'Spider-Man: No Way Home' sees 3rd best box-office opening of all time amid omicron fears

Original movies are over-performing, despite box office slump

Elizabeth Wagmeister on box office

Never underestimate your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, even with a mutating virus afoot. Despite rising concerns over the omicron variant, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" not only shattered pandemic-era box office records; it became the third best opening of all time behind "Avengers: Endgame" and "Avengers: Infinity War."

The Sony and Marvel blockbuster grossed a stunning $253 million in ticket sales from 4,325 North American locations, according to studio estimates on Sunday. The web-slinger’s success couldn’t have come sooner for a movie business that has had a rollercoaster 2021 and could be headed for a difficult start to 2022 as the omicron variant of the coronavirus forces more and more event cancellations.

"This weekend’s historic ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ results, from all over the world and in the face of many challenges, reaffirm the unmatched cultural impact that exclusive theatrical films can have when they are made and marketed with vision and resolve," said Tom Rothman, Sony Pictures Chairman and CEO, in a statement. "All of us at Sony Pictures are deeply grateful to the fabulous talent, both in front of and behind the camera, that produced such a landmark film."

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As the third standalone Spider-Man film in the Tom Holland era, "No Way Home" was always going to be an "event film" for fans. After several delays over the year Sony planted its launch in the pre-Christmas frame and as of late last week had anticipated a pandemic-best opening in the $130 to $150 million range. But it quickly became clear that "Spider-Man" was going to fly much higher. The film netted an incredible $121.5 million in its first day — bumping "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" out of the No. 2 position.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the latest adventure for Marvel’s friendly-neighborhood superhero, has started to shatter 2021 film records with $50 million in its Thursday previews.  (Sony Pictures)

Directed by Jon Watts, "No Way Home" picks up with Holland’s Peter Parker grappling with the world finding out about his superhero identity, and features Zendaya, Marisa Tomei and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. The promise of spoiler reveals only added to the feverish hype.

And it's not just fans who have been giving the film good marks: Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive as well. It has a 94% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Holland on Instagram thanked audiences for the record numbers.

"You made this possible. Your love and support means the world to me," Holland wrote on Saturday. "Thank you thank you thank you and if you haven’t seen Spider-Man no way home yet… merry Christmas and you know what to do."

Before this weekend, Sony’s "Venom: Let There Be Carnage" held the record for best opening of the pandemic with $90.1 million.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has a massive theatrical release. (Sony Pictures via AP / AP Newsroom)

But it wasn’t all celebrations at the box office this weekend. In Spider-Man’s wake were some high-profile casualties, including Guillermo del Toro’s star-studded "Nightmare Alley," which grossed a mere $3 million from 2,145 theaters.

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"Nightmare Alley" had prestige and awards buzz behind it, with a cast including Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, but a week after Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story" underwhelmed, it’s a stark reminder of moviegoing realities during the pandemic and the power of the Marvel fanbase.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” sees the third biggest opening of all time. (Sony Pictures via AP / AP Newsroom)

In the one-movie-takes-all environment, more often than not, that one movie has been a Marvel movie. Including "No Way Home," Marvel releases will make up five of the top six films of the year, including "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," "Black Widow" and "Eternals."

And lest anyone was holding onto hopes that "West Side Story" would have a profitable "Greatest Showman" run after its lackluster start, the 20th Century Studios release fell 67% in its second weekend in theaters, bringing in only $3.4 million.

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