Despite their shared love of violence and their reliance on visuals to tell their stories, comic books and movies are very different beasts. Something that works in the pages of a comic won’t necessarily work when it comes to adapting the property to the big screen. Modern comic book movies seem to be pushing for more faithful takes on their source material, but there are always going to be certain elements from the comic books that are jettisoned in favor of making a more streamlined, mass audience-pleasing blockbuster.
As one of Marvel’s most beloved and enduring characters, Spider-Man is no stranger to live-action adaptations. After a television series and several made-for-TV movies, the web-slinger finally swung into theaters in 2002 with Sam Raimi’s first superhero megahit, starring Tobey Maguire in the lead role. Since then, we’ve had 4 more solo movies, two new different cinematic Spideys, and an MCU appearance, each with their own take on the Spider-Man mythos. Some of the changes were necessary and make sense, others…not so much. We’ve collected some of the biggest head-scratching decisions made by Spider-Man filmmakers and give you the 15 Worst Changes From The Comic Books To The Movies.
15. The inclusion of Gwen Stacy – Spider-Man 3
Gwen Stacy is known for two things in general: 1) She’s Peter Parker’s first girlfriend and 2) she dies after a climactic bridgetop showdown between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. In 2002’s Spider-Man, director Sam Raimi opted to skip Gwen Stacy and move right on to Peter’s better-known love interest, Mary Jane Watson. Veteran screenwriter David Koepp essentially amalgamated the two characters into one. The movie even riffs on Spidey/Gobby’s bridge encounter, with MJ replacing Gwen as the one in peril.
When Spider-Man 3 came out in 2007, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) was added to the cast for no real reason. Reportedly, the character wasn’t in Raimi’s original plan, but the studio insisted that she be included. Bryce Dallas Howard does a respectable job in the role, but unfortunately, she’s unable to rescue a flat, boring character who has no real purpose in the story outside of being used by Emo Peter to make Mary Jane jealous.
14. Organic web-shooters – Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3
Spider-Man’s journey to the big screen was a rough one. Marvel sold the movie rights in the mid ’80s, but the project languished in development hell for years, going through many different treatments (including a script by James Cameron) and studios before finally landing at Columbia Pictures. One of the lasting ideas from previous scripts that made it into David Koepp’s final treatment was the idea that instead of inventing his iconic webbing and web-shooters, the bite that gave the web-slinger his powers also granted him the ability to organically create webbing.
It’s easy to see why this change was made. The notion that a high-school kid could create and produce a super-adhesive beyond the capabilities of top scientists does stretch credibility somewhat, but then, we’re also dealing with a hero given superpowers from a spider bite. This isn’t the worst change on this list by a long shot, but many fans felt that the web-shooters’ absence did a disservice to the character. Peter’s mechanical web-shooters and homemade webbing showcase his intellect and his aptitude for science and invention. They’re symbolic of Peter using his brains to match his newfound brawn. The mechanical web-shooters returned in The Amazing Spider-Man, and after a brief glimpse of them (along with some cartridges of homemade web) in Captain America: Civil War, it seems like future Spidey films will have them too. No matter your feeling on the matter, at least we can all agree that Spider-Man’s webs must always make that oh-so-satisfying THWIP! sound.
13. The First Costume – The Amazing Spider-Man
Okay, this one is purely down to aesthetics, but it neatly encapsulates the drastic change in direction the series underwent for its 2012 reboot. Spidey’s costume was changed to be a tight, textured bodysuit that aimed to be more realistic than previous incarnations. It had a sportier look to it, with Spidey’s signature eye pieces fitted with specialized lenses. It was a busy design that spoiled the simplicity of an iconic look. Worse still, the suit’s usual bright primary red and blue were muted to match the movie’s darker tone. Also, for some reason, Spidey’s web-shooters light up and basically have muzzle flashes every time Spidey fires off a web. It was an inaccurate set of superhero tights, to say the least.
Thankfully, the suit was improved upon considerably in Amazing Spider-Man 2, arguably giving us the best live-action suit seen so far (see below). Spidey’s trademark white eyepieces were back and better than ever, and the whole suit had a vivid pop to it, looking like it had been directly lifted from the comic book pages and plastered onto the big screen.
12. Not enough quipping – All solo films
You would think that movies could get this one right. Cinema history is filled with wisecracking heroes, and you’d think Spider-Man would be a lock to join their ranks. Not so much, as it turns out. In Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, there were funny moments, but many of them were centered around laughing at Peter Parker’s situation, not anything Spider-Man actually did or said. The first Amazing Spider-Man was an improvement in that department, though it didn’t quite stick the landing either.
