Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!
No, it's another "Spider-Man" rumor.
For nearly seven years, speculation has run rampant among comic-book geeks and genre-film fanatics about the red-and-blue building-climbing superhero. Nearly every director worth his box-office salt has been linked to "Spider-Man" at one time or another, beginning with no less than James Cameron ("Titanic") and ending with Sam Raimi ("A Simple Plan," "For Love of the Game"), who is now supposedly the front-runner for the job.
One thing's for certain: "Spider-Man," one of the most highly anticipated films in memory, is now on the fast track at Columbia Pictures. The studio wants to release the film in summer 2001, and that means a director is expected to be hired soon -- perhaps within a few weeks. At long last, Marvel Comics' biggest franchise property will get his big-budget Hollywood makeover, a privilege that, until now, has been afforded only to characters from rival DC Comics (home of Batman and Superman).
"Spider-Man definitely has the potential to be a very successful franchise," says Mirko Parlevliet, creator of the Spider-Man Hype! Web site (www.spidermanhype.com), launched in March 1999 when years of legal battles over Spidey's theatrical rights ended and Marvel and Columbia struck a deal to make the movie.
"Unlike Batman and Superman, Spider-Man is a character many people can identify with," Parlevliet adds. "Peter Parker [the web-slinger's secret identity] is a teen-ager who is always picked on for the wrong reasons." He says Spidey is more realistic and down-to-earth than his DC rivals, a positive role model and a "fun guy" to chill out with. "How can you identify with a millionaire orphan or an alien with superpowers?"
For the record, this won't be the first live-action adaptation of the arachnid-man. There was a short-lived TV series in the late 1970s starring Nicholas Hammond as a pudgy Peter Parker. The show featured neato special-effects tricks, like tilting the camera sideways while Hammond crawled across the side of a wall. There also was a Japanese "Spider-Man" teleseries in the late 1970s, in which the web slinger drove around in a cool racecar. And the infamous Cannon Group proposed a Spider-Man movie during the 1980s but, thankfully, did not follow through. There have also been numerous cartoon series over the years.
The current Spider-Man project began as Cameron's brainchild; he wanted to make the movie immediately after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." Cameron wrote a lengthy Spidey treatment and Carolco obtained the theatrical rights to the character -- or so it thought. Pretty soon it seemed like everyone in Tinseltown was suing to get a piece of the Peter Parker pie.
By the time Sony/Columbia emerged as the Spidey legal sweepstakes winner, Cameron had signed an exclusive deal with Fox that basically barred him from directing the superflick. However, Sony got the rights to Cameron's treatment, and screenwriter David Koepp ("The Lost World") was hired to fashion a screenplay out of The King of the World's outline.
For the record, the following names have been linked to "Spider-Man" since 1993:
James Cameron, Ron Howard, Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, David Fincher, Chris Columbus, Jan De Bont, Stephen Sommers, Ivan Reitman, Barry Sonnenfeld, Sam Raimi, the Wachowski brothers, Terry Gilliam and Robert Rodriguez, in no particular order, have been rumored to direct.
Charlie Sheen, Corin Nemec ("Parker Lewis Can't Lose"), Michael Biehn ("Aliens," "Terminator"), Bruce Campbell ("Army of Darkness"), Jason Patric, Leonardo DiCaprio, Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey and Australian actor Heath Ledger ("10 Things I Hate About You") have all been rumored to star as Peter Parker/Spidey.
In the villain department, Jack Nicholson has been pegged as Spider-Man's arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, while Arnold Schwarzenegger could play either Doctor Octopus or Venom, according to the rumor mill. There hasn't been much talk about who might play Peter's girlfriend, Mary Jane, or his editor at the Daily Bugle, the hot-headed J. Jonah Jameson.
David Mamet, if you believe the latest word, has been secretly hired by Columbia to revamp David Koepp's screenplay.
For the uninitiated, "Spider-Man" (the comic book) is the story of Peter Parker, a high school whiz kid who is bitten by a radioactive spider during a biology experiment. The bite gives Peter some nifty powers, like the ability to walk on walls, and enhanced strength and agility, plus a "spider sense" that enables him to detect danger.
