Since he first swung onto the big screen in 2002, there have been a total of three actors who have taken on the role of the web-slinger in three different Spidey series. The first was Tobey Maguire, who starred in the Sam Raimi-directed series that included Spider-Man and its two sequels. To many, especially those who grew up with his portrayal, Maguire’s is the quintessential version of the superhero. And while many, many superhero films have been released since the first Spider-Man series ended its run in 2007, Spider-Man 2 is still often cited as one of the best superhero movies of all time.
Although Raimi’s first two films represented great highs for the genre, his third is considered one of the greatest superhero misfires of all time and ended the series. However, Sony wasn’t willing to give up on its most famous superhero property and rebooted the series with Andrew Garfield in the lead role in 2012 with the Marc Webb-directed The Amazing Spider-Man. In general, viewers enjoyed Garfield’s performance but weren’t particularly thrilled with the material he had to work with. Garfield played the character in the sequel, but the duo of films was met with viewer indifference and critical bemusement.
After those movies, fans expected Spider-Man would be taking a nice long vacation, so they were surprised when Marvel announced that a new version of the superhero would join the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War in 2016 and start his own series the following year. It was only four short years after the last Amazing Spider-Man film, but skeptical fans ended up embracing Tom Holland’s fresh take on the character and his inclusion in the MCU. Ultimately, Maguire, Garfield, and Holland each brought a unique spin to Spider-Man and his alter ego Peter Parker, and each of them was more successful in certain ways than the others.
Here, is Everything Maguire, Garfield, And Holland Did Right With Spider-Man (And Everything They Did Wrong)
25 RIGHT–MAGUIRE: CAPTURED PETER PARKER’S SHY VULNERABILITY
Spider-Man and Peter Parker have always been opposite sides of the same coin. While Spider-Man could be confident and even cocky in his abilities, Peter Parker wasn’t doing quite as well. Parker was more of a nerdy loner who occupied the bottom of the high school social food chain. He was awkward and unsure of himself, qualities that didn’t change even after he got superpowers.
Maguire captured this part of Parker’s personality perfectly. He played up the character’s shy insecurity and showed that despite his superhero antics, he was still emotionally vulnerable. This made Parker just as interesting to watch as Spider-Man.
24 WRONG–MAGUIRE: EMO DANCING
You knew this was going to come up sooner or later. Maguire’s dancing in Spider-Man 3 is now the stuff of legends. When it comes to what not to do in a superhero movie, this is Exhibit A.
Up until Spider-Man 3, Maguire had portrayed Peter Parker as a sympathetic loser. Then in the trilogy’s third movie, Maguire was forced to go emo and become a confident ladies’ man. The whole thing felt forced and embarrassing. Even 2018’s animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse singled the dancing scenes out for ridicule. Maguire’s dancing is so notorious, that even those who haven’t seen Spider-Man 3 know about it.
23 RIGHT–MAGUIRE: FRIENDSHIP WITH HARRY OSBORN
In Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Peter Parker’s one friend is Harry Osborn, played by James Franco. The relationship between Parker and Osborn was a cornerstone of the trilogy, so it needed to work for fans to truly invest in the films. Fortunately, Maguire and Franco were able to create a friendship that came across as long-lived and genuine.
Although the characters are from extremely different worlds, the actors had a believable, easy rapport that made it even more tragic when Spider-Man had to take on Osborn’s father when he became the Green Goblin — and later when the friendship soured.
22 WRONG–MAGUIRE: TOOK SUPERHERODOM TOO SERIOUSLY
While Maguire made a great Peter Parker, he wasn’t quite as successful as the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. In the comics, the hero often delights in his abilities, enjoying the rush of his enhanced abilities. Although Maguire periodically whooped and cheered upon discovering what he could do, he was more often silent and serious when he was playing the superhero.
It took some of the fun out of being a superhero and made Spider-Man more brood and serious than he typically is. It also prevented Maguire from clearly differentiating between his Spider-Man and Peter Parker sides.
21 RIGHT–MAGUIRE: SPIDER-MAN’S ORIGIN STORY
Spider-Man showcased the superhero’s origin story including how his selfish actions led to the demise of his Uncle Ben and led him to become the web-slinger. Maguire expertly portrayed each part of the storyline, from using his powers for personal gain to his heartbreak at what happens to his uncle. Maguire’s portrayal was moving and invited audiences to consider how they might handle budding superpowers with him.
