen II’s global earnings, but strong global business here, there and everywhere could put it in the ballpark of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Joker, both of which earned $1.073 billion with little-to-no help from China in late 2019. More importantly, the Sony flick soaring to infinity and beyond and leaving the Disney biggies in the dust will further erode the notion, at least for now, of Disney as the uncontested global box office champion. I wouldn’t be too worried about the Mouse House, as they have a steady supply of MCU sequels for Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Thor next year alongside (fingers-crossed) Avatar 2 at Christmas. But right now, China may indeed be positioning itself as a pandemic-era kingmaker.