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A still from "Spider-Man: No Way Home" featuring the hero on a roof with spider legs.
Tom Holland is the youngest actor to play Spider-ManImage: Sony Pictures/picture alliance/dpa

New Spider-Man film scores record box office

Annabelle Steffes-Halmer
December 26, 2021

The film starring Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch became the first billion-dollar-grossing blockbuster of the pandemic era.

https://p.dw.com/p/44EoB

Despite the surge of COVID-19 cases across the world, Sony and Marvel's new film "Spider-Man: No Way Home" has managed to break the billion-dollar mark at the global box office, making it the first pandemic-era production to do so.

With $587.1 million (€517 million) from 61 international markets and $467 million in North American cinemas, the film comfortably made it past a billion dollars in global ticket sales in just 12 days of its release.

Over the past 20 years, the Spider-Man films have become the most commercially successful of Marvel's comic book franchise.

Playing with space and time

In the surprising end of the 2019 film "Spider-Man: Far from Home," the second part of Tom Watts' trilogy starring Holland, it was revealed that a schoolboy named Peter Parker from the New York borough of Queens is behind the red mask.

That revelation turns Parker's life upside down: His family is harassed, the tabloids are after him and the New York police suspect him of being responsible for the death of villain Mysterio, featured in previous Spider-Man adventures.

Parker then turns to Doctor Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, a powerful sorcerer from the Avengers series, and asks him to make the world forget that he is Spider-Man.

A still from Spider-Man: No Way Home in which Parker looks at Doctor Strange as he casts a spell.
In the latest film, Peter Parker visits Doctor Strange, played by Benedict CumberbatchImage: Sony Pictures/picture alliance/dpa

But things don't go according to plan. Doctor Strange turns back time with a spell, whereby various parallel worlds begin to merge with each other. Long-defeated supervillains from previous Spider-Man films, such as the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), return to wreck havoc.

Previous Peter Parkers also reprise their roles to join Tom Holland: Tobey Maguire, who portrayed the character from 2002-2007 in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy, and Andrew Garfield, who starred in the "Amazing Spider-Man" movies from 2012-2014.

 

Playing the nostalgia card

The movies' creators are clearly playing into Spider-Man nostalgia and hope to build on the previous success of the series.

British actor Holland is the youngest Spider-Man to date and plays the shy Peter Parker for the third time in a Spider-Man film. As a supporting actor, he also appeared in this role in three of the "Avengers" films.

A still from Spider-Man: No Way Home featuring Doctor Strange and Spider-Man who flies through the air.
With blockbusters such as 'Spider-Man: No Way Home,' the pandemic box office hopes to fly againImage: 2021 MARVEL/Sony Pictures/picture alliance/dpa

An unlikely hero 

The character Spider-Man almost never existed in the first place.

When his creator, Stan Lee, approached then-Marvel publisher Martin Goodman in 1962 with his idea for "Spider-Man," Goodman initially waved it off, thinking no one would be interested in a nerdy teenager who struggles with fears and complexes and is unpopular with girls.

But Lee, who died in 2018, persisted and convinced Goodman to publish an initial story with the new superhero in "Amazing Fantasy," a magazine that was to be discontinued.

Stan Lee poses for a picture with people dressed as Iron Man and Spider-Man.
Stan Lee, who died in 2018, was responsible for creating the character of Spider-ManImage: Scott Eisen/AP Images/Hasbro/picture alliance

At first, Lee had the well-known illustrator Jack Kirby — responsible for the Incredible Hulk, among other characters — draw up some sketches of the new Marvel hero. They were quickly discarded as they seemed too heroic to him.

Peter Parker was supposed to be the shy boy next door, an antihero with whom readers could identify.

In the end, Steve Ditko was the illustrator chosen to draw the first adventure of Spider-Man.

It became a smash hit for the fledgling Marvel publishing house in New York City, which launched its first series featuring Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man, just a month later. 

In the 60 years since, the Spider-Man universe has grown into an empire.

In addition to comic books, there have been television series, major Hollywood movies and video games.

In terms of content, the creators of these offshoots have always remained more or less faithful to the original.

The trilogy with Tom Holland starts at Spider-Man's beginnings and features Parker as a 15-year-old schoolboy in the films, just as Lee had originally imagined him.

Jacob Batalon, Zendaya and Tom Holland stand for a photo in front of a Spider-Man promo wall.
Jacob Batalon, Zendaya and Tom Holland are the young stars of the latest movieImage: Justin Ng/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

Throughout the years, the character has undergone a number of transformations in the comic series, due to the various illustrators and writers responsible for creating the hero.

Lee cleared the terrain for younger colleagues in 1972 who aged Spider-Man, adapting him to the times.

In the 1970s, for example, Spider-Man comics dealt with socially relevant topics such as drug use, student protests, the Vietnam War and the American civil rights movement.

While the themes may have changed to suit the zeitgeist, Peter Parker was always supported by his Aunt May and a few good friends, above all Mary Jane Watson, known as MJ — his great love.

In a slightly different form, MJ, played by actress and activist Zendaya, also appears in the current Spider-Man series.

This article was translated from German. It was updated on December 26 with box office results following the second weekend of the film's release.