From the moment Spider-Man appeared in Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15 comic in August 1962, readers recognized something different and immediately likeable in the web-slinging superhero. He was a teenager who had to learn how to cope with his newfound powers, and was often subject to the foibles that all of us face as we grow up. Young boys had no trouble envisioning themselves in his shoes, and generations of them have set out on the path to adulthood idolizing both Spidey and his alter-ego Peter Parker.
Within five years of the first comic’s publication, Spider-Man had made the leap from page to screen, appearing in seven TV series before catapulting into the ranks of movie stardom in 2002. Sony Pictures released Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire as the webbed one, in May that year, and it took the character and the franchise to new heights. Worldwide box office topped out at close to US$822 million, while consumer demand for licensed product bordered on insatiable. According to Marvel’s 2002 annual report, master toy licensee Toy Biz alone did US$100 million in wholesale business with movie-related playthings. Spider-
Man 2 followed in June ’04, and toy sales shot up 75% to US$175 million. Overall sales of the feature’s ancillary product gave the North American licensing industry a nice shot in the arm. Now Marvel and Sony, via their joint partnership Spider-Man Merchandising LP, are faced with the task of one-upping themselves to attract the next group of kid fans as they prepare for the third installment’s May 4 release. Watch out! Here comes Spider-Man 3.
New foes and Internal demons
On the creative side, Spider-Man 3 may be the most ambitious outing yet. Original director Sam Raimi, the core cast and production team are all on-board, and the story will pick up immediately where the final shot of Spider-Man 2 left off. Spidey has accepted his role as protector of New York City and is seen swinging off to his next adventure. This time around, though, he’ll face off against not one, but three villains, and will have to conquer his darker side before the movie ends.
According to one of the film’s producers, Grant Curtis, Spider-Man’s biggest battle may be with himself. The audience can expect a richer exploration of his internal life through the appearance of Black-suited Spider-Man. For the first time, New York has fully embraced its hero, and Peter begins to believe his own hype, developing a bit of an ego. At the same time, a black Spidey suit enters the picture. In comic lore, the suit has an alien origin, but in both media, its chief aim is to form a symbiotic relationship with its host, feeding on the less appealing aspects of that personality.
Once on, the black suit enhances both Peter’s skills and emotions; he swings higher and moves more quickly as his hubris runs amok. ‘We get to delve into aspects of Peter’s personality we haven’t touched on since Spider-Man,’ says Curtis. ‘When Peter discovered his powers, his first instinct was to exploit them for personal gain at the wrestling match.’ So the suit feeds these petty instincts, and Peter struggles to leave it behind and become a better human being. Curtis contends that Peter’s internal dilemma will only make kid and adult viewers identify with him that much more. ‘He’s just as prone to our insecurities and failings,’ he says. Showing Peter work through his problems might even help kids figure out how to overcome obstacles in their own lives.
Then there are the villains – namely Venom (Topher Grace), The New Goblin (James Franco) and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). A trio of evil-doers may seem excessive, given that Spidey faces only one foe in each of the first two films, but Curtis says each one plays a pivotal role in helping Peter learn to be a better person and superhero. Venom and The New Goblin, in particular, have very personal connections to Spider-Man.
After Peter casts it aside, the black suit ends up bonding with his workplace rival, Eddy Brock. Eddy has a darker personality to begin with, and the suit consumes him. He turns into Venom and gains Spidey-like powers that actually exceed those of our hero. Venom is stronger, can swing farther and run faster. ‘The resulting battle dynamic is really fun to watch,’ says Curtis.
The New Goblin, meanwhile, is really Peter’s only friend, Harry Osborn, who vows at the end of the last film to pick up his father’s mantle and avenge his death. Talk about an awkward and very personal situation for Peter. ‘Besides MJ, Peter has had only one friend in the films, and that’s Harry. Similarly, the only friend Harry has ever had is Peter,’ notes Curtis. ‘Their battles are some of the most intimate ones we have ever filmed.’
As for Sandman, this is where the tech wizards really worked overtime. The character is a shapeshifter made of sand (of course), and can go anywhere a grain of sand can, flowing through cracks and tiny holes. Peter’s punches and web balls travel right through Sandman’s form and seemingly have no effect on him. The problem the production team faced was that the technology required to realize the character on film didn’t initially exist. Curtis says animation programs at the time could render and manipulate thousands of particles of sand, but the look Raimi wanted required the ability to work with billions. The studio’s visual effects house Sony Pictures Imageworks had to create new software to do the job.
Spinning aN L&M Web
With the creative in place, Spider-Man Merchandising LP has set about weaving a licensing, retail and promotions program to match the scale of the production, attempting to break records set by the second film. As predicated by the last two movie programs, merchandise for Spider-Man 3 will go broad and aim for a presence in all tiers of retail, with the majority being sold through U.S. mass outlets including Wal-Mart, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us.
