The modern run of Spider-Man films began in 2002 with the enormously successful Spider-Man, directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as the Spidey. That movie is also considered by many as the beginning of the modern blockbuster superhero film era.
Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel’s most reliable characters, spurring many additional titles and spin-off characters. It’s, of course, odd then that Marvel/Disney don’t own the film rights to the franchise outright. The story of that dates back to the 1980’s when Marvel wasn’t in the movie production game. They licensed out the film rights to many of their characters to movie studios, the most famous of which are Spider-Man, retained by SONY, and the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters, who are held by 20th Century Fox. Why would Stan Lee and Marvel give away the rights to some of their most beloved characters? Money. Marvel was in the comics game, and DC was doing OK with licensing out Superman and Batman, so Stan Lee sold the rights to Spider-Man. There’s a really detailed article here that describes in detail the long path to the 2002 release of Spider-Man. Sadly, despite the licensing agreement, it took years to bring a legitimate Spidey film to the big screen, as the rights became held up in courts for many years. This short excerpt from the above article gives you an idea of just how complicated the whole things was.
“By the summer of 1994, James Cameron’s Spider-Man movie was effectively murdered, as the property became ensnared in various lawsuits. Golan suing Carolco was followed by Carolco suing Columbia TriStar and Viacom to try and nullify their TV and home video rights. Both Columbia TriStar and Viacom countersued Carolco, then sued 21st Century Films (Golan) to void the other Spider-Man contracts, and they also sued Marvel for the Spider-Man rights overall. MGM, who had been bought by Pathe at this point, thought it should have inherited the Spider-Man rights from purchasing Cannon, so they sued everyone (Golan, Globus, 21st Century Films, Columbia TriStar, Viacom, and Marvel) for fraud. 20th Century Fox even entered the fold, suing Carolco because the contract they had made with James Cameron before True Lies gave them exclusive rights to his next movie, which Carolco claimed would be Spider-Man.”
Once they were able to sort out the legal who’s who of Spider-Man, SONY, who owned Columbia Tri-Star ended up with the film rights for $10 million, and away they went. After some back and forth about who would direct the film, Sam Raimi was chosen, and his treatment of the film was pretty true to the original story, with the correct origin story and Spidey as a wise-cracking teenager. The original film had a $139 million budget and made $821.7 million when all was said and done, and Sam Raimi’s sequel option was triggered. It had a real comic book feel to it, and the casting was excellent. Willem DaFoe’s Norman Osborne and JK Simmon’s J. Jonah Jameson were both a joy to watch.
The second film, imaginatively named Spider-Man 2, is often held up as one of the best film’s that the genre has to offer. Alfred Molina’s, Doctor Octopus was outstanding, and, like the first film, it was a story based on one villain. With a slightly higher budget of $200 million, and slightly lower box office returns of $738.8 million, the film made a bit less, but still cleared over a half a billion dollars, and that was enough to get a third installment.
The third film, became a bit of a mess from the get-go. Raimi had proven his chops for directing this kind of blockbuster, and the thing you should usually do at that point is jump in and micro-manage. Studio execs did just that and told Raimi which characters needed to appear (as they were building some ideas for spin-off films, I imagine) and a full blown Venom story was jammed into the already crowded film. I think most people will agree that there was just too many separate storylines going on for one film, and I even wrote about that when Spider-Man: Homecoming was announced.
Spider-Man 3, while generally not well liked by fans and critics alike (for good reason), grossed the highest of all of the 5 modern Spidey films at $890.9 million. It didn’t make quite as much as Spider-Man 1, because of it’s budget of $258 million, a full $120 million above the first film. Money made…lots of it, so why no Spider-Man 4?
Spider-Man 4 actually got out of the gates. Raimi was set to direct again. He wanted to use The Vulture as his main villain, and the name attached to that role was none other John Malkovich. Anne Hathaway would also star as Felicia Hardy, BUT she would not play the Black Cat, but instead The Vulturess, who would be a character going on to replace Adrian Toomes, who was older, as far as villains go. The studio, however, had other ideas, wanting Spider-Man to fight The Lizard as the main villain. The character of Dr. Curt Connors, played by Dylan Baker, had already been established in Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3. Raimi dug in his heels to develop his story, while the studio began to quietly work on a different script. It was 2008ish and Tobey Maguire was 33 at this point. While Kirsten Dunst was 7 years younger and still had a real wish that there was a fourth installment. In 2010, Raimi said he couldn’t make a good film, Sony announced that they were rebooting the franchise, and it was a sort of unceremonious end to what had been a record breaking franchise at the time.
The Amazing Spider-Man with Marc Webb directing and Andrew Garfield in the titular role began production in 2010. The film would use the draft that was written using The Lizard as the main villain, but also spend time exploring the backstory of Peter Parker’s lost parents. Quite frankly, for me, the lost parents story was the weakest part of the film, and ended up with an awful twist on Spider-Man’s origin story. (See #7 in Lou’s RANKED! article). It was a Spider-Man film though, and did manage to gross about $750 million. It was the lowest return on a Spidey film to date, but still nothing to sneeze at.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Sony really needs to hire a person to help with names) kicked off production right after, and it fell prey to many of the same problems as Spider-Man 3. For whatever reason, the team decided to continue to follow the terrible plot about Pete’s parents. Additionally, since they had an awesome Gwen Stacy in Emma Stone, they decided to play with the highly lauded and heartwrenchingly sad “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” story arc from the comics. That decision demanded that they bring back the Green Goblin, this time played by Dane DeHaan. If that wasn’t enough they also introduced Jamie Foxx as Electro and Paul Giamatti as Rhino. WAYYYYY too much going on. The story was a muddy mess. The film boasted the highest budget of all Spider-Man films to date at $293 million, and also grossed the lowest of any of the five at $709 million. Even Spider-Man: Homecoming only spent $175 million.
The plan at the time also involved a series of other films in the Spiderverse that Sony had developed. A Venom film and a Sinister Six film were both in preproduction in addition to an Amazing Spider-Man 3, but the disappointing performance of the film caused all of those to be shelved or scrapped. (In a recent interview by Spider-Man: Homecoming co-producer and former Sony Pictures head, Amy Pascal hinted that there are Black Cat and Venom movies still in development. After a stumble in an interview, both Marvel head Kevin Feige and Pascal clarified that only Spider-Man is part of the MCU, and not those additional characters, as Pascal may have alluded to.) At the same time that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was not performing as hoped, Marvel and Sony were in conversations about using Spidey in the MCU for Civil War (Spider-Man was a big part of the original comicbook story). The combination of a lower than expected box office performance with the Webb and Garfield team, as well as negotiations between studios for the web-head to appear in the MCU, caused The Amazing Spider-Man 3 to be scrapped. Unlike Spider-Man 4, TASM 3 never really got out of the blocks. There were talks of a few actors who would appear, including Divergent’s Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson, but a script was never actually developed.
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The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook,Twitter,and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.
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