By Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -"Spider-Man: No Way Home" racked up a head-spinning $253 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales over the weekend, setting a pandemic record and ranking as the third-biggest domestic debut in Hollywood history even as a new COVID-19 variant spreads.
Around the globe, "No Way Home" generated an additional $334.2 million for a worldwide weekend total of $587.2 million, according to estimates from distributor Sony Corp.
The blockbuster returns delivered a much-needed jolt to cinema companies such as AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Cineworld that have struggled to draw crowds during the pandemic. The emergence of the Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/world/threat-omicron-looms-over-christmas-holidays-europe-us-2021-12-19 has sparked new concerns.
But as Broadway and New York City's Rockettes canceled shows and the National Football League postponed games, theaters were abuzz. Fans packed auditoriums for "No Way Home," a big-budget superhero spectacle co-produced by Sony and Walt Disney Co that is playing only in theaters.
The movie stars Tom Holland as Marvel's web-slinging superhero and Zendaya, as his girlfriend MJ, in the third film in the Spider-Man trilogy. It also brings back stars of previous "Spider-Man" films.
"This weekend’s historic 'Spider-Man: No Way Home' results, from all over the world and in the face of many challenges, reaffirm the unmatched cultural impact that exclusive theatrical films can have," Tom Rothman, the chairman and chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment's Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.
U.S. and Canadian ticket sales crushed the most optimistic projections from last week, when analysts deemed $200 million a long shot. "No Way Home" finished just behind "Avengers: Endgame" and "Avengers: Infinity War" and ahead of the Star Wars film "The Force Awakens."
Cinemark said ticket sales for "No Way Home" were especially strong in the United States and Latin America and on large-format screens.
Holland offered gratitude to fans. "Thank you thank you thank you and if you haven’t seen Spider-Man no way home yet ... merry Christmas and you know what to do," he wrote on Instagram.
The fact that the film concluded a popular trilogy added to its appeal, said Jeff Bock, senior media analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co, and many fans wanted to see the new installment on the opening weekend before they read spoilers on social media.
The success underscored the continuing pull of superhero-based films at cinemas, Bock added, particularly among young people who are used to streaming movies at home.
"It reinforces the fact that superheroes are number one, and everybody else is somewhere way down below," he said.
The previous pandemic record was set by Marvel superhero film "Venom: Let There Be Carnage," https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/venom-bond-pull-4-mln-people-amc-theaters-over-weekend-2021-10-04 which took in $90 million domestically over its first three days in October. Marvel's "Black Widow" opened with $80 million back in May.
Other genres have struggled to lure audiences. Steven Spielberg's remake of classic musical "West Side Story," which has earned rave reviews and Oscar nominations buzz, sold $3.4 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canadian market over the weekend. Its global total stands at $27.1 million after two weekends in theaters.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)