Spider-Man has always been one of the most popular Marvel superheroes of all time. Even the late Stan Lee professed Spider-man as his favourite. So why are there so many different versions of him in the movies? Which Spider-Man is the ‘real’ Spider-Man? And are there any Spider-Man movies where Uncle Ben doesn’t die? Many fans are hoping for answers in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home. The movie to potentially bring together all of the Spider-Man movies (and their spin-offs?). But before you run to the cinema, let’s look at the Spider-Man movies and the history they created.
Tobey Maguire Era (Earth-96283)
This is the movie that restarted the whole franchise. Before this, it was mostly animated TV shows and a live-action TV series in the 1970s starring Nicholas Hammond that we do not talk about. What many younger fans may not realise is how long it took to make the first Spider-Man movie. Development began in the 1980s but was slammed with licensing and finance issues, including Marvel selling the movie rights for Spider-Man to Columbia Pictures (owned by Sony). It finally seemed real when Sony announced the director to be Sam Raimi. The film starred Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man with Kirsten Dunst as Mary-Jane Watson, Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin, and James Franco as Peter’s friend, Harvey Osborn.
Weird Fact: The first writer/director for the film was James Cameron. His version was to be a darker and more mature perspective, including a sex scene between Peter and Mary-Jane atop the Brooklyn Bridge. Cameron later revealed he had considered Leonardo DiCaprio to be perfect for the role. And while I think Leo is a great actor, I’m far happier with Raimi/Maguire.
Spider-Man (2002) is the ultimate origins story, and essentially the benchmark for everything that follows. The core of the Spider-Man canon stays true: spider-bite, physical transformation, test out new skills in a wrestling match, allow a thief to escape, Uncle Ben dies, Peter blames himself, tries to atone by fighting crime. However, Maguire’s Spider-Man is never quite as sarcastic as his comic-book counterpart. Raimi chose organic web-shooters over the scientific design of mechanical web-shooters from the comics, taking away a bit of Peter’s scientific genius. Not enough to escape the notice of his best friend’s dad, Norman Osborn and subsequent villain Green Goblin.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Maguire’s sequel is all about the duality of Spider-Man, and the struggle to balance his personal life with his Spider-Man life. It is possibly the best of the Maguire era for both this character arc and the Best Spider-Man Movie Villain, Dr Otto Octavius, AKA Doctor Octopus. The storyline follows Dr Octavius’ failed science experiment, accidentally killing his wife and permanently fusing him with the AI mechanical tentacles. This is the movie where everyone kind of figures out who Spider-Man is: Dr Ock, Mary-Jane, Harry, a bunch of New Yorkers on the train. Yeah, everyone. No biggie. Double life, right?
Cool Fact: Spider-Man 2 was inspired by the comic book debut of Doctor Octopus in 1964, the 1966 story arc “If This Be My Destiny…” in The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 and the 1967 story arc “Spider-Man No More!” in Ultimate Fallout #4. Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Doctor Octopus is the best of all Spider-Man movies, for his blend of genuine charm and pure menacing genius (check out our list of Spider-Man villains here). It is going to be an absolute joy to see him again in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Probably the worst of the Maguire era but it does give us some meme-worthy moments. There were simply too many villains: Harry Osborn returns with his dad’s tech to become New Goblin; Uncle Ben’s killer escapes from jail but falls into an experimental particle accelerator and becomes Sandman; and a meteorite lands in Central Park, carrying the extraterrestrial symbiote Venom. Don’t get too excited – this Venom is not the Tom Hardy Venom (more on that shortly).
In Spider-Man 3, Venom assimilates with Peter and brings out the darker side of his personality. Let’s be honest: this is the movie with Creepy Arsehole Peter Parker. I wasn’t swayed to empathise with the villains but I wasn’t exactly cheering for Spider-Man either. Even the introduction of Gwen Stacy is off.
Fun Fact: Both Raimi and Maguire were eager to include Sandman as the villain in Spider-Man 3, but the producers pushed for Venom because it was a popular character with the fans. Raimi eventually caved and has forever regretted it. The bad blood was enough to prevent Raimi from working with Arad again. Sony, however, liked this franchise. And thus, another reboot.
