It may be tough to believe, but there was once a time—before the MCU existed and before the “gritty reboot” was all the rage—when superhero movies did not rule the world. They were still just another genre of filmmaking, with its fair share of highs and lows. But that all changed in 2002 when Sony Pictures’ long-developing adaptation of the Spider-Man comic finally made its way to screens, and made movie history in the process. It’s fitting then that, with Avengers: Age of Ultron’s massive opening weekend in full swing, exactly 13 years ago today, on May 3, 2002, Spider-Man opened in theaters and broke a slew of box office records of its own.
Anticipation for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie was indeed high in 2002, but few could have predicted exactly how huge the film would be. Bryan Singer’s X-Men two years prior had certainly been a sizeable success of its own, scoring $54.4 million in its first weekend and grossing enough to warrant a sequel, but the “superhero movie” still wasn’t a thing, so each new comic adaptation was greeted with uncertainty.
With its $114.8 opening weekend total, Spider-Man was the first film in history to cross the $100 million opening weekend threshold—a feat that would not be repeated for another two years when Shrek 2 raked in $108 million in its first weekend. Indeed, Spider-Man’s opening weekend record held strong for over four years, until Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest opened to $135.6 million in July of 2006. It’s telling that it took a sequel to match Spider-Man’s records, and it wouldn’t be until 2010 that another “first” movie surpassed the $114.8 million opening with the release of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, which grossed $116.1 million.
Spider-Man’s enormous weekend was a watershed moment. When one considers today’s blockbuster climate, which is filled to the brim with pretty much any and every superhero imaginable (and will continue to be until at least 2019), the turning point is undoubtedly that May weekend 13 years ago when Spider-Man compelled audiences to turn out in droves to catch this vibrant, well-reviewed, and joyous comic-book adaptation as soon as humanly possible. It was a shared event, and studios subsequently looked at the film’s success and decided that they too would like to make gargantuan amounts of money.
While Spider-Man 2 fell nearly $30 million short of its predecessor’s opening box office (though to be fair, it opened in mid-June as opposed to May), and each subsequent Spider-Man movie has grossed less overall (although the top-heavy Spider-Man 3 opened to a whopping $151.1 million in 2007), the character and franchise still stand today as highly valued, and no amount of stumbles can erase the ingrained memory of not only Spider-Man’s success as a film, but also its monstrous record breaking box office.