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Spider-man 3: Big Budget, Big F/X…Big Box Office?

Spider-man 3, one of the most highly anticipated, and promoted, movies of the year opens in theaters today.   In a year of very-big-budget sequels,  Spidey may prove to be the costliest of them all.  Variety has reported production costs topped out around $260m before marketing and promotion.  Rumors have speculated that those numbers are sanitized and the actual cost broke the $300m barrier (making Spidey Part-3 the most expensive movie of all time – even with inflation adjustments).

spiderman 3 animated posterSony doesn’t have much reason to worry.  the first two movies took in more than $1.6b at the box office (see article from March for more info here).  That sum added to tremendous revenue from DVD sales, rentals and merchandising, not to mention gaming (Spider-man 3 games are due for several platforms) – Sony will probably see a solid return on investment, including marketing expenses, of even around $500m.

For Sony Pictures, Director Sam Raimi, Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and the rest of the cast, this weekend will be a big indicator of how their work will be received.  While unlike its predecessor (Spider-man 2), this installment won’t show the skill of  a Pulitzer prize winning writer in its script, it does have the able assistance of a two-time academy award winning scriptwriter helping to guide it.  Ultimately, as Steven Spielberg is attributed to have said  “The important question is not whether a movie is worth $20m but whether it’s worth $10.”  I’d bet on a weekend gross between $75m and $110m. 

For the special effects team behind the movie-  the movie is already a hit based on the simple fact that it’s made it to the theaters.  One of the villains in the film, Sandman, relies tremendously on high level CG animation.  The character took a team of 30 f/x specialists two years to render and complete.   Speaking to Wired magazine, effects supervisor Scott Stadyk explained “[Sandman] isn’t just a character effect like a twister or tidal wave.  Because it’s a character, each particle of sand has to roll . . .and be part of a flow that forms a volumetric shape.”  To create a character of that complexity and integrate it smoothly into other footage is an achievement.  It’s also a clear showcase of just how significant computer effects have become in movies (hello green screens). (For added perspective: it’s estimated that the are more than 1,100 F/X shots in Spider-man 3, up from 470 in the first Spider-man movie)

Big weekend for Sony, Toby, Kirsten, Sam and crew. I’m betting they do well.  (Not that the bet  is much of a longshot: as of May 2nd,  94% of Fandango weekly ticket sales were for the movie, and that’s in advance of its opening).

If there was a horse running the Kentucky Derby named Spidey, I’d bet on him too.

[Note: for anyone interested in more information on the ever-increasing costs of big-budget movies (sometimes called Tent-Pole films)  and what goes into them. Variety carried an informative article in 2005.  It can be found here]

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