Andrew Garfield Era (Earth-120703)
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
A new Spidey-universe, a new era. Andrew Garfield took on the starring role with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Doctor Curt Connors. A few things stay the same: bitten by a spider, super spidey-skills, Peter allows a thief to escape, said thief kills Uncle Ben, and Peter feels guilty. However, being a reboot, there are plenty of differences too. Gwen Stacy is now the love interest who studies and interns with Peter in Dr Curt Connor’s lab. Oh, and Peter’s parents were super-secret scientists who also worked with Dr Connors on some super-secret science stuff. This movie had some serious ‘Daddy’ issues, taking a deep dive into almost every fatherly relationship; Peter and his father, Peter and Uncle Ben, Gwen and Captain George Stacy, Dr Connors and his son. It’s enjoyable, but don’t watch it on Father’s Day.
Geeky Fact: Fans consider this to be one of the most canonical accurate depictions of all Spider-Man movies. The film pulls heavily from the earlier issues of Ultimate Spider-Man by written Brian Michael Bendis with artist Mark Bagley. This includes Spidey’s battle with a villain in the high school. It also sees the return of the mechanical web-shooters and more references to Peter’s intelligence.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Feeling good about its reboot, TASM2 attempted to take it further with more villains, more drama, and more teasing for future stories. Unfortunately, it was a step too far and many consider it the worst of all Spider-Man movies. Featuring Electro (Jamie Foxx), Green Goblin (Dane De Haan as Harry Osborn), and a quick visit from Rhino (Paul Giamatti), the story also tried to bring in the death of Gwen Stacy AND the introduction of Sinister Six. But wait! There’s more! We still have the mysterious work from Peter’s parents with an intentionally unfinished plot twist because the producers really did think they would have a sequel guaranteed. To be fair, Garfield still gave a brilliant performance as PP/Spidey and Stone was heartbreakingly amazing as Gwen.
Cool Fact: Gwen’s death in the comics is still considered one of the most defining moments in comic book history. This was the only one of the Spider-Man movies to show it on screen. The production added a few easter eggs to make the point. For example, Gwen’s death happens 121 minutes into the film, with a clock in the background showing 01:21. Both are references to issue The Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973), the death of Gwen Stacy.
The Marvel/Disney Reboot (Earth-199999)
Spider-Man received yet another reboot when Marvel/Disney and Columbia Pictures/Sony decided to allow the partnership (read: there was a crap-tonne of money involved). Up until now, all Spider-Man movies were owned by Sony and not Marvel/Disney. This new partnership rebooted the movie AND the licensing arrangements in a wholly unexpected way.
Tom Holland first donned the ‘underoos’ in Captain America: Civil War, with an introduction from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and an amazing side-step around the whole origin story. No spider-bite, no Uncle Ben death. Instead, we have an established Spider-Man who has already impressed Iron Man and ends up with a cool new suit (including his original mechanical web-shooters).
So far, Tom Holland has featured in six (6) MCU films as Spider-Man: Civil War (2016), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2016), Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Avengers: End Game (2019), Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019), and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). The stand-alone Spider-Man films includes Zendaya as MJ (a variant also known as Michelle), Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best bud Ned, and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.
For villains, Homecoming had Michael Keaton as Vulture (casting genius). There is also a surprise cameo appearance by Donald Glover as Aaron Davis (Miles Morales’ uncle). In Far From Home, we have our first mention of alternate universes thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Quentin Beck/Mysterio. No Way Home has its own playbook for villains, bringing in Dr Ock from Maguire’s era and Electro from Garfield’s. In all honesty, I have no idea what is happening but I like it.
