Domestically, Sony Pictures' "Spider-Man 3" drew 22.5 million people in its first three days, based on an average ticket price of $6.70 estimated by box-office tracker Media By Numbers.
By comparison, 20.7 million people saw the previous record-holder, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," over its $135.6 million opening weekend, based on last year's average ticket price of $6.55.
The 2002 average ticket price of $5.80 translates to 19.8 million people catching "Spider-Man" in its $114.8 million first weekend, which had held the box-office record until "Dead Man's Chest" sailed in.
Why were fans so eager for this third chapter in the adventures of the Marvel Comics superhero?
Sony would not disclose how much was spent to promote the film, but the studio's marketing mill was relentless, blanketing theaters, television and the Internet with trailers, teasers and other ads for "Spider-Man 3."
The studio played up Spider- Man's struggle with a new enemy - himself. Fans were intrigued by posters showing a black mirror image of Spidey's red-and-blue outfit for the film, in which he is tempted to use his powers for evil after an alien entity infects his suit.
While it has become common for Hollywood franchise flicks to open overseas a day or two ahead of their U.S. debuts, Sony pushed the release up a day or two earlier in some foreign countries.
American audiences already eager to see "Spider-Man 3" were further stoked by the last-minute blast of publicity as the film opened Tuesday to record box-office numbers in France, Italy, South Korea and other countries.
Though Sony plans to make more "Spider-Man" movies, stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst spoke of the third installment as a conclusion of sorts, the end of a trilogy that wraps up the story arc developed in the first two films. There also was speculation that director Sam Raimi, who made all three "Spider-Man" films, would move on to something else, and that Maguire and Dunst might not want to return for more movies without him. "A lot of audiences felt this could be the end of an era, the last of the original cast, so the urgency of having to see it was just amped up," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers. "There's also the fact that people liked the first two movies. Those weren't throwaway films, so people knew they were going to get something heavier, something more substantial than the typical sequel." As the "Star Wars" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogies proved, fans love a big finish. So even if this was not the end for "Spider-Man," Maguire and Dunst's trilogy talk and the uncertainty over whether the filmmaking team would be back brought an air of finality to part three. "I'd love to have the whole gang back," said Amy Pascal, Sony Pictures co-chairman. "We've been a family making these last three movies together, but we will be making more ‘Spider-Mans.'" The whopping $258 million it cost to make "Spider-Man 3" looks like a sound investment after its huge opening. Final numbers Monday came in even higher than distributor Sony Pictures' figures on Sunday, when the studio estimated that "Spider-Man 3" took in $148 million domestically for the weekend and had pulled in $375 million worldwide. The film set a new single-day record of $59.8 million domestically in its Friday debut, topping the $55.8 million opening day of "Dead Man's Chest." "Spider-Man 3" also had the biggest day ever worldwide with $117.6 million Saturday. Soaring budget costs are the norm for a movie business that relies more and more on action-packed spectacles. Such franchise films have a ready-made audience that Hollywood can count on to turn up in huge numbers, diminishing the risks of their enormous budgets. "The movies cost what they need to cost in order to tell the story that we set out to tell," Pascal said. "There were a lot of big effects in this movie that required a kind of scale." The top 20 movies at U.S. and Canadian theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Media By Numbers LLC are: 1. "Spider-Man 3," Sony, $151,116,516, 4,252 locations, $35,540 average, $151,116,516, one week. 2. "Disturbia," Paramount, $5,844,363, 3,132 locations, $1,866 average, $60,007,779, four weeks. 3. "Fracture," New Line, $3,696,060, 2,365 locations, $1,563 average, $26,728,823, three weeks. 4. "The Invisible," Disney, $3,261,374, 2,019 locations, $1,615 average, $12,482,712, two weeks. 5. "Next," Paramount, $2,892,335, 2,733 locations, $1,058 average, $11,958,976, two weeks. 6. "Lucky You," Warner Bros., $2,710,445, 2,525 locations, $1,073 average, $2,710,445, one week. 7. "Meet the Robinsons," Disney, $2,619,654, 2,107 locations, $1,243 average, $91,925,051, six weeks. 8. "Blades of Glory," Paramount, $2,409,106, 2,113 locations, $1,140 average, $111,738,387, six weeks. 9. "Hot Fuzz," Focus, $2,219,346, 1,266 locations, $1,753 average, $16,310,098, three weeks. 10. "Are We Done Yet?", Sony, $1,744,619, 1,704 locations, $1,024 average, $46,150,924, five weeks. 11. "Vacancy," Sony Screen Gems, $1,546,033, 1,698 locations, $911 average, $16,531,942, three weeks. 12. "The Condemned," Lionsgate, $1,263,036, 2,310 locations, $547 average, $6,210,481, two weeks. 13. "Wild Hogs," Disney, $909,524, 960 locations, $947 average, $160,102,549, 10 weeks. 14. "Kickin' It Old Skool," Yari Film Group, $834,239, 1,585 locations, $526 average, $3,750,677, two weeks. 15. "In the Land of Women," Warner Bros., $778,297, 1,008 locations, $772 average, $10,087,134, three weeks. 16. "Perfect Stranger," Sony, $575,757, 625 locations, $921 average, $22,892,481, four weeks. 17. "The Namesake," Fox Searchlight, $486,033, 282 locations, $1,724 average, $11,482,531, nine weeks. 18. "Black Book," Sony Pictures Classics, $430,815, 153 locations, $2,816 average, $1,758,018, five weeks. 19. "300," Warner Bros., $419,317, 433 locations, $968 average, $207,871,046, nine weeks. 20. "The Reaping," Warner Bros., $302,141, 476 locations, $635 average, $24,675,635, five weeks. (AP) Universal Pictures and Focus Features are owned by NBC Universal, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and Vivendi Universal; Sony Pictures, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; DreamWorks, Paramount and Paramount Classics are divisions of Viacom Inc.; Disney's parent is The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is a division of The Walt Disney Co.; 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox Atomic are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros., New Line, Warner Independent and Picturehouse are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a consortium of Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Sony Corp., Comcast Corp., DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group; Lionsgate is owned by Lionsgate Entertainment Corp.; IFC Films is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp. AP-CS-05-07-07 1749EDT