Furthermore, Uncle Ben’s well-known pronouncement that “with great power comes great responsibility” drove Parker throughout the rest of the trilogy. The audience saw Parker evolve and grow as he absorbed this lesson and took it as his mantra.
20 WRONG–MAGUIRE: OVERLY PREOCCUPIED WITH ROMANce
Spider-Man contained one of the most iconic kisses in movie history between the upside-down web-crawler and his paramour Mary Jane Watson. And while Spidey’s romances are part of his story, his preoccupation with Kirsten Dunst’s girl next door ended up taking up an awful lot of screen time throughout Raimi’s trilogy.
Yet, despite her sizable role, Dunst’s character remains defined by her relationship with Peter Parker and Spider-Man, and never manages to become a well-rounded character in her own right. In addition, while Dunst and Maguire do an admirable job in their roles, together they never seem to generate the chemistry the films want us to believe they have. Upside down kiss aside, the pair don’t generate the heat to power their romance.
19 RIGHT–MAGUIRE: PETER PARKER IS RELATABLE
While Peter Parker starts out as a high school student in Raimi’s trilogy, he quickly becomes a college student with adult responsibilities, including a job, homework, relationships, and, of course, being a superhero. Maguire successfully conveyed how torn by these various obligations he felt and how hard it was for him to keep up with each part of his life.
Parker struggled to maintain a job, keep up with his rent payments, turn his homework in on time, and make time for his relationships all while Spider-Man duty called. While most adults don’t worry about that last part, everyone can relate to the weight of our obligations getting the better of us.
18 WRONG–MAGUIRE: DIDN’T LOOK THE PART
While Maguire certainly brought a lot to Spider-Man, one thing that was hard to ignore was that he didn’t capture the look of the comic book character. Spider-Man is lithe and lean, making him seem perfectly suited to all the swinging through the air he does when it’s time to save the day.
While Maguire was in great shape for the role, in comparison to his comic book counterpart, he was shorter and looked less aerodynamic than what’s typically expected of the character. Of course, this is something Maguire couldn’t do much about, but it made him a bit less believable as the superhero.
17 RIGHT–MAGUIRE: STARTED a TREND
When it was originally announced that Maguire would star in Spider-Man, the news was met with some head-scratching. After all, Maguire was considered a serious actor. At the time, he was best known for his roles in dramas like Pleasantville, The Cider House Rules, and Wonder Boys. While well-regarded actors had played comic book villains, like Jack Nicholson in 1989’s Batman, but a well-known serious actor hadn’t yet taken on a superhero role.
While the release of X-Men followed by Spider-Man kicked off the modern superhero boom, it was Maguire’s embodiment of his movies title character that turned superheroes into viable characters for serious characters. It’s a trend that’s continued with actors like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Mark Ruffalo as Hulk.
16 WRONG–MAGUIRE & GARFIELD: TOO OLD FOR THE ROLE
One of the biggest knocks against both Maguire and Garfield is that they were too old to play Peter Parker and his alter ego — and they looked it. Both actors were in their late 20s when their respective films came out making it difficult to buy either of them as high school students. Fortunately, both Spider-series quickly moved the character on to college, but this also left the classic comic version of the character behind too.
Of course, Spider-Man’s been an adult in comics for quite some time now. However, by attempting to kick-off their movies in high school, directors Raimi and Webb nod to the teenage version with the character but don’t quite capture him because their actors aren’t believable as naïve, optimistic adolescents.
15 RIGHT–GARFIELD: CHEMISTRY WITH GWEN STACY
Many criticisms have been thrown at The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel that didn't work, but Peter Parker’s romance with Gwen Stacy isn’t one of them. Not only did Emma Stone bring a casual cool to her role as Spidey’s doomed girlfriend, she and Garfield also had crackling chemistry that lit up their scenes together. This was a couple that fans could root for.
In addition, Stacy was given a life of her own making her a three-dimensional character whose hopes and dreams were just as important as Parker’s. The couple had a natural rapport that turned their relationship into the heart of the movies.
14 WRONG–GARFIELD: HIS PETER PARKER WAS TOO COOL
Andrew Garfield is a talented actor with natural charisma. It’s that charisma that makes it hard to take your eyes off him. However, it also wasn’t quite right for Peter Parker. Parker is typically depicted as awkward and socially inept. These are qualities Garfield didn’t bring to the role — instead, his Parker comes across as someone who would be well-liked and friendly with everyone.
