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The Spider-Man film series' consists of three superhero films based on the fictional Marvel Comics character of the same name, portrayed by Tobey Maguire. The rights to a motion picture based on Spider-Man were purchased in 1985 and moved through various production companies and studios, at one point having James Cameron to direct, before being secured by Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony hired comic book fan Sam Raimi to direct the films. Throughout the series, Spider-Man developed a relationship with his school crush Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), and has battled the villains Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), New Goblin (James Franco), Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and Venom (Topher Grace). While the films' central storylines have been concluded, the studio plans to develop more films, continuing Spider-Man's adventures.

The series, produced on a total budget of US$597 million, grossed $2,000,000,000 worldwide. Each film set several box office records, with all three included in the top 20 highest-grossing domestic films as well as the top 25 highest-grossing worldwide films. Critics have given the films positive to mixed reviews. The series has been released on both DVD and Blu-ray.


Cannon Films development period

The disappointing performance of 1983's Superman III made comic book adaptations low priority in Hollywood, though the comic industry itself thrived. In 1985, after a brief option on Spider-Man by Roger Corman expired, Marvel Comics optioned the property to Cannon Films. Cannon chiefs Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus agreed to pay Marvel Comics $225,000 over the five-year option period plus a percentage of the film’s revenues. The rights would revert to Marvel if a film was not made by April 1990.

Tobe Hooper, then preparing both Invaders From Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, was mooted as director. Golan and Globus misunderstood the concept of the character ("They thought it was like The Wolf Man", said director Joseph Zito) and instructed writer Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits, to write a treatment reflecting their misconception. In Stevens’s story, a corporate scientist intentionally subjects ID-badge photographer Peter Parker to radioactive bombardment, transforming him into a hairy, suicidal, eight-armed monster. The human tarantula refuses to join the scientist’s new master-race of mutants, battling a succession of mutations kept in a basement laboratory.

Unhappy with the debasement of his comic book creation, Marvel’s Stan Lee pushed for a new story and screenplay, written for Cannon by Ted Newsom and John Brancato. The variation on the origin story had Otto Octavius as a teacher and mentor to a college-age Peter Parker. The cyclotron accident which "creates" Spider-Man also deforms the scientist into Doctor Octopus and results in his mad pursuit of proof of the Fifth Force. Ock reconstructs his cyclotron and causes electromagnetic abnormalities, anti-gravity effects, and bilocation which threatens to engulf New York and the world. Joseph Zito, who had directed Cannon’s successful Chuck Norris film Invasion USA, replaced Tobe Hooper. The new director hired Barney Cohen to rewrite the script. Cohen, creator of TV's Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Forever Knight, added action scenes, a non-canonical comic verizon wireless for the villain, gave Doc Ock the catch phrase, "Okey-dokey", and altered his goal from the Fifth Force to a quest for anti-gravity. Producer Golan (using his pen name "Joseph Goldman") then made a minor polish to Cohen's rewrite. Zito scouted locations and studio facilities in both the U.S. and Europe, and oversaw storyboard breakdowns supervised by Harper Goff. Cannon planned to make the film on the then-substantial budget of between $15 and $20 million.

While no casting was finalized, Zito expressed interest in actor/stunt man Scott Leva, who had posed for Cannon's promotional photos and ads, and made public appearances as Spider-Man for Marvel. The up-and-coming actor Tom Cruise was also discussed for the leading role. Zito considered Bob Hoskins as Doc Ock. Stan Lee expressed his desire to play Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson. Lauren Bacall and Katharine Hepburn were considered for Aunt May, Peter Cushing as a sympathetic scientist, and Adolph Caesar as a police detective. With Cannon finances siphoned by the expensive Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe, the company slashed the proposed Spider-Man budget to under $10 million. Director Zito opted out, unwilling to make a compromised Spider-Man. The company commissioned low-budget rewrites from writers Shepard Goldman, Don Michael Paul, and finally Ethan Wiley, and penciled in company workhorse Albert Pyun as director, who also made script alterations.

