The webslinger's runaway international success represents a first and a last for the movie business, says Leonard Klady.

The $380m plus box office that Spider-Man 3 generated in its worldwide launch is both a theatrical anomaly and a harbinger of the future. The luck aspect of this record-breaking performance is probably easier to grasp than how it will influence strategies for future releases of highly anticipated movies.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of the Sony studio in Culver City there was a sealed envelope with a 'best guess' estimate of what the picture would gross in its opening weekend. It is a long-standing practice to predict opening figures in the domestic marketplace and rival tipsters were bandying about figures that ranged from $105m to $130m.

The internal Sony number was likely conservative because it is both wise and judicious not to ring in with a high figure and face disappointment and embarrassment.

International forecasts
Forecasting an international figure is more problematic because there is no consistency from territory to territory in regard to such factors as marketplace competition, local holidays or availability of screens at any particular moment during the calendar year.

Spider-Man 3 is the first film to launch in all 15 major movie territories simultaneously. So, there is no exact yardstick for comparison and a rather shallow pool of instances where a movie opened day-and-date in more than 10 of the top film-going nations.

In North America, the third instalment expanded business by roughly 160% from the previous weekend. Historically there has never been a week-to-week expansion that has exceeded 100%. Overall revenues in the rest of the world climbed by 230% and on average close to 80% of global ticket sales were for Spider-Man 3.

Touching a nerve
The picture was off the charts in terms of awareness and it is likely most patrons had sampled one of the earlier instalments in some form and found the experience entertaining. Still, the latest chapter unlike the sixth instalment of the Star Wars saga or the upcoming Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End was not offering a coda and reviewers were not exactly lavishing praise on this third-time-lucky outing.

Nonetheless, the suggestion of something novel and very escapist touched a universal nerve and benefited from fortuitous timing.

Now the lid is off and the genie has escaped, others are scurrying to replicate what appears to be an opening week close to $500m. It won't get any better and even if grosses were to drop 50%-60% in the second frame, the results are staggering.

As to the future, Spider-Man 3 could prove to be the last gasp for a movie released on film. The digital future should simplify a massive launch of this nature. The content will be more portable and the ability to dub or subtitle more fluid. And if costs can be kept in check, tomorrow will be primed and perfectly timed for Spider-Man 4.