No matter how many heroes may be re-imagined, rebooted, or replaced, and with more and more comic book superheroes being introduced every year, Spider-Man remains one of the most beloved, relatable, and recognizable around the world. Taking that kind of success and moving it to the big screen is harder than it sounds, as a few directors have already learned – with more lessons still coming. As Spider-Man makes his journey to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what better time is there to take a look back at the hero’s movie outings, in our latest Docu video, The Evolution of Spider-Man in Movies.
Nicholas Hammond (CBS TV Show)
It’s Tobey Maguire who usually gets credit as the first movie Spider-Man, but Nicholas Hammond predated him by more than twenty years. Before CBS greenlit an entire Spider-Man TV show, a two hour TV movie was made to see if it could really be done. Hammond never actually performed in the costume, which is probably for the best, since it wasn’t all that inspiring or heroic.
Still, the superhero was popular enough to bring in over 16 million viewers, and even though most fans took issue with Peter Parker’s mission to take down a mind controlling new age guru, not a supervillain, a five episode series was ordered. It only ended up lasting thirteen in total, since the cost of actually adapting comic book stories was too high. The network was also dealing with the same risk of superhero fatigue that movie studios are today, with TV shows and specials based on Wonder woman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Doctor Strange all competing for attention.
The TV show never actually made the jump from vhs home video to dvd. So if you’ve got a copy, hang onto it, and you can see the show’s problems firsthand. One weird example: every time Peter’s famous Aunt May appears, she’s played by a different actress.
It’s hard to believe, but since the days Nicholas Hammond’s stunt double was foiling presidential bomb plots, movie studios had been trying to make a Spider-Man movie a reality. Countless scripts were produced, including one dark, adult one from Avatar director James Cameron, and directors ranging from M. Night Shyamalan to David Fincher were all considered.
In the end, it was Sam Raimi, a director better known for small-budget horror, who got the job. It was Raimi’s love and passion for getting Spider-Man right that convinced the studio, and they clearly made the right choice. The casting of Tobey Maguire over more experienced, or more classically handsome leading men raised eyebrows, but the decision to find the right Peter Parker, not the right Spider-Man, paid off. Maguire’s goofy charm won over audiences, and his physical transformation was one of the earliest superhero makeovers to drop jaws.
And thankfully, this time around, the costume, story, and villains all put the comic book source material ahead of everything else. With a one-piece costume torn right off the comic page, and an armored Green Goblin that still holds up, not even the studio security could resist. It took the studio over a year to find a handful of the stolen costumes, after a security guard and his accomplice couldn’t resist taking them home. Can you blame them?
Sam Raimi’s version may not be timeless for today’s comic fans, but the first movie to crack a 100-million dollar opening weekend, and one of the most successful and critically acclaimed superhero movies EVER helped prove comic book heroes were Hollywood’s next big blockbuster craze.
It’s usually impossible to catch that kind of luck twice, but Sam Raimi managed it, raising the stakes, the action – and doubling the budget – for his sequel, Spider-Man 2. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it was that the movie got so right, but aside from an interesting, entertaining, and visually stunning villain in Doctor Octopus, the real victory was below the surface. Years before “dark” superhero movies became all the rage, Spider-Man 2 saw Peter Parker trying to be a hero and a man, and learning that being a superhero usually meant happiness wasn’t possible.
That’s the idea that superhero movies and TV shows are still using for drama, and even if Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight has taken the spot of “best comic book movie” for a lot of fans, Spider-Man 2 remains one of the very best examples of what the genre CAN be, if not the top performer.
When Raimi’s third film showed his hopes for the character weren’t the same as the studio’s the decision was made to scrap plans for Spider-Man 4, and make the upcoming production a reboot, instead. The idea of rebooting a superhero so soon seemed like a risky move, especially since it meant telling the same origin story all over again. But after finding Andrew Garfield for the lead role, and up-and-comer Emma Stone as Peter’s REAL first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, things turned around completely.
The story seemed to be a darker one, aimed at a younger audience more used to grim heroes, and the darker, more tactile costume reflected it. Still, it wasn’t all grim. Fans can debate whether Andrew Garfield could play a convincing outcast, bullied nerd as Peter Parker, but he captured the humor and sarcasm of Spider-Man like no one before. But the thing fans left the theater talking about was the obvious chemistry between Garfield and Stone: enough to build a franchise on, and when the pair started dating in real life shortly after, the future seemed even brighter.
Fans were willing to overlook just how closely the origin story stuck to the previous one, and even forgive a CG lizard villain thanks to improved special effects and a likable star. With director Marc Webb at the wheel, Sony moved to build an entire shared universe around the webslinger, with spinoff films and even standalone movies starring villains like Venom and the Sinister Six.
When Amazing spider-Man 2 hit theaters, those plans changed, and fast. Critics and fans still couldn’t get enough of Peter and Gwen, but with two villains and a ton of supporting characters and subplots all squeezed into a single movie, the reception was mixed. Despite adapting Gwen Stacy’s death faithfully and powerfully, the franchise-low box office take showed Sony that they were heading in the wrong direction. Almost overnight, sequels, spinoffs and shared universe movies were permanently delayed, as Sony realized that you can’t build a universe of franchises unless you get the star right. Sadly for Garfield, that meant starting over from square one.
Fans of Marvel Comics were pinching themselves when word broke that the rift between Marvel’s films and Sony’s Spider-Man had been crossed, with the webslinger being fully introduced into the MCU as part of Civil War, before Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige came over to produce a Spider-Man solo film. It wasn’t long after the announcement that Garfield learned he was out, with Marvel wishing to actually cast a high-school-aged actor for the part of Peter Parker.
Actors under 20 competed furiously for the part, with a select few being brought to screen tests with Marvel’s heavyweights Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. In the end, it was Tom Holland who grabbed the part, already an expert jumper and dancer from headlining Billy Elliot: the Musical in London. The decision to once again tell the origin story of Peter Parker may be a necessary risk at this point, but fan hunger for Spider-Man – ANY Spider-Man – was proven once and for all when the new Spider-Man’s cameo in the second trailer for Captain America: Civil War exploded online. With a technical-but-classic suit, and eyes traced right out of an animated series – not to mention the animated zoom on the eyepieces themselves – it’s clear that Spider-Man’s suit can only change so much from version to version.
But now that movie fans have seen a spider-Man that was fantastical, heartfelt, and cheesy in the best way possible, followed by a darker and more modern take, the world of comic book fans waits to see how Marvel’s new vision of Spider-Man will continue to surprise… or at the very least, keep from burning fans out on the webslinging wallcrawler.