Peter is also a gifted inventor; he creates wrist-mounted "web-shooters" that spray a sticky compound resembling a spider's web, from which he swings from skyscraper to skyscraper. Peter dons a Spider-Man suit and greedily uses his powers for personal gain (he becomes quite a celebrity) until his uncle is killed by robbers and he re-dedicates his life to fighting crime. Peter becomes a newspaper photographer, using a well-placed, timer-activated camera to snap pictures of himself (as Spider-Man) in action.
One major issue that remains to be decided is whether Columbia's film will be based on the old-school, idealistic Spidey comics of the 1960s, or one of several more recent incarnations, such as comics guru Todd McFarlane's dark, moody version.
"I'd prefer to see Spider-Man done old school," said Rob Worley, Webmaster of the Comics 2 Film Web site (www.comics2film.com), which tracks (what else?) comic books optioned by Hollywood. "The thing that made Spider-Man great (the thing that current writers of the comic have forgotten) is that the character, under the mask, was so relatable. Peter Parker is an Everyman. He's not some square-jawed, iron-willed vision of perfection. He's a kid who has all the normal problems that a regular young man has, in addition to the monkey wrench of having the great power that he feels compelled to use responsibly."
Now it remains to be seen whether Spidey can escape the curse -- real or imagined -- that has plagued film adaptations of other Marvel Comics franchises in the 1990s.
Witness "Captain America," a 1992 film version of Marvel's Nazi-fighting hero, starring Matt Salinger. In this barely watchable, low-budget film (which was widely advertised for a theatrical release, then instead went straight-to-video), the Cap's evil foe Red Skull is inexplicably Italian, not German, and the villain wears an embarrassing rubber mask.
Then there is "The Fantastic Four," a $2 million epic shot by Roger Corman's (say no more) Concorde Pictures, and then suddenly shelved before release when Marvel cut a new deal with 20th Century Fox wherein Chris Columbus was to direct a new megabudget version.
"I have a sentimental attachment to The Fantastic Four, and I was heartbroken to think it might appear only as a low-budget quickie," Marvel godfather Stan Lee told Entertainment Weekly. That was way back in 1994. There has been nary a peep about the film since.
Rights have been acquired and screenplays have been written for film versions of The Incredible Hulk and Silver Surfer, two Marvel properties with amazing potential, but both have landed in development hell.
So far, the only Marvel property to get a (fairly) big-budget film adaptation is New Line's "Blade" (1998) starring Wesley Snipes. New Line is currently developing an Iron Man movie, with Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott ("The Mask of Zorro") writing the screenplay and Tom Cruise supposedly interested in the starring role as reclusive billionaire/inventor/superhero Tony Stark.
Worley says one reason that Marvel's film adaptations have mostly been low-budget has to do with poor licensing decisions made by the comic book company that gave Marvel little say in the way the movies were made.
"I recall readi g a letter from Stan Lee [in a comics trade magazine] around the time the low-budget Fantastic Four movie was due to come out. Lee said fans asked him all the time why Marvel movies sucked. He promised fans that it was due to bad negotiating on Marvel's part and ... no movies would be made from that point forward without Marvel having a say in things. So Marvel sold off their movie rights, cheap, to filmmakers who didn't get it."
Now all fanboys' eyes will be on Fox's "X-Men," due out this summer from director Brian Singer and starring Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
"In the past, it seemed the low-budget constraints hurt Marvel's superhero adaptations," says Parlevliet. The X-Men film, he says, will be Marvel's big test. "If it succeeds, the film will set the stage for many similar projects in the future. There really is no such thing as a Marvel curse. It's just hard to adapt a comic book and make it believable on the big screen."
At the holiday weekend box office, Oliver Stone's homage to football scored, while Jim Carrey's homage to Andy Kaufman fumbled.
Director Stone's "Any Given Sunday," released by Warner Bros. and starring Al Pacino, and Cameron Diaz, was No. 1, grossing $14.2 million Friday through Sunday, studio estimates say. The film opened Wednesday in 2,505 theaters and averaged $5,669 per screen over the weekend, and has pulled in an estimated $21.3 million in its first five days.
But perhaps the biggest story of the weekend was all the money "Man on the Moon" didn't pull in. The Andy Kaufman biopic, starring Jim Carrey as the late "Taxi" comedian, is not expected to earn more than about $9 million for the Friday-Sunday weekend and $13.8 million for the week. (Like the Stone film, "Man on the Moon" opened Wednesday.)
"I think we pretty much expected this, given the fact that it's different from any other Jim Carrey movie and given the challenge of the material," Universal Vice President Jeff Sakson said today. "We didn't expect it to be No. 1 in its opening weekend, but we believe it will grow based on word of mouth."