The opening chase in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is probably the closest we’ve got to comic Spidey in one of the solo outings, but it doesn’t feel like enough. Humor is a key element to Spider-Man’s character, and for the movies to be light on the quips and gags undersells one of Peter’s most fun personality quirks. Marvel is occasionally criticized for having overly jokey characters in their movies, but at least with Spider-Man it makes sense, considering wit and banter are baked right into the character’s DNA. Tom Holland’s take on the character in Civil War was far chattier, thankfully, so a brighter day does appear to be on the horizon.
11. Lack of appearances from other Marvel characters – All solo films
New York is easily Marvel’s most superpowered state. Not only does Spider-Man live there, but so do The Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, the X-Men, and a whole host of other heroes and villains. In the comics, Spidey would often run into a fellow crimefighter and team up — or, more than likely, fight and THEN team up, as early comic books often went.
With movie rights being what they are and studios jealously guarding their properties like a dragon with a treasure pile, it was unlikely that any other heroes were going to pop into frame for a quick cameo. This changed with Civil War and Spidey’s official induction into the MCU, of course, but the Fox-owned Fantastic Four and X-Men are still absent from the party (an issue that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon). Rights issues have also prevented Spider-Man from facing off against Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin in the past, although now that both characters are back with Marvel, the chances of that happening in the future are more likely.
10. No “Great Power/Great Responsibility” – The Amazing Spider-Man
The final panel of the first Spider-Man story in Amazing Fantasy #15 ends with the narrator stating that in losing his Uncle Ben, Peter has learned the lesson that “with great power there must also come great responsibility”. It’s an immortal and endlessly quoted line that sums up Spider-Man’s approach to heroics succinctly. In the first Raimi film, Uncle Ben utters the famous mantra to Peter, and it becomes his guiding light throughout the film, with his triumphant final swing around New York voiced over with Peter echoing his uncle’s words. It’s an important phrase and it encapsulates a pretty complex idea rather neatly.
The Amazing Spider-Man took a different approach. While Uncle Ben is still the one dropping truth bombs, the movie goes out of its way to sum up the same idea without as much brevity: “Your father lived by a philosophy; a principle, really. He believed that if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things! That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice. Responsibility.” It’s cool that Amazing Spider-Man wanted to do its own thing and set itself apart from what had come before, but sometimes you’ve got to leave what isn’t broken alone. The version in Amazing Spider-Man is needlessly verbose for an idea that can be expressed in six words.
9. The fate of Peter’s parents – The Amazing Spider-Man 1 + 2
When the time-wasting production of Spider-Man 4 finally imploded, Sony were left with little time to regroup and make a Spidy film before their rights to the character expired. People were already skeptical of a reboot happening a mere five years after the last installment, so Sony decided to focus on a new angle of attack when it came to laying out the origins of Andrew Garfield’s web-head. In the marketing for the movie, they promised to tell “the untold story” of Peter’s parents.
Instead of being spies like in the original comics, the movies took their inspiration from the Ultimate Spider-Man series. Pete’s dad, Richard Parker, is an Oscorp scientist who is killed with his wife in a plane crash. The fateful crash was engineered by Norman Osborn because Parker refused to weaponize his discoveries. Peter goes through 2 films to discover the rather underwhelming secret of his parents’ disappearance. It doesn’t really add to the character in any meaningful way, and it actually downplays the significance Aunt May and Uncle Ben have had on Peter’s life. It’s clear that the writers didn’t quite know what to do with Peter’s parents either. There’s a deleted scene where the surprisingly not-dead Richard appears out of nowhere and comforts Peter after Gwen Stacy’s untimely demise. The fact that the scene was properly filmed before being cut shows that director Marc Webb was clearly in two minds about where the story would go right up to the deadline.
8. The death of Gwen Stacy – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
We mentioned before that Gwen Stacy is only really famous for two things. When The Amazing Spider-Man shook up the formula in 2012, it rectified Peter’s girlfriend timeline and introduced the loveable Emma Stone as Ms. Stacy. Gwen survived the first film, but as anyone with even a passing knowledge of comics would know, the clock was ticking.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasted little time in foreshadowing Gwen’s death. Her graduation speech is weirdly portentous and pretty much guarantees she isn’t going to last until the end credits. The movie does a semi-decent take on Gwen actually dying, but the constant fake-outs with Gwen falling and being caught rob the final moment of much of its drama. Like with many things in the Amazing Spider-Man 2, the story isn’t given enough room to breathe. Losing Gwen Stacy was a watershed moment for Peter and it shapes who Spider-Man is, but in TASM 2, it’s lost amongst a mess of other storylines and half-baked ideas.
