No one ever really expected Spider-Man: Homecoming to fail. Massive summer comic-book movies out of the Marvel universe don’t really do that anymore. If anything, Marvel has proven over the last few years that even heroes as weird as Doctor Strange and small as Ant-Man can get butts in seats. But when it came to Spidey—a guy who’s already had two previous incarnations and five films in the last 15 years—things were different. Not only was it unclear whether anyone wanted yet another Peter Parker reboot, it was also unknown if a Marvel movie made by Sony (aka Not Disney) could bring the same charm. As it turns out, though, Spider-Man had no intention of swinging by unnoticed. Instead, he blew away expectations, webbing up $117 million at the US box office.
To put that figure in perspective, it’s the third-largest opening weekend so far this year—just above Wonder Woman and just below Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. (Both comic-book movies, you might notice.) It’s also the biggest opening weekend for a single character’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, beating out 2008’s original Iron Man. That’s impressive by any measure, but even more so when you consider that audiences have already seen plenty of Spider-Man this decade, and that other sure-fire properties—Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean in particular—are underperforming this year.
But the fact that Spider-Man can still make money isn’t really the lesson of Homecoming—or, at least, it shouldn’t be. What’s impressive is how director Jon Watts’ movie did it: by staying small. Well, kinda small. It’s a lighthearted high-school dramedy, rather than a morality play about patriotism and honor. The villain, Vulture (a wonderful Michael Keaton), isn’t trying to destroy New York or lift an entire European city hundreds of feet into the air. Despite the fact that Tom Holland might be the best onscreen Spidey yet, it’s actually an ensemble movie—not in the way that Captain America: Civil War is actually an Avengers movie in a solo movie’s clothing, but more that Peter Parker’s friends and family and ancillary baddies are just as valuable to the story as he is. (And they’re just as diverse as a movie about a kid from Queens ought to be.)
Moreover, it proves that Marvel can let other studios play with its toys without the final product feeling off-brand. Marvel Studios seemingly took a risk in letting someone outside of the Disney machine make an MCU picture, and while it admittedly had to—Sony has the movie rights to the Spider-Man character, and there was likely no other way to get the character to team up with the Avengers—the move paid off.
The creative and financial success of Homecoming leaves one big open question: Will it lead to a similar joint effort between Marvel and Fox, which holds the film rights to Marvel’s X-Men (and, by extension, Deadpool) and Fantastic Four properties? In the past, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has called it “an impossibility,” but it’s hard to imagine the clarion call of cash isn’t in the ear of at least one studio exec this morning—especially now that Fox is semi-rebooting the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Dark Phoenix and could probably use a hand with the Fantastic Four. (Whether or not Marvel would want to wade in to hard-R Deadpool territory, however, is another matter altogether.) Fox has done well with its Marvel properties so far, and has done so by not making the kind of movies Marvel Studios makes, but if crossovers can consistently show the kind of might the new Spidey movie just did, it’s hard not to imagine someone wanting to give it a try.
Again, no one thought a big Spider-Man movie that married teen comedy with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man charisma was going to flop. But in a summer full of surprises—both good and bad—anything seemed feasible. And now that Homecoming has swung into success, it’s proved that a future of smaller, fun, more diverse, outside-the-Marvel-Studios-box movies seems more possible than ever. There’s no telling what could get caught in its web.