"Man on the Moon" does indeed have lots of room to grow--it bowed in a (relatively) lowly sixth place. And if Universal wasn't expecting "Man on the Moon" to open big dollarwise, it certainly opened the film big theaterwise--putting it up on 2,079 venues where it averaged $4,329 per screen.
The real star of the weekend, meanwhile, might just be the No. 2 finisher. "The Talented Mr. Ripley," released on Christmas Day by Paramount and Miramax and boasting the Oscar-winning talents of Matt Damon (cast against type as an opportunistic serial killer), Gwyneth Paltrow and director Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient"), wrapped up the second spot with an estimated $13.8 million at 2,307 theaters, for an average of $5,982 per screen. That tidy sum was accumulated in just two days.
"If you look at the two-day figures [Saturday and Sunday], we are No. 1, and we are thrilled with that," Blaise Noto, Paramount's vice president of worldwide publicity, said today.
"We expect it to do even better next week as word-of-mouth spreads, because this film delivers what it promises and the reviews have been great across the country, averaging three to five stars. And now we've got a whole week of uninterrupted holiday playing time," Noto said.
Not unexpectedly, Warners--the studio behind "Any Given Sunday"--refused to yield a yard.
"This is the biggest opening weekend ever for an Oliver Stone film," Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman said this morning. "Before this, his biggest was 'Natural Born Killers,' had about $11 million in its first weekend in 1993. We love this movie and we expected it to do well, so we are not surprised at the critical and commercial response."
The kiddie pics "Toy Story 2" and "Stuart Little" continued to perform well at the box office and were tied for the No. 3 spot. In its sixth week of release, Disney's "Toy" posted $12.5 million, up 3 percent over last weekend. "Toy" continued to play in an impressive 3,151 theaters, averaging $3,967 per screen. Its cumulative gross is now an estimated $179.7 million.
Columbia's "Stuart Little," which was last weekend's No. 1 flick, also grossed an estimated $12.5 million, a drop-off of 17 percent. The movie, which features the voice of Michael J. Fox as author E.B. White's famed talking mouse, averaged $4,310 per screen in 2,900 theaters. That film has now grossed approximately $40.2 million in two weeks.
"It's looking like one of the season's hits," said Jeff Blake, Columbia president of worldwide distribution. "The kids' pictures are not favored over Christmas weekend because families with children are staying home, so we're very pleased. We expect [Stuart Little's grosses] to be up next week, because the kids are out of school."
Warner Bros. "The Green Mile," starring Tom Hanks, earned just over $9 million for the weekend, according to estimates, edging out "Man on the Moon" by just $40,000 for No. 5. Experts said "Mile" and "Man on the Moon" could flip-flop in the ranks by the time actual ticket-sales numbers are calculated.
"The Green Mile," adapted from Stephen King's series of novellas about a death-row inmate gifted with miraculous healing powers, has grossed an estimated $52.8 million in three weeks of release. At 2,875 theaters, it averaged about $3,144 per screen, a 29 percent drop compared to last weekend, when the film was No. 2 at the box office.
The bottom half of the Christmas weekend Top 10 was occupied by comedies and family fare. Disney's "Bicentennial Man," starring Robin Williams, dropped two places to No. 7 in its second weekend. On the upside, the critically panned robot saga held its own, grossing an estimated $8.3 million for the second weekend in a row. The movie averaged $3,000 per screen in 2,767 theaters. Its overall take stands at $22.5 million.
In addition to "The Talented Mr. Ripley," one other film was given a wide release on Christmas Day. Dreamworks' "Galaxy Quest," a knowing spoof of "Star Trek," came in at No. 8 in the weekend box office race. The film, starring Tim Allen as a Shatner-esque sci-fi icon, bowed in 2,412 theaters and grossed $8.1 million over Saturday and Sunday, for an average of $3,358 per screen.
With surprisingly strong legs, the R-rated Disney-backed comedy "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" stood firm in the Top 10 for the third straight weekend despite its no-star cast (led by "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Rob Schneider as a bumbling male prostitute). "Deuce" earned an estimated $6.2 million at 2,162 theaters, for an average of 2,868 per screen. The low-budget feature has now grossed $35.4 million.
