'Spider-Man' Movies Revisited: The Forgotten and Amazing Big-Screen Adventures

From Nicholas Hammond to Andrew Garfield, return to the numerous attempts to bring Marvel's fan-favorite wall crawler to the multiplex.
Courtesy of Marvel

Spider-Man might be able to do whatever a spider can, but based on his cinematic career to date, that doesn't include the ability to hold down a successful movie franchise.

Although the Marvel Entertainment character has been on the big screen since the late 1970s, it's only in the last 14 years that he's really been a regular presence, with five movies (and one reboot) ahead of his Marvel Studios debut in this week's Captain America: Civil War.

But which of the onscreen Spider-Men have been closest to the comic book original? Which movie has managed to find the right mix of soap opera and superheroics that's integral to the character's appeal? And, as we should ask of all movies, which of the many Spider-Man features includes an entirely unnecessary jazz club sequence that saps momentum out of the storytelling?

The Amazing Spider-Man/Spider-Man Strikes Back/Spider-Man: The Dragon's Challenge (1977, 1978, 1979)

The first Spider-Man movies to hit theaters weren't exactly movies — instead, episodes of the short-lived U.S. television series, with the former Von Trapp moppet Nicholas Hammond, were edited together for theatrical release internationally. For those who loved the comic book character for his over-the-top villains and loving supporting cast, this incarnation of the character would only be a disappointment, with both all but absent (Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson made the cut for the onscreen version, but he was about it) in favor of some cheaper, less interesting alternatives. Definitely not a good start, but the only way was up after this.

Spider-Man (1978)

Even as the U.S. Spider-Man TV show was getting repackaged as a movie property, the same was happening for Toei's Japanese reinvention of the character, who shared a name and costume with the original, but nothing else: Takuya Yamashiro was a motocross racer who gained powers via a Spider-Extract that was injected into his body by an alien, and.… Well, I think you get the picture. Unlike the Hammond movies, however, the Toei movie contained original material, slotting in between the 10th and 11th episodes of the series. The series would fun for 41 episodes, but no second movie was ever made.

Spider-Man (2002)

After more than a decade of development that included multiple studios (Both Cannon Films and Carolco Pictures had the rights at various points in time) and directors, including James Cameron, it was the partnership of Sony Pictures and Sam Raimi that created the first, true big-screen version of Peter Parker. Tobey Maguire played Peter Parker as being perpetually surprised by everything around him, while Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn was a scenery-chewing bad guy trapped in a ridiculous metal suit. The highlight of the movie — beyond J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson, that is — was watching the CGI Spider-Man leap across the skyline of New York City, looking far more believable than any comic book fan could have imagined.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

The highlight of the Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man 2 sees Maguire settle into the role and introduces Doctor Octopus, a classic comic book villain brought to wonderfully campy life by Alfred Molina. Mixing melodramatic soap opera with grand-stakes superheroics, this is the Spider-Man movie that feels most authentic to the original comic book — even if there's still something a little off about the lead character, compared with his comic book roots. Somehow, Maguire couldn't quite pull off the quips and quick wit fans would expect, and a further attempt to make him seem cooler would sink the next installment altogether.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

What is there to say about Spider-Man 3? It's a movie that's been much maligned by fans since its release, and sadly, they have a point — the movie tries to juggle far too much, and ends up unsatisfying on almost every level as a result, bringing in two new villains (the Sandman and Venom), trying to close out the origin of the second Green Goblin, giving Mary Jane a rival for Peter's affections and featuring a "darker" Peter who likes jazz clubs as a result of alien intervention, with none of it adding up to a satisfying movie. Somewhere in this movie, there are good ideas that deserved better…but good luck finding them under the weight of everything else that's been piled on top.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Five years after Raimi and Maguire both left the franchise, Sony started over with a new Spidey — Andrew Garfield, who managed to find the humor in the role that eluded Maguire — and a new status quo that included a backstory about Peter's dead parents that never quite came to fruition. There was, nonetheless, a lot to like about the new series, not least of which was Emma Stone as new love interest Gwen Stacy. Rhys Ifans played Curtis Connors, a scientist sadly fated to become the Lizard, but the movie wasn't really about the villain, this time around: iI was an attempt to reposition Spider-Man as a YA property that just happened to include superheroics. In that, at least, it succeeded.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

The most recent solo Spider-Man movie seemed like a surreal retread of Spider-Man 3, all the way down to having three villains, one of whom was the son of Norman Osborn turning into the Green Goblin. Once again overstuffed and lacking a coherent through line to the plot, events — which included the death of Gwen Stacy, echoing a comic plot that almost every fan would've been happy to skip this time around — were complicated by flashbacks to Peter Parker's parents, who apparently had some big dramatic secret to share…except that audiences wouldn't get to find out what that was, because plans for a third movie were shelved after the poor performance of this go-around. All in all, a surprisingly unsatisfying movie, especially given what had come just one installment before.

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