spiderman3_refredposter.jpgEXCLUSIVE (refresh for latest): It’s very early, still. But I’m told the first round of tracking for Spider-Man 3 is better than the first pulse that was registered for either Spidey 1 or 2 pics in this all-important Sony franchise. Remember: the first two had a combined worldwide theatrical gross of $1.6 billion: $821.7 million for Spider-Man 1 and $783.7 mil for Spider-Man 2. “The early awareness and indicators are through the roof,” one box office guru told me. Said another expert: “With so many other movies struggling for attention this year, SM3 came on [tracking] with over 90% awareness and over 20% first choice a month out.” The big upside for Spider-Man 3, I’m told, is that moviergoers are responding like crazy to director Sam Raimi’s dark and disturbing “Black Spidey” very cool iconography that characterizes the third installment along with its tag line “The Greatest Battle Lies Within.” With great trailers, aggressive Internet and TV promotion, and a storyline which the other two films seemed to building towards, Spider-Man 3 should amass a $100+ million opening weekend in the United States beginning May 4th because, based on tracking, “the number is massive,” I’m told. tobey_maguire6.jpg(SM1 had a $114 mil opening weekend and SM2 $88 mil.) The new pic’s release will be a global event. Spider-Man 3 will debut first in China before it officially opens in North America. Since comic book caper kicks off the 2007 summer movie season, this is clearly going to be a banner year at the box office — probably the biggest in cinematic history — given all the sequels, prequels and tentpole pics being released. (See my LA Weekly column Orgy Of Sequels Climaxing In 2007.) There’s one downside: Wall Street film financing experts tell me that, based on SM3‘s budget, it may well be the most expensive film ever made. Sony privately is admitting to a budget of $250 mil, but analysts tell me it’s more like $300+ mil. (The previous $$$ record-holder is Warner’s remake of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory which cost about $272 mil, analysts say.) And that’s even without the promotion and advertising costs which are said to be another $75+ mil.

spiderman3.jpgThat being said, the Spider-Man franchise is a cash machine for Sony. (For instance, its Culver Entertainment TV shingle will launch The Amazing Spider-Man ‘toon sometime in early 2008 on the CW network’s Saturday morning kids’ block.) That’s why the screenplay is already underway for Spider-Man 4. On the other hand, SM3 is opening during a very competitive May with hotter rivalry than faced SM1 and SM2. That’s because DreamWorks Animation’s Shrek The Third opens May 18th and P3 (Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End) debuts May 25th. Disney has said that P3 will be in every territory in the world by that date, although perhaps not mainland China where censors were viewing a print hand-delivered by Disney execs so as to avoid piracy. But Spider-man 3 has already snagged China. The reason for SM3‘s opening there before the U.S. debut is so pirated copies don’t have a chance to flood the market beforehand. Anyway, that’s the peak moviegoing season in China around the weeklong national holiday that kicks off May 1. Sony also is holding a Tokyo premiere. In this country, Sony gave the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival the U.S. premiere of Spider-Man 3. The star-studded gala will take place in, of all places, Queens, N.Y. (That’s where the fictional Peter Parker aka Spider-Man grew up.) Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, accompanied by a marching band, are slated to join an auditorium of 3,000 there on April 30. Meanwhile, in addition to the festival, Sony pacted with the City of New York to celebrate Spider-Man 3 for the entire week April 30th-May 6th at some of the city’s most recognizable cultural and entertainment institutions in all five boroughs: the American Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Society, Gray Line Tour, Apollo Theater, Central Park and Bronx Zoos… Here’s the link to all the activities.