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'Spider-Man: Homecoming' to test fans' appetite for comic book movie reboots

  • "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is the second franchise reboot in just 15 years.
  • No studio has ever reintroduced a comic book character to the big screen so many times in such a short period.
  • At stake is a $4 billion box office franchise and the future of the Marvel cinematic universe.
Tom Holland and an army of Spider-Men invade Hollywood to debut the Columbia Pictures' Spider-man: Homecoming trailer on December 8, 2016.
Eric Charbonneau
Tom Holland and an army of Spider-Men invade Hollywood to debut the Columbia Pictures' Spider-man: Homecoming trailer on December 8, 2016.

When it first swing into theaters in 2002, "Spider-Man" set a box office record. Next weekend, Sony and Marvel Studios will test the web-slinger's staying power with the second franchise reboot in the space of a decade.

It's a challenge, even for one of pop culture's most enduring characters. The comic book movie boom is now two decades strong, but no studio has tried what Sony and Marvel are now attempting.

"We're talking 15 years or so since the first 'Spider-Man' [film], and so to have three different Spider-Men in that amount of time is somewhat unprecedented," said comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.

For comparison, it took Warner Bros. nearly twice as long to launch a second Batman reboot.

On its face, "Spider-Man: Homecoming" looks like a sure winner. It marks the first standalone Spidey film in Marvel's massively popular series of interconnected movies, hence the "homecoming" theme. Fans mostly lauded actor Tom Holland's reinvention of the iconic character, who appeared in an extended cameo in last summer's "Captain America: Civil War."

Still, the stakes are high. Sony's five previous Spider-Man movies have earned nearly $4 billion at the global box office.

Sony canned its first reboot of the franchise — "Amazing Spider-Man" — and struck a deal with Disney-owned Marvel after it underperformed the original trilogy. "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is currently tracking for a $100 million U.S. opening, just shy of the nearly $115 million then-record debut for the 2002's "Spider-Man."

Marvel Studios also appears to be looking to Holland to shepherd it's multi-billion dollar cinematic universe into the future, as stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth approach a decade of portraying the Avengers.

'Franchise fatigue'?

But there is a bigger question that "Spider-Man: Homecoming" may answer: Will fans burn out as studios introduce new spins on popular superheroes, or can they continue to reinvent these characters and keep cashing in?

"Franchise fatigue is always a concern for any series as well-represented on the big screen as this character has been over the past 15 years, but the pros definitely seem to outweigh the cons in this case," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.

BoxOffice.com is betting "Spider-Man: Homecoming" will outperform expectations and drum up $125 million in its U.S. opening, as strong reviews following early screenings boost the buzz ahead of next week's debut.

"Spider-Man: Homecoming" currently has a 92 percent "Fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes, and it's the most talked about movie on social media right now, according to comScore.

More importantly, that conversation is mostly positive.

Nearly 60 percent of tweets hashtagged #SpidermanHomecoming were positive between June 24-29, according to marketing technology firm Amobee. Audience data firm Taykey's reading of social media produced a similar rating.

About 6,000 tweets mentioned both Tom Holland and Spider-Man during the same period, with 47 percent positive and just 2 percent negative, according to Amobee. Roughly a quarter of digital content engagement around Spider-Man's alter-ego Peter Parker has been related to Holland over the last year.

Comic book movie social media sentiment, source: Taykey

Reinvention and reinterpretation are part of the superhero genre because different writers and artists regularly take over the characters, said Jonathan Cohen, principal brand analyst at Amobee.

"On the big screen, these characters have proven to be equally as pliable to new interpretations," he told CNBC in an email. "Recasting or rebooting a franchise isn't nearly as risky as it might initially seem."

There's also a concern that older audiences won't buy into Holland's Spider-Man, who skews younger than past incarnations. Yet much of the social media conversation around "Spider-Man: Homecoming" is happening among millennial men, according to analysis by Taykey.

That may indicate that older audiences are not turned off by the prospect of a sophomoric Spider-Man.

Sony and Marvel appear to have hedged their bets to some degree. By having fan-favorite Robert Downey Jr. appear as Iron Man, it serves to bridge the generation gap, said comScore's Dergarabedian. Still, he also believes Holland's fresh-faced Spidey offers fans something new.

"Spider-Man certainly is one of those crown jewels of the superhero world, and that's why they keep rebooting it and going back to it and trying to reinvent it and re-imagine it for today's audiences," Dergarabedian said.