Commentary

Stuck in the Spider's Web--until The Clones Attacked

I had an encounter with Spider-Man a few weeks back. No, not the movie. Not the comic book. And not even the old animated TV series (loved that theme song). No, the Spidey I bumped into was anything but a pop culture hero. Rather, you could call him a friend of the press.

I received the call at about 3:00 EST in the afternoon on Sunday, May 5, and the whoosh began.

"Spider-Man made over $110 million this weekend," my friend from Sony exclaimed. "It's a new record!"

I didn't ever bother to ask how my friend Sony already had the gross in the middle of Sunday afternoon or how he found out the news -- his position at Sony isn't even related to Columbia Pictures, the film's distributor. I know that the studios had devised some creative weekend box-office estimation system so that they'd be ready to make the big announcement in time for the Monday papers. (For an action, or "event" film, its weekend business will break down to something like 28% on Friday, 45% on Saturday, back down to 27% on Sunday). Maybe they sample their methodology on their own employees first…

THE number on everyone's tongue the next day was $114 million. Sony placed a huge banner outside its L.A. studio gates trumpeting the figure, a well-deserved "look at us!" announcement, I suppose. Heck, if my kid hit the first big home run of the season, then I'd let the neighborhood and other teams know, too! But it's the print and online community that provided a trove of unpaid advertising, which acted as accessories after the fact to that record-breaking weekend. Virtually every newspaper, (Spider)website and news program that I saw over the next couple of days went to town with that number and all things arachnid. USA.com offered no less that seven Spidey story links from their box office coverage. Tuesday's New York Post offered a full-page, four-color story on the top five Spider Man toys available at Times Square's giant Toys "R" Us. The E! Entertainment Television crawl at the bottom of the Howard Stern show cried that Tobey and Kirsten are committed to the sequel, which will be released in the summer of 2004. Merchandise. New York Magazine, in keeping with their appeal to the uptown crowd, had a small piece (written sometime earlier, obviously) in their Intelligencer section about how the film's producers attempted to barter (unsuccessfully) with Saks Fifth Avenue to obtain a shot of Spidey swinging in front of their store. A little silly, yes, but the pic sure looked good.

By the latter part of the week, though, the unpaid advertising looked like it was beginning to wane. Of course it did: the first all-media screenings of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones were scheduled for Tuesday and reviews began popping up in the trades the next morning. The Times ran a review on Friday, May 10 - a little odd as the movie wasn't scheduled to open nationally until the following Thursday. Oh, but it played the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday -- it was part of some 9/11-related fundraiser -- so I guess the newspaper of record wanted to get a jump on the Jedi. (At least the people who were waiting in line for the opening had something to tide them over). A.O. Scott's review on the front page of the Weekend section wasn't a positive one, but the half-page panoramic color picture was an attention-getter. It certainly sold me more on the prospect of seeing Clones than the full-color, two-page Spider-Man ad buried inside did on convincing me to catch the webslinger on the big screen. Maybe if I had read a couple more articles on how well it was doing…

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