As a result, Garfield came across as too cool to realistically embody Parker as a nerdy everyman. Sure, he looked like he’d be fun to hang out with, but it was that chill quality that also made him less sympathetic.
13 RIGHT–GARFIELD: CAPTURED SPIDER-MAN’S CONFIDENCE
While Garfield didn’t get Peter Parker quite right, he did a great job capturing Spider-Man’s persona. Spider-Man usually enjoys his work, but Maguire often seemed a little stiff and uncomfortable as the wall-crawler. In contrast, Garfield seemed to take genuine joy in portraying the superhero. He perfectly embodied Spider-Man’s confidence in his superhero skills and the fun he found in using his unique abilities.
In the process, Garfield brought breezy humor to the character that gave his scenes an enjoyable zip. By wearing his Spidey obligations lightly, Garfield made being a superhero look like fun.
12 WRONG–GARFIELD: FRIENDSHIP WITH HARRY OSBORN WASN’T BELIEVABLE
Although fans had already spent ample amounts of time with Harry Osborn in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 decided to revisit the character. In this incarnation, Osborn, played by Dane DeHaan, was a long-lost friend of Peter Parker’s who reconnected with Parker when he came back to town.
However, Garfield and DeHaan never felt like people who had a long history together. Instead, they came across as two people who’d been thrown together and were going through the motions of a friendship that never really existed. Furthermore, because the friendship between Parker and Osborn never seemed genuine, Osborn’s transformation into the villainous Green Goblin lacked emotional resonance
11 RIGHT–GARFIELD: SHOWED PETER PARKER’S SMARTS
Maguire, Garfield, and Holland all showcase Parker’s intellect in one way or another. Parker’s intelligence is one of the key qualities of the character after all. Yet, while Maguire has organic web shooters and Holland ends up with a super-suit created by Tony Stark, it’s Garfield’s Parker that independently figures out how he can make web-shooters and other gadgets to help harness his Spider-skills.
Garfield brought a brainy, thoughtful angle to the role that played up Parker’s innate intelligence. As a result, it seemed completely plausible when Parker helped a scientist with a difficult equation or was able to understand his father’s complex research.
10 WRONG–GARFIELD: ORIGIN STORY WAS LESS COMPELLING
In 2002’s Spider-Man, fans were treated to the superhero’s origin story from Parker using his new powers for personal gain to Uncle Ben’s passing serving as a catalyst for him to become a superhero. The storyline was then rehashed in a slightly modified version for The Amazing Spider-Man to diminishing returns.
While Garfield and Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben created a loving family relationship and Garfield’s response to Parker’s Uncle’s sad end was heartbreaking, the story itself was simply not as compelling the second time around. Furthermore, the movie attributed Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom about responsibility to Parker’s father and was delivered far less eloquently just so the film could avoid Ben’s most famous quote.
9 RIGHT–GARFIELD & HOLLAND: HUMOROUS AND QUIPPY
While Garfield and newest Spider-Man Tom Holland’s portrayals of the character differ in many ways, one thing they both bring to the character is humor. This is especially true when they’re swinging into superhero action. Both are able to quip their way through a fight making their excitement at being in the middle of the action clear.
Of course, the humor they bring to the character comes from a different place. Garfield is much more deliberate, often knowingly deploying humor as a defense and a shield. Meanwhile, Holland’s humor is a result of the innocence and inexperience of his character. Regardless of its source though, each actor rewards fans with funny, laugh out loud moments.
8 RIGHT–HOLLAND: COMES ACROSS AS A NORMAL HIGH SCHOOLER
Holland was by far the youngest recent actor to play Spider-Man and it showed. Holland was a teenager himself when he initially landed the role, so his Parker, who’s a sophomore in high school, completely fit in with the other students. From extracurriculars to school dances, Parker seems grounded in his high school reality.
In the past, the character quickly graduated from high school because the actors who played him were older. This shortened the time their movies could devote to their youthful experimentation with superheroics. With Holland, however, Marvel can keep Parker in high school over the course of several films, slowly growing into adult responsibilities — and an adult understanding of the power he wields as Spider-Man.
7 WRONG–HOLLAND: AWKWARD IMMATURITY
Holland is fantastic at capturing Parker’s insecurity and need to babble to cover his nerves. In many instances, this came across as awkwardly charming. At times, though, Parker’s immaturity could become irritating. This was especially true in his pop culture references and insistence in referring to Tony as “Mr. Stark.”