Rounding out the Top 10 was 20th Century Fox's "Anna and the King," starring Jodie Foster and Hong Kong star Chow Yun-Fat. The film dropped four notches in its second weekend, grossing $4.1 million at 2,140 theaters, averaging 2,196 per screen. "Anna" has now grossed $13.5 million in two weeks.
Several films that had been Top 10 mainstays were eliminated from contention during the Christmas weekend. The latest James Bond actioneer "The World Is Not Enough" slipped four places to No. 11; Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" fell two notches to No. 12; and Arnold Schwarzenegger's would-be comeback vehicle, the apocalyptic thriller "End of Days," slipped five places to No. 13. The latter film has earned just $60.8 million after five weeks.
Estimates released by Exhibitor Relations Co., the box-office tracking firm, indicate that movie attendance for the top-grossing features declined about 27 percent compared to Christmas 1998. Although the actual ticket sales figures won't be tallied until Monday, it appears that the box-office total won't surpass last year's record of $147.5 million, as some experts had predicted.
Five films were released this week in limited runs--the better to qualify for the Academy Awards. Sony's "Girl, Interrupted," with Winona Ryder as a patient in a women's mental hospital, opened Tuesday in nine theaters, earning an estimated $206,000 for the week. Universal's "Snow Falling on Cedars," a thriller starring Ethan Hawke, opened Wednesday in three theaters and grossed $49,000 through Sunday. Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," based on author Frank McCourt's best-selling memoir, earned $60,000 in six theaters since opening on Christmas. Fox Searchlight's "Titus," starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, bowed in two theaters and made $25,000 over the weekend. Disney's "Play it to the Bone," starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas, opened in one theater and grossed $3,660 for the Saturday-Sunday period.
Memo to Al Pacino and/or Matt Damon: Before finalizing plans to ring in the new millennium with a No. 1 box-office hit, look over your shoulder. EEEK! A mouse!
"Stuart Little," Columbia's animated talking-mouse movie, picked up major post-Christmas steam at the box office early this week, grossing an estimated $11.7 million on Monday and Tuesday, according to studio estimates. Disney's "Toy Story 2," in its seventh week of release, proved that it can still kick butt as it pulled in about $9.6 million during the same two days.
Last weekend's top two films also started the week strong, though less impressively. "Any Given Sunday," which stars Pacino, posted $7 million over Monday and Tuesday, while Damon's "The Talented Mr. Ripley," made $7.7 million.
As for New Year's holiday weekend? When the grown-ups are finished partying like it's ... well, you know -- it may very well be the adult-friendly "Sunday" or "Ripley" that takes the title. Whether or not that comes to pass, experts say the real stars of this week clearly have been the small-fry films.
"The week between Christmas and New Year's, that's when kids' films rule," a studio executive said yesterday. "Last year it was 'A Bug's Life' and 'Prince of Egypt,' this time it's 'Stuart Little' and 'Toy Story 2.' This is a time when adults are distracted and kids are the only group that's going to the movies in droves, so it's surprising that the studios released as many dramas as they did. In some cases that may have been a mistake."
At least two major films are faring roughly thus far in the holiday season. Universal's "Man on the Moon," the Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey, in release since Dec. 22, had grossed a weak $16 million through Tuesday. And Fox's "Anna and the King" starring Jodie Foster, had taken in an even weaker $16.3 million since debuting Dec. 17. The latter film could easily be bumped from the Top 10 this weekend.
Based on their stars' track records, Both "Moon" and "King" are shaping up to be major disappointments: Carrey's last film, 1998's "The Truman Show," grossed more than $125 million domestically, while Foster's 1997 sci-fi film, "Contact," made more than $100 million.
"Man on the Moon" bowed in the No. 6 spot last weekend, despite strong reviews for Carrey's portrayal of Kaufman, the late oddball comic and star of TV's "Taxi." Studio officials are holding out hope that the picture will rebound once the kids return to school -- and grown-up fare returns to fashion.
"Right now there is a lot of product available out there, a lot of soft entertainment for people to take the kids to," Jeff Sakson, a Universal executive, said yesterday. "That's why 'Stuart Little' and 'Toy Story' are doing well, and that's also why 'Mr. Ripley' is doing well --- it's getting the teenage girl audience. It may be a different kind of Matt Damon movie than you've seen before, but it's still a Matt Damon movie.
"The word of mouth [on "Man on the Moon"], and the effects of all the good reviews, should kick in after the holidays," Sakson said.