How Spider-Man (Finally!) Swung Success

 

Spidey sense? No one had it at first, as the arachnid teen, now turning 50, first stumbled as a TV series, then as an aborted movie before Marvel morphed him into a billion-dollar franchise.

1962: ORIGIN STORY

Marvel owner Martin Goodman asks editor Stan Lee to come up with characters like 1961's The Fantastic Four. His idea: Peter Parker, a spiderlike teen with "a lot of personal problems that readers could empathize with," recalls Lee. Spider-Man appears in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. After Goodman sees big sales, The Amazing Spider-Man launches in 1963.

1967: ANIMATED SERIES

Airing on ABC from 1967 to 1970, Spider-Man is best known for its theme song, penned by Oscar winner Paul Francis Webster. Famed animator Ralph Bakshi recalls working with a paltry $14,000-an- episode budget. "If I was short on footage, I would add a swing," he recalls. "It saved my ass."

1977: LIVE-ACTION SERIES

The Amazing Spider-Man runs on CBS for 14 episodes from 1977 to 1979. Ratings are decent (19th in the Nielsens the first season), but CBS cancels it because of high costs and fears of being branded the "superhero network" (it also airs Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk).

1985: ABORTED MOVIE

Cannon Films strikes a five-year movie option deal with Marvel, assigning the director job to Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and running a giant announcement ad (right) in THR. Despite plans to spend about $25 million on the film, "The biggest problem was how to pull off the special effects," recalls Hooper. "It dragged on until I left to do Chainsaw 2." Cannon tried to resurrect the project until it lost the rights in 1990 to Carolco.

1990: TOP-SELLING COMIC

Todd McFarlane (Spawn) comes on board to draw The Amazing Spider-Man. The comic is selling 160,000 to 170,000 copies a month; his art helps propel sales into the 500,000 range. Then Marvel launches Spider-Man (left), which McFarlane draws and writes, and nearly 3 million copies of issue No. 1 swing off shelves. "It was like watching a magic show and then becoming a magician," says McFarlane. His approach to the character? "I ignored the anatomy to get the drama of the image."

2002: MOVIE FRANCHISE

After years of legal wrangling, a Marvel bankruptcy and an abandoned James Cameron treatment, Sony finally gets a movie off the ground with Tobey Maguire (right) starring and Sam Raimi directing. The $139 million-budgeted film scores a then-record $114.8 million opening, leading to two sequels and $2.5 billion in total box office, second only to the Batman franchise.

2004: INTERNATIONAL APPEAL

Marvel reworks the classic character for an Indian audience with a new origin story -- Spidey's powers come from a Hindu yogi, not a radioactive spider -- and a costume modeled on a traditional dhoti. A Japanese manga-inspired version reimagines Peter Parker as the last member of a ninja group called the Spider Clan. Sales aren't strong enough to keep the experiments going beyond 2006.

2010: STAGE FRIGHT

Despite having music by U2's Bono and The Edge, Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark suffers from high costs (a record $65 million-plus budget), accidents (a lead actor falls 30 feet, a stuntman 20 feet) and a record number of previews (183). Still, it sets a single-week record for ticket grosses in January 2012.

NOW: STILL SPINNING

Even without movie promotion, Spider-Man was the best-selling merchandised superhero in 2010 with worldwide retail sales of $590 million, far surpassing Batman ($360 million) and Iron Man ($300 million), according to trade mag The Licensing Letter. "Spider-Man is the flagship for us," says Mike Ballog, Spider-Man brand manager at Hasbro, keeper of the franchise since 2007. To coincide with the July 3 release of the first live-action movie in five years (starring Andrew Garfield, right, and directed by Marc Webb), Hasbro is bringing 15 assortments to the market. "It's a huge opportunity to introduce the character to a new generation of kids," says Ballog. Creator Lee isn't surprised by Spidey's enduring popularity: "He's an ordinary guy with the frustrations you and I have." Adds Ballog, "Shooting webs is one of the coolest signature moves out there."

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