Scott Leva was still associated with the character through Marvel (he had appeared in photo covers of the comic), and read each draft. Leva commented, "Ted Newsom and John Brancato had written the script. It was good but it needed a little work. Unfortunately, with every subsequent rewrite by other writers, it went from good to bad to terrible." Due to Cannon's assorted financial crises, the project shut down after spending about $1.5 million on the project. In 1989, Pathé, owned by corrupt Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti, acquired the overextended Cannon. The filmmaking cousins parted, Globus remaining associated with Pathé, Golan leaving to create 21st Century Film Corporation, keeping a number of properties (including Spider-Man) in lieu of a cash buy-out. He also extended his Spider-Man option with Marvel up to January 1992.

Golan shelved the low-budget rewrites and attempted to finance an independent production from the original big-budget script, already budgeted, storyboarded and laid out. At Cannes in May 1989, 21st Century announced a September start date, with ads touting the script by "Barney Cohen, Ted Newsom & John Brancato and Joseph Goldman." As standard practice, Golan pre-sold the unmade film to raise production funds, with television rights bought by Viacom and home video rights by Columbia Pictures, which wanted to establish a studio franchise. Stephen Herek was attached as director at this point. Golan submitted this "new" screenplay to Columbia in late 1989 (actually the 1985 script with an adjusted "1989" date) and the studio requested yet another rewrite. Golan hired Frank LaLoggia, who turned in his draft but grew disenchanted with 21st Century. Neil Ruttenberg was hired for one more draft, which was also "covered" by script readers at Columbia. Columbia’s script analysts considered all three submissions "essentially the same story." A tentative production deal was set. Said Stan Lee in 1990, "21st Century [is] supposed to do Spider-Man and now they're talking to Columbia and the way it looks now, Columbia may end up buying Spider-Man from 21st Century."

Carolco Pictures

Golan returned to Cannes Film Festivalmarker in 1990 to raise more funds, now taking out trade ads crediting "Neil Ruttenberg and Joseph Goldman" as writers (with a "Credits not contractual" caveat in fine print). However, in Cannes, Carolco outbid Columbia's offer to back the film and acquired all existing Spider-Man material and rights from Golan (Carolco released its films through Columbia's Tri-Star subsidiary.). Carolco agreed to the proviso that Golan would still be considered the producer. James Cameron was officially revealed to be director of the film with pending approval of the studio, due to his success with The Terminator. It was also announced that Cameron would write, direct, and produce the film, which was scheduled for a summer 1994 release. However, aware of cost overruns on Terminator 2, the studio insisted that Cameron would not be paid his $3 million writer's fee unless he provided a completed screenplay which could be budgeted (in their estimation) for $60 million or less.

In the meantime, 21st Century’s Menahem Golan still actively immersed himself mounting "his" Spider-Man, sending the original "Doc Ock" script for production bids. In 1990, he contacted Canadian effects company Light and Motion Corporation regarding the visual effects, which in turn offered the stop-motion chores to Steven Archer (Krull, Clash of the Titans).

Toward the end of shooting True Lies, Variety carried the announcement that Carolco had received a completed screenplay from Cameron. This script bore the names of James Cameron, John Brancato, Ted Newsom, Barry [sic] Cohen and "Joseph Goldmari", a typographical scrambling of Golan's pen name ("Joseph Goldman") with Marvel executive Joseph Calimari. The script text was identical to the one Golan submitted to Columbia the previous year, with the addition of a new 1993 date. Cameron stalwart Arnold Schwarzenegger was frequently linked to the project as the director's choice for Dr. Octopus.As late as 1995, Internet industry sources such as Baseline Hollywood still listed both Neil Ruttenberg (author of one of the 1990 "Doc Ock" variations submitted to Columbia), and James Cameron as co-writers.

Cameron "scriptment"

Months later, James Cameron submitted an undated 47-page "scriptment" with an alternate story (the copyright registration was dated 1991), part screenplay, part narrative story outline. The "scriptment" told the Spider-Man origin, but used variations on the comic book characters Electro and Sandman as villains. This "Electro" (named Carlton Strand, instead of Max Dillion) was a megalomaniacal parody of corrupt capitalists. Instead of Flint Marko's character