7. Webbing is an Oscorp product – The Amazing Spider-Man
Fittingly enough, webbing seems to be a sticking point for a lot of Spidey fans. One thing that certainly caused a lively debate (read: deeply personal insults hurled with venom) was the idea that Peter didn’t invent his webbing in The Amazing Spider-Man. Webbing is shown to be a commercially available “bio-cable” made by Oscorp. This deftly dodges the issue of a teen making a product above the world’s top scientists, but stumbles in a whole viper’s nest of subsequent questions.
How does Peter get the webbing? If he buys it, where does he get the money as a penniless teenager? Did he steal it? That wouldn’t be very heroic of him, despite Oscorp being straight-up evil. Wouldn’t someone at Oscorp recognize the product the arachnid-themed vigilante is using? Wouldn’t it just take a cross-reference of bulk orders to lead police to Queens? Couldn’t copycat vigilantes start springing up left and right? The decision also downplays Peter’s scientific mind and intellect, something that sets him apart from most other heroes. Yes, it’s more realistic, but is that what people want from a Spider-Man movie? Judging by many of the criticisms of the movie and the fact that the sequel underwent a drastic tonal shift, probably not.
6. New Sinister Six origins – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues to be the most divisive entry in the Spider-Man franchise. One of the more prevalent criticisms of the movie was its preoccupation with setting up future films in the wall-crawler’s world. Sony clearly had big plans for their branded Spider-verse, as shown in a scene where the mysterious Gustav Fiers walks through Oscorp’s underground labs. He passes by display cases showcasing some familiar-looking supervillain equipment, namely The Vulture’s wings and Doctor Octopus’s tentacle harness.
Sony seemed in a rush to start shaping their shared universe, and it smacks of pure laziness to skip the required groundwork needed to bring some truly iconic characters to life. Spider-Man has one of the best rogues’ galleries in comics, and to not take advantage of it is something of a travesty. Luckily, this corner-cutting doesn’t matter much these days, thanks to Sony’s deal with Marvel leading them to shift focus away from the proposed Spider-verse and shelve future Amazing Spider-Man films, along with the terrible sounding Aunt May spin-off movie. Deep sighs of relief all round.
5. Max Dillon/ Electro – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Maxwell Dillon is an interesting case study in the comics. Like many villains, he mirrors Spider-Man in some way, and Electro serves as an illustration of what Spidey would have been like had he not chosen to be a hero. Dillon started as a random electrical engineer who gains electricity-based superpowers after a freak accident. Instead of choosing to help people like Parker did, Dillon uses his newfound abilities for selfish reasons, and carries out criminal acts for vengeance and personal monetary gain. In the Ultimate comics, Dillon is a result of a bioengineering experiment carried out by Justin Hammer.
For some reason, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ignored both these viable choices and took a leaf from Batman Forever instead. Maxwell Dillon is remarkably similar to Jim Carrey’s Riddler. Both characters are broad, cartoonish nerds obsessed with the main hero. After a perceived rejection, they lose their minds and go full supervillain, forcing our heroes to battle them. We’re not saying that there are official right and wrong ways to do things, but the choices made in TASM 2 make the character significantly less compelling and interesting. Dillon’s motivation to be seen by people does make him sympathetic, but the stock cartoon nutjob personality he’s been lumbered with makes it hard to care about him or anything he does in the slightest. You could take Electro out of TASM 2 and nothing in the plot would really change, and that isn’t right, especially when you have the great Jamie Foxx playing your main baddie.
4. The Green Goblin – The Amazing Spider-Man 2
There have been several Goblin-themed villains in Spider-Man’s world, but the classic Green variety is the best known. Both Norman Osborn and his son Harry have taken up the mantle and pushed Spidey to his limits on numerous occasions with their cruelty and malice.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 skips Norman Osborn becoming the Goblin, which whilst not comic accurate, does make sense considering Willem Dafoe’s memorable take on the character. Osborn dies of a rare hereditary disease shortly after informing Harry that he has it too. Despite the disease taking 50-60 years to kill his father, for some reason, the disease starts affecting Harry much faster after he finds out about it. He takes some of the same spider venom that transformed Peter and uses an Oscorp suit to save his life. The cumulative effects of the disease and the venom drive Harry insane, and he promptly sets about getting revenge on Spider-Man. Harry’s transformation is rushed and bundled into the overbusy final act of the movie. Had the story been given enough care and attention, it could have conceivably worked, but most of what TASM 2 tries with the character falls flat on its face. Dane DeHaan is a talented actor, but his snarling, scenery-chewing Goblin performance hides that fact well.
