With great marketing comes great responsibility. In December, Sony released its first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — the idea, as always, being to spill exactly the right number of secrets and not half a secret more. “I was nervous about it,” says director Marc Webb. “But we wanted to raise the stakes. We want people to appreciate the scope of what’s to come both in this movie and in subsequent films.” So fans saw their friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) swinging exuberantly between the gleaming skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan. They saw him verbally sparring with his love, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and facing down evil in the sparkling blue form of Electro (Jamie Foxx). Spi-hards also got the briefest glimpse of two other famous foes, Rhino and the Green Goblin. And, in a tease that elevated the trailer from a pretty good ad for a movie to a document that fans studied with Zapruder-like intensity, they saw Vulture’s signature wings encased in glass at Oscorp, and wait, were those the long, telltale mechanical arms of Doc Ock?
Spidey 2, which will hit theaters on May 2, is partly based on the 1973 comic The Amazing Spider-Man #121. That particular issue was branded with the words Turning Point, which is altogether fitting because the movies have reached a turning point of their own. The studio has committed to two more Amazing Spider-Man films for 2016 and 2018, and is prepping two spin-offs focusing on Venom and the Sinister Six. “It’s something we had always planned on doing,” says Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal. “At the tail end of this movie we set up some of the other characters that will probably end up being in the Sinister Six. We’re going forward on all fronts.”
In the good old days, Hollywood executives could afford to think one blockbuster at a time. If their blockbuster spawned a sequel a couple summers later, all the better. These days, studios need at least one megafranchise that is constantly morphing and replicating like an out-of-control lab experiment. “The shift happened in the last three to five years,” says Tuna Amobi, media analyst for Standard & Poor’s Equity Research Services. “A lot of these superhero characters were just being left there to gather dust.” But then Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, unleashed the overlapping, crisscrossing, never-ending story that is The Avengers. As Amobi puts it, “Disney has proved that this can be a gold mine.” Fox has been rallying the merry mutants known as the X-Men. Warner Bros. is readying a Justice League mash-up with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. And Sony is supersizing the Spider-verse. How important is playing the megafranchise game? “It means you can live — that’s how important it is,” says Pascal. “Because there are so few sure things.”