After what has been a colossally complicated 18 months for the film industry, one entity has proven above all others its ability to withstand just about every obstacle thrown its way and still come smelling like roses. While compared to its most lucrative years 2021 stands poised to be one of its weaker periods in recent memory, it can’t be denied that, relative to the circumstances, Marvel Studios have had themselves another outstanding year at the box office. However, the emergence of a brand new strain of the never-ending bane on our existence that we call COVID-19 could be arriving just in time to spoil the crown jewel of the media giant’s 2021 slate, costing them not only hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, but a number of box office records as well.
It’s no secret that Spiderman: No Way Home has been positioned as one of the year’s biggest releases. The third film in Marvel and Sony’s often unamicable, though thus far undeniably fruitful, Spiderman partnership has had fans in a frenzy for months, with rumours and leaks strongly hinting at (or in some cases basically confirming) the presence of a number of popular characters from previous Spiderman efforts, including former Spiderman actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Early tickets in the US have been selling at astounding rates, outdoing those of previous Marvel mega-hits Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War. Demand has been so high that ticket providers AMC and Fandango both crashed shortly after the release of tickets due to the wave of web traffic. Early projections have the film potentially shooting all the way to the top of both the US Domestic and Worldwide box office charts for 2021, with a real shot at crossing the $1 billion USD mark worldwide.
So, everything’s looking great for Marvel, right? Well, it was. Until around a week ago, when the phenomenon we‘ve quickly come to know as Omicron arrived to throw a spanner in the works. Much has been made of the slow rebound of attendance and profits since theaters began to reopen worldwide following the introduction of vaccines early last year. Box office numbers seemed to be steadily progressing back towards something resembling pre-pandemic levels with big returns on high-profile releases such as No Time To Die, Venom: Let There be Carnage and the MCU’s own Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The emergence of a new variant of unknown attributes presents the risk of renewing public hesitancy about gathering in indoor spaces, even if restrictions are not put back in place, though it would seem if any release could survive this now familiar anxiety, it would be this one as few releases in recent memory have generated this much online anticipation and fanfare.
It’s worth noting that Marvel Studios are a Disney subsidiary, whose stranglehold over the entertainment world is unparalleled. A disappointing result at the box office for No Way Home isn’t going to be a major issue in the grand scheme of things and every final gross total in 2021 will come with the ‘COVID caveat’, providing a built-in excuse for just about every underperformance. But the unfortunate timing of the new strain might cost Marvel and Sony a chance at making a bit of unique industry history in notching the first billion-dollar gross since the beginning of the pandemic.
Top image courtesy of Sony Pictures.