Directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire in the title role, the eagerly awaited comic book adaptation Spider-Man was released on Friday, May 3, 2002, and quickly became the fastest movie ever to earn more than $100 million at the box office, raking in a staggering $114.8 million by Sunday, May 5.
After a genetically altered spider bites the teenager Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) during his class field trip to a university laboratory, he discovers that the bite has given him supernatural powers. Though his principal goal is pursuing his longtime crush, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), Parker soon transforms himself into Spider-Man in order to combat evil, in the form of the Green Goblin, the villainous result of an experiment that the scientist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) has performed on himself.
By the time the film was released, four decades had passed since Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man for Marvel in 1962. The comic’s enduring popularity, as well as a massive marketing campaign by Columbia Pictures and Marvel, seemed to predict commercial success for Spider-Man, which opened in more than 3,600 theaters nationwide. In addition, super-hero movies traditionally faired well at the box office, as evidenced by the hit Superman and Batman films. Reviewers also praised Raimi’s film for its smart script and generally good acting, as well as its high-tech special effects. The combination of all these factors helped explain Spider-Man’s record opening-day haul of $39.4 million. The previous mark was $32.3 million, set by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had taken five days to pass the $100 million mark, as had 1999’s Stars Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. Spider-Man would go on to earn some $403.7 million domestically, more than any other comic book movie to that date.
Both Spider-Man sequels, in 2004 and 2007, would break their predecessor’s opening day record, earning $40.4 million and $59 million, respectively. Spider-Man 3, shown on more than 10,000 screens at 4,252 locations, boasted an opening weekend haul of $151.1 million. That record would stand until July 2008, when The Dark Knight, the fifth film in the Batman franchise, grossed $155 million in its first weekend. Only 19 days after its release, The Dark Knight had taken in $405.7 million in the United States alone, passing the first Spider-Man to become the most successful comic book movie of all time.