Plus, c’mon, just look at that guy.
3. The symbiote storyline – Spider-Man 3
The symbiote storyline is one of the most famous Spider-Man stories ever. In it, Peter comes into possession of a mysterious black suit which was eventually revealed to be a sentient alien known as Venom. Peter forcibly removes the suit and it falls to Parker’s rival, Eddie Brock. It’s a fantastic story that not only introduces one of Spider-Man’s greatest nemeses, but it also serves as a great test of Peter’s mettle as he resists and finally heroically rejects the suit.
Not content with having the Sandman and a new Goblin-like Harry Osborn for Spidey to deal with, Sam Raimi was forced to include Venom and the alien goo on top of everything else. As a result, the film is an insanely overstuffed mess. There are also some baffling additions to the original story, with the symbiote not only turning making Spider-Man more aggressive but also turning Peter Parker into a goofy dancing doofus in multiple scenes. The dance numbers are intentionally cringeworthy, but why Raimi felt to include them at all is puzzling.
2. Eddie Brock/ Venom – Spider-Man 3
It was tempting to include Spider-Man 3‘s weird take on Eddie Brock/Venom under the symbiote story entry, but this version of Brock is such a misfire that it’s worthy of its own entry. In the comics, Brock is a journalist who works for Daily Bugle rival, The Daily Globe. He’s a hulking bully of a man who is disgraced after he exposes the identity of a serial killer, only for the real killer to be caught by Spider-Man, leading to Brock getting fired and his wife divorcing him. Brock becomes bitter and resentful of Spider-Man, and he finally gets his shot at revenge when the similarly Parker-hating symbiote finds and bonds with him.
In Spider-Man 3, Eddie Brock doesn’t really resemble any comic version. He’s played by Topher Grace, who doesn’t exactly have the professional wrestler-type build drawn in the source material. Outside of being an odd casting choice from a physical perspective, Grace’s Brock is definitely a smarmy jerk, but he lacks the thuggery that Brock requires. When Eddie finally turns into Venom, not enough is done to emphasise the serious threat he poses. When done right, Venom is a terrifying force to be reckoned with, but Spider-Man 3‘s version falls short. It’s tempting to say that Grace was outright miscast, but he was cast perfectly for what Raimi wanted him for. It’s just a shame that Raimi’s vision didn’t line up with what fans of the character wanted.
1. The Flint Marko/Uncle Ben retcon – Spider-Man 3
It’s funny how one little detail can change the entire story that’s being told. 2002’s Spider-Man did some solid groundwork when it came time to kill Uncle Ben. Peter acted selfishly and let a criminal go, and later, that same criminal shot Uncle Ben in cold blood. With Uncle Ben and the murderer dead, Peter develops a complex so large that he vows to become a hero to assuage his guilt and live up to his Uncle’s iconic words. Spider-Man 3, on the other hand, didn’t really get this. In an effort to give the Spider-Man/Sandman beef more in the way of personal stakes, it’s revealed that before he became all sandy, Flint Marko was actually the one responsible for Uncle Ben’s murder. Not only that, but the gun had accidentally gone off in his hand and he had never intended to take Ben’s life. The news is tough to hear, but Peter finds it within himself to forgive Marko.
As many angry fans and critics have stated, this retcon doesn’t work in the slightest. Sandman is pretty underdeveloped as a character (we can blame the Venom storyline for this, too), so when the big revelation comes, it doesn’t hold any dramatic weight. Secondly, the fact that the gun goes off accidentally messes with the moral implications of Spider-Man’s entire motivation. When the murderer is a random crook, Peter is forced to look deeper at the situation and realize that Ben Parker’s murder is a symptom of a much larger criminal problem – one which he can do something about with his suite of sweet spider powers. Having Marko kill Uncle Ben makes no sense, and it actually makes Ben’s death in the first film count for less, thereby undermining the point of the character.
Will Spider-Man: Homecoming be the most comic-accurate depiction of the web-slinger to date, or will this list simply need to be updated with a whole new stack of problems in a few months? Sound off in the comments.
Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into theaters on July 6th, 2017.