No Way Home Save Cinema (or Kill It)? 1

No Way Home Save Cinema (or Kill It)?

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Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man pulled big returns at the box office, but at what cost—what do your Spidey-senses say?

Like many film fans worldwide, my winter break was spent inside watching lots and lots of movies. Not only did I catch the latest hybrid releases of big-budget streaming blockbusters like Matrix: Resurrections and Don’t Look Up, and revisit many cinema classics like Days of Heaven and Point Break, I even ventured out to a movie theater to watch the latest Marvel filmSpider-Man: No Way Home.

And, while there’s no real reason to explore my critical analysis of the film (in short, I liked it), it’s worth discussing how Spider-Man: No Way Home did at the box office. And, what that might ultimately mean for the future of cinema in our crazy, hybrid, theatrical and streaming world, which has yet to find stable ground since spring of 2020.

Spider-Man in action pose, ready to pounce. Image via Columbia.

Spider-Man: No Way Home Box Office Returns

With numbers continuing to climb, even early reports for Spider-Man: No Way Home’s box office numbers have the film grossing well over one billion dollars worldwide—quickly making it the highest-grossing film of 2021 (and maybe even 2022, when all is said and done), as well as currently the 12th highest-grossing film of all time.

Not too bad for a film released during another wave of the global pandemic, which has shuttered theaters across the globe and caused the vast majority of film-goers to at least rethink their in-theater vs. at-home viewing habits. (In fact, Variety reports that even with Spider-Man’s end-of-year boost, box office numbers are still over 80% down from pre-pandemic levels.)

However, while many in the film industry can look at these results and declare that the theatrical experience is back and even better than before, we might want to take a look at the bigger picture as to what’s going on here.

And for aspiring filmmakers in particular, we’ll need to ask ourselves: Is this the future we really want?

Pushing Out Mid-Budget Competitors

While perhaps under-reported by mainstream channels, but undoubtedly well pointed out on Twitter, one of the casualties of war from Spider-Man’s meteoric success was the pushing out of other films released over the holiday season.

In particular, films like P.T. Anderson’s Licorice Pizza, Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley, and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story have been reported to have screening times either reduced or outright bumped in favor of freeing up more theater rooms for No Way Home.

Which, just from looking at the directing names attached to those films above, could be considered an outright travesty for any serious filmmakers, fans, or enthusiasts.

And while this re-scheduling of screenings and such isn’t anything exactly new per se, with cinemas being in such a difficult position already, it adds to a heightened level of expectations . . . which might be catastrophic.

Unlike Spider-Man: No Way Home, you could certainly make the case that each of these films has underperformed at the box office, at this point. (In particular, West Side Story has just barely returned half of its $100 million budget so far and has seen its advertising cut in some markets altogether.)

Licorice Pizza and Nightmare Alley have also not made their budgets back (at this point) either. And, with each film sitting on either side of a $50 million budget range, this further spells a bit of doom for these “mid-budget” types of film projects, which often are designed to highlight auteur directors, break-out acting performances, and have historically been celebrated as some of the best examples of Oscar-worthy filmmaking.

A scene from Spider-Man: No Way Home with M.J. and Spider-Man in a tenuous situation on top of a high-rise
A scene from Spider-Man: No Way Home. Image via Columbia Pictures.

Ultimately, this is one of the core factors to consider, especially when it comes to cinema. Gross income across all theater chains still hasn’t reached pre-pandemic levels. Even with most cinemas open with COVID protocols in place, there’s still a sense of hesitancy with the general public.

Some chains have filled for bankruptcy, others are on the verge of collapse. So, from a business standpoint, it makes the most sense to populate your screens with the film that’s 100% guaranteed to fill seats.

Streaming vs. Theatrical

The one saving grace so far in any of these discussions, though, has to be the continuous rising tide of streaming. Films like Don’t Look Up and Being the Ricardos are good examples of films that more or less skipped the box office debate altogether and were released straight for streaming audiences.

And, while you can tout the official-non-official viewing numbers from Netflix and the like, it’s still hard to say just how well these films have done financially when compared to traditional box office numbers.

However, we can at least look at how these films are doing critically, and in the general conversation. Neither film is perfect, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of these films mentioned for an Oscar buzz (in particular for performances), and might be the only hopeful path left for any aspiring filmmakers to shoot for and follow.

The Marvel Divide Grows Further

As a subject we’ve certainly covered from time to time, these latest box office numbers (and subsequent media reports about them) continue to tell a tale of this great divide in cinema. It bears repeating that like many people, I like Marvel movies! I do.

However, while campaigns might still need to be run to get Marvel films to receive the same type of acclaim and Oscar buzz that, say, your arthouse auteur filmmaker films receive, it also doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to fight to keep these non-mega-blockbusters alive and successful.

It continues an internal reflection that every aspiring filmmaker should make. What kind of movies do you want to make? And where, realistically, do you see these films finding success (or at least an audience)?

For more industry insights, trends, and advice, check out these articles:

Cover image via Columbia Pictures.

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