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But the main reason Spider-Man became the conversation of our country is that people liked it and told their friends so right away. On Friday night, out of people polled who had seen the movie, 95% said they would recommend it to a friend; 70% said they would pay to see it again. (You usually have to bomb Baghdad to get that kind of approval ratings.) People have always liked Spider-Man: compared with the ultrasquare alien Superman and the brooding millionaire Batman, Spidey's an accidental superhero, a geeky and self-doubting teen, a comic-book character who seems a lot like a comic-book reader. Forty years after Spider-Man's birth, Marvel is still selling four different monthly Spider-Man titles that together add up to about 500,000 copies. "Everybody identifies with him," says Amy Pascal, chairwoman of Sony's Columbia Pictures. "Lucky for us."
Plus, demand was as pent up as Peter Parker's web fluid, thanks to a tangled situation that tied up the movie in legal wrangling among various large (MGM, Sony and Viacom) and small entities (B-movie house the Cannon Group) that each laid claim to tiny parts of Spidey. "Spider-Man was plagued by bad deals, litigation and ownership that obviously wasn't capable of pulling off a movie of this magnitude. Thank God, because if they had done a Spider-Man movie in the mid-'80s, it would have been Cheesy-Man," says Arad.
Yes, Sony was clever to wrangle a can't-miss property in Spider-Man, but the movie is teaching the rest of Hollywood some important rules about creating a modern blockbuster.
RULE 1: Make It Half Action, Half Romance
Like Titanic, Spider-Man carefully splits its time between these two themes, allowing it to evenly nail what Hollywood these days calls all four demographic quadrants: male, female, under 25 and 25 and over. (The breakdown for the opening Saturday night was 54% male, 46% female, 52% 25 and over, 48% under.) Kids may be the heart of summer-movie sales, but adults pay full price and fill up the seats in late-night showings. Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones is trying to do this too, but women aren't buying it; a tracking survey from last week showed men were much more interested in seeing the movie than women.
RULE 2: Start Early
Ever since Twister grossed $41 million the weekend of May 10, 1996, the summer has inched back into May. Spider-Man has probably cemented this. "It does allow an advantage in getting theater shelf space because you're ahead of the pack," says Jeff Blake, the head of Sony marketing and distribution. By going early, Spider-Man got in 7,500 screens out of about 35,000 for its big weekend.
RULE 3: Save Your Stars
When you've got a franchise like Spider-Man, you'd be a fool to pay an actor $20 million; Tobey Maguire got $4 million. Studios will work even harder to find scripts like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and The Incredible Hulk in which the idea itself is the marquee. One irony of all this is that it makes movies more like television. Says Walter Parkes, the co-head of DreamWorks' film division: "The network-television business is really about three things: demographics, scheduling and series. We're becoming a little bit like that."
RULE 4: Don't Worry Too Much About the Writing