Multiverse Facts: No Way Home releases in cinemas on 17 December and there have already been months of speculation as to what the hell is going on. The teaser-trailer has revealed Peter and Dr Strange messing with the multiverse, similar to how Mephisto messes with the timeline in Spider-Man: One More Day written by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, with art by Quesada. The four-part comic book crossover was published in 2007 and received mixed reviews; praise for the art but criticism for the story’s attempt to ‘neatly restructure the Spider-Man titles. Everyone knew Quesada (then Marvel Comics editor-in-chief) did not like Peter and MJ’s marriage but it was still a surprise when they finally went through with this arc.
Into the Spider-Verse (Earth-1610)
While Disney was playing with the rental, Sony continued to develop yet another reboot. Well, not exactly. Into the Spider-Verse is something completely different. For the first time, we meet Miles Morales – also bitten by a radioactive spider but with a slightly different range of skills. He has a brief moment with Peter Parker before picking up the mantle himself. The movie acts as a ‘passing of the torch’; introducing Morales and the idea of the multiverse and showing us how all Spider-Man movies can be canon in their own Spider-Man universe.
Best of all Spider-Man Movies
Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie. It pulls enough from the comics to keep the fans happy. It is also a fresh approach to the Spider-Man story, inviting new fans to join in. Best of all, the story stays consistent and entertaining from beginning to end, with room for all characters to grow.
It stars Shameik Moore as the voice of Miles, an intelligent and rebellious biracial teenager (Black/Puerto Rican descent). The cast also includes Peter Parker (Chris Pine), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Peter Porker (John Mulaney), Peter Parker/Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), and Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld). Yeah, that’s a lot of Parkers. You can blame King Pin (voiced by Liev Schreiber) for the multiverse split, along with his cohorts Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hahn) and Prowler (Mahershala Ali), also known as Aaron Davis and Miles’ own uncle. A sequel is scheduled for October 2022 and I’m here for it.
Spin-Offs from Spider-Man Movies
It’s difficult to point the finger at anyone person…Okay, besides blaming Peter and Dr Strange for messing with the Multiverse, it’s difficult to blame any one person for mixing up all the Spider-Man movies. The introduction of multiverse/Spider-verse feeds the idea of every Spider-Man movie being the ‘real’ Spider-Man. It’s even weirder when they start bleeding into each other.
Venom was released as a stand-alone movie in 2018, starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock (and the voice of Venom). There is no Peter Parker or Spider-Man, with a lot of the influence coming from two comic book series: Venom: Lethal Protector (1993) written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Ron Lim, and Planet of the Symbiotes (1995) also written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Ralph Cabrera, Joe St. Pierre, Kyle Hotz, Darick Robertson, and Steve Lightle. Hardy stole the show, thanks to his bromance with Venom and the dark humour. Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed also featured in supporting roles.
Venom is not the only Spider-verse anti-hero to get their own movie. Morbius is scheduled for release in January 2022, bringing the ‘Living Vampire’ to the big screen. Starring Jared Leto in the titular role, the story follows the origins of Morbius and his role as an anti-hero with no cares left. Sony has confirmed Morbius is set in the same universe as Venom while giving some pretty strong indicators of other connections too.
IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN MORBIUS OR VENOM 2: LET THERE BE CARNAGE, STOP READING NOW. THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD.
Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage sees the return of Hardy as Brock/Venom along with Woody Harrelson as the terrifying Red/Carnage. The film is inspired by the comic book story arc “Maximum Carnage”, a 14-part crossover published in 1993. The film was released on 1 October 2021 in the USA. What’s most interesting, from a Spider-Man point of view, is the end-credits scene where Brock/Venom is brought into the Far From Home world and sees J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) on the television. This also ties in with Morbius featuring Vulture (Michael Keaton), from Homecoming.
Spider-Man will always be one of the quintessential characters in superhero lore. Unfortunately, the complicated licensing history for the movies has created a very tangled web of storylines, character histories, and potential cross-overs. This is why fans are so excited about No Way Home. This could potentially be the one movie to bring it all together in one nice neat package. To be clear, there is no single Spider-Man sitting higher than any others. Pick your favourite. Take something from the Maguire era, mix it with a bit of Garfield’s era, throw it in the air with Holland’s era, and then mash it up with Morales in the Spider-verse. They are all your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Every single one of them.