Paul Gitter, SVP of consumer products for North America at Marvel Entertainment – which heads up the licensing efforts for the LP – says licensee and product lists have been streamlined this time around. Contracts for Spider-Man 3 merch were designed in line with Marvel’s overall strategy of granting portfolio rights for a given category to one or two manufacturers. For example, Activision has all interactive games, and HarperCollins is heading up publishing. Gitter says the strategy helps the LP maintain tighter control over the product assortment and merchandising, as well as offering retail buyers a one-stop shopping environment.
So expect to see the best categories from Spider-Man 1 and 2 return, including toys, interactive, apparel and back-to-school, while underperformers such as impulse POP items will not make the cut. Gitter is also mulling over some direct-to-retail deals this time, but is only looking at non-competitive categories where there are no licensees currently signed on.
The merch itself is being derived from a style guide that mirrors the look and feel of the film, and Gitter says licensees have been asked to ‘stick with a movie interpretation.’ What’s perhaps more interesting is that the guide and some products, such as Activision’s upcoming video game, were developed in close collaboration with the creative team. Raimi and his staff met with product partners and showed clips of the film in its earliest stages. ‘We meet with partners early and often,’ Curtis says. ‘You see the movie trailer and toys long before the movie comes out,’ he adds, and if this is the way the project is introduced to consumers, the creatives want to be sure it makes the best impression.
Raimi et al. willingly shared production research. A lot of time can be spent in pre-production, creating 3-D maquettes of the characters and figuring out which poses look the most dynamic on film, and consequently, on product. Eric Nyman, VP of the Marvel division at Hasbro, says his team got unparalleled access to storyboards, scripts and maquettes while creating the toy line. (The new master toy licensee agreed to pay a US$205-million guarantee for a five-year Marvel license in early ’06, and is reportedly handing over a US$70-million chunk of it upon Spider-Man 3′s theatrical release.)
For its part, Hasbro started whetting kids’ appetite for the toys with its Spider-Man Origins line, released this past November. The collection of action figures includes the villains from both films and an accompanying re-release of Spider-Man introduces the black-suit backstory via a new featurette. A wide distribution web is set for the March 24 launch of Spider-Man 3 product in North America and many countries overseas.
Along with a varied range of action figures, the boy-focused line will be led by the king of all web blasters. Building on previous incarnations, the new Spinning Web Blaster (US$19.99 to US$24.99) ups the role-play ante. This time the can of Silly String rotates at high speed and the blaster shoots circular webs onto any given surface it’s aimed at.
Coming Soon: Spider-Man invades retail
From a retail and promotions standpoint, Spider-Man 3 will be everywhere after Easter this year, and product is slated to find its way into all tiers. While SVP of Sony Pictures Consumer Products Juli Boylan says Spider-Man was a tough sell, its performance and that of Spider-Man 2 (which increased sell-in and sell-through levels) exceeded expectations and opened up a lot of doors. The problem now is choosing where the LP will get the biggest bang for its in-store promo buck. ‘While most retailers can say Spider-Man 3 will be one of the largest licensed properties, licensing may not be a focus for all of them on a store-wide level,’ she says. ‘We would rather build solid, big campaigns in fewer places than be spread thin everywhere.’
The majority of retail activity will focus on mass and mid-tier outlets, and exclusive programs are in the works for Wal-Mart, Target and TRU. Each retailer will have a distinct Spidey look. ‘What works at Wal-Mart does not work at Target,’ says Boylan. ‘Even the way they approach in-store promotions is different.’ The whole Red- vs. Black-suited Spider-Man, however, will be a theme. It lends itself to visually striking displays and allows the promo team to have a bit of fun exploring the darker side of Peter Parker.
‘I don’t think kids scare so easily,’ says Mary Goss Robino, SVP of global marketing partnerships at Sony. ‘The fact that he’s black makes him cool, and this stronger, more self-confident persona will help reach older teens as well.’
Boylan and Robino’s teams will come together for planned in-store feature areas that will see food, toys and clothes merchandised in one spot. On the promo side, Burger King is on-board as a global QSR partner, and General Mills is incorporating Spider-Man 3 into 12 packaged goods categories. Like Burger King’s Spider-Man 2 promo, which included both an adult-targeted sweepstakes and activity-oriented kids meal premiums such as the Spidey Web Ball, the upcoming effort will target both demos. Additionally, Pringles, Kraft, 711 Stores, Sony Electronics and Comcast have some sticky promos in the works leading up to the film’s day-and-date international release.
Spidey by the Numbers
Spider-Man 3 movie products will land in more than 70 countries
350,000,000 Spider-Man comics have sold to date
Spider-Man comics are published in 38 languages
There are more than 400 movie licensees worldwide
Sharper Image sold a US$200 Spider-Man replica that
stood six feet tall for Spider-Man 2
US$821,708,551: The worldwide box-office gross
Spider-Man 2 raked in US$783,766,341
Spider-Man opened on 3,876 screens across the U.S.
4,166 screens played host to Spider-Man 2 on
June 30, 2004
Toy Biz had wholesale sales of US$175,000,000 for
Spider-Man 2 toys