When Spidey refers to The Empire Strikes Back as an old movie in Civil War, it’s like an unnecessary neon sign pointing to the superhero’s youth. And while his relationship with Stark can be endearing, Parker’s eagerness to absorb Stark’s mentoring can become eye-roll-worthy.
6 RIGHT–HOLLAND: BROUGHT YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE
When viewers meet Spider-Man in Civil War, he already has his powers. He’s also learned to use them to some degree. Despite the fact that we don’t get to see his origin story, however, this Spider-Man is still learning to be a hero and Holland conveys the thrill the character experiences as he discovers the best ways to take advantage of his abilities.
Unlike previous incarnations, the MCU version of Spider-Man doesn’t yet feel the burden of being a superhero. He’s still a kid who makes up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm and smarts. In addition, while this Spider-Man has great powers and wants to use them, he's not completely sure what that means yet. Watching him try to figure it out brings fun and unique energy to the MCU.
5 WRONG–HOLLAND: TOO CONCERNED WITH BEING AN AVENGER
Spider-Man is known for being a friendly, neighborhood superhero who has his hands full helping the denizens of his New York location. Yet, by becoming a member of the MCU, Spider-Man has gone international. When Stark recruits him to take part in the Avenger smack-down in Civil War, he dangles an opportunity in front of Parker to be part of a team that has nothing to do with his neighborhood.
Although it’s fun to see Parker interact with the Avengers, he’s so preoccupied with impressing them and making a good impression, that the motivation that typically drives the character — to use his powers to help those who need it most — gets lost.
4 RIGHT–HOLLAND: CONVEYED DRUDGERY OF BECOMING A SUPERHERO
As a young superhero with no real adult responsibilities, Holland’s Spider-Man can spring into action at a moment’s notice. What if there’s no action to be had, though? Spider-Man: Homecoming conveyed the drudgery that can come with being a superhero. How a superhero must patiently wait for a bad guy to rear their head, how sometimes the most exciting thing to do is give directions to a lost old lady.
Holland conveys the strong desire to use his abilities along with the frustration that comes with realizing they aren’t always needed. This Spider-Man is still learning that superherodom doesn’t always fit neatly into his schedule.
3 RIGHT–HOLLAND: ACROBATIC ABILITIES
When it came to playing Spider-Man, Holland offered some special skills that previous actors hadn’t. Holland is a trained dancer and gymnast who appeared in the musical Billy Elliot on London’s West End. This background not only enabled him to convey Spider-Man’s physicality, but it also meant he could perform many of his own stunts.
When Maguire and Garfield played the character, during action sequences the Spider-Man seen on-screen was an entirely CGI creation. Because Holland could do backflips and other tricks, though, Holland performed much of the Spidey-action in a motion capture suit that was later melded with CGI. In fact, because of his natural athleticism and acrobatic abilities, even when visual effects editors didn’t use motion capture footage of Holland, they were able to refer to his performance to make sure their CGI wall-crawler accurately matched Holland’s movements.
2 WRONG–HOLLAND: KNOW LEAST ABOUT HIS MOTIVATION
In previous Spider-Man movie series, Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom about responsibility along with his untimely demise have motivated Parker to become the superhero. In Spider-Man: Homecoming, however, the character isn’t even mentioned. So why did Parker decide to become Spider-Man?
Audiences’ first exposure to Holland’s Spider-Man was through the Avengers and he seemed eager to continue his superhero work as a way to become a more permanent member of the team. Yet, in Civil War, Spider-Man comes to Stark’s notice because he’s already an active hero. No time is spent explaining why Parker was driven to take on his Spidey alter-ego in the first place, though.
1 RIGHT–HOLLAND: CHARACTERIZATION IS TRUEST TO THE COMICS
One of the things fans appreciate most about Holland’s portrayal of Spider-Man is that he successfully captured the classic comic version of the character. Holland brought the wide-eyed innocence of youth to the role, instantly differentiating his web-slinger from past iterations.
Also, more than any other big-screen Spider-Man, Holland nailed the look of the character. Holland could have stepped right out of the pages of the comic. That combination of look and characterization make Holland’s depiction of Spidey a success, especially for those who have been waiting to see a comics-accurate depiction of the character on the big screen.
Who is your favorite Spider-Man? Let us know in the comments!