Monday, April 15, 2024

‘Madame Web’ flop: How Sony’s Spidey spinoff ended up a tangled mess

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently sits with a grim 13% average among critics

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Until recently, once a superhero film was penciled in on the release calendar, it usually had its opening weekend all to itself.

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Last week, though, Paramount Pictures decided to pit its musical biopic Bob Marley: One Love up against Sony’s latest Spider-Verse comic book adaptation Madame Web.

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With its ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe not to mention Dakota Johnson and Euphoria’s Sydney Sweeney leading the cast Madame Web seemed poised to be the start of a new superhero franchise.

But the film, which was directed by S.J. Clarkson, landed with a thud, as critics and theatregoers both ruthlessly mocked its storyline and acting. Over its six-day opening frame, the film generated an anemic $51 million at the global box office.

This number trails Sony’s first Marvel spinoff, 2018’s Venom, which debuted with $80 million despite its bad review, and 2022’s Morbius, a critical bust that still managed to earn $170 million worldwide.

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On Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently sits with a grim 13% average among critics and 56% from audiences.

“Brutal word-of-mouth was a huge factor here as the initial review drop was almost unanimously rotten,” says Erick Weber, who runs Awards Ace and Midnight Movie Talk. “Typically studios get some help from critics who have a pattern of going easy on films but not in this case. Even the influencer crowd wasn’t glowing something we rarely if ever see. Audiences took all that negativity in and decided to skip it.”

Meanwhile, One Love hit all the right notes, hauling in $80 million worldwide in its debut weekend.

“The matchup between Bob Marley: One Love and Madame Web brought into sharp focus the ongoing woes of the superhero genre and the ascension of music-based films,” says senior Comscore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “The Spider-Verse has been incredibly successful but mainly with the films featuring the Spider-Man character and the animated films while the side characters have had a tougher time grabbing an audience.

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Part of Sony’s expanding Marvel universe which in addition to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man includes Tom Hardy’s Venom, Jared Leto’s Morbius and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s soon-to-be released Kraven the Hunter   the film follows a clairvoyant paramedic (Johnson) who is forced to protect a trio of young women (played by Sydney Sweeney, Celeste O’Connor and Isabela Merced) from a mysterious villain (Tahar Rahim) with links to her past.

Madame Web
Isabela Merced, Dakota Johnson, Sydney Sweeney, and Celeste O’Connor in “Madame Web.” Photo by Sony Pictures

There were clear seeds being planted to other Spider-Man films and Peter Parker himself (spoiler alert: his birth happens in the movie).

Madame Web was dead from the moment that first unimpressive trailer dropped. If you can’t make a decent two-minute trailer selling your movie, how can anyone get excited for the full film?” Weber says.

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Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, also wasn’t surprised that One Love dominated over Madame Web in ticket sales. “Madame Web was a little known Spider-Man spinoff that just didn’t have any hype behind it, whereas Bob Marley has been an international superstar for decades,” he says.

After its opening-weekend flop, Madame Web joins other high-profile superhero misfires that have opened over the last year, including Shazam! 2, The Flash, The Marvels and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

Dergarabedian thinks the trend could be proof that the tastes of moviegoers are changing.

“Part of this is due to a bit of superhero fatigue brought on by too many films released in too short a time frame, overly complicated storylines and in some cases a lack of a strong brand identity with the title or main character,” he says. “It’s all made more complicated by the fact that these films always require a huge commitment of financial resources both in terms of production budget and marketing spend so their profitability threshold is very high.”

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Following the success of other musical biopics, including Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, Bock says One Love’s performance will have legs into March. “Inspirational stories are hot right now,” he says.

Of course the scrutiny under Johnson who was tapped as the face of the franchise — didn’t help.

Fans parsed every comment she made as she did press for the film, with many speculating she didn’t have the best time making Madame Web. After one quote she gave to Entertainment Weekly about working in front of a bluescreen, some websites ran articles declaring, “Dakota Johnson Says Filming on Madame Web was Absolutely Psychotic.”

Madame Web
Dakota Johnson in a scene from ‘Madame Web.’ Photo by Sony Pictures

She played into some of that too, admitted to one journalist that she’d only seen “4% of all the Marvel movies.”

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But when we spoke to the actress earlier this month, Johnson emphasized its uniqueness in the Marvel Universe and the opportunity of making a different kind of superhero film as the entry’s main appeal for her.

“I was really drawn to the idea of a young woman having a super power that was her mind. To me, that was enticing and something I felt I haven’t seen in the superhero world before,” she said.

And she was also quick to stress that her film wasn’t tied directly to anything people might have seen before.

“It’s a standalone movie,” Johnson said. “It’s not like we have any secrets related to anyone else in the Marvel Universe because it’s not really related.”

But whether she hated her brief time in the superhero world or not, we are unlikely to see Madame Web again.

Any additional attempts to build out the Sony Spider-Verse with characters not named Spider-Man or Venom are all but dead for the time being.

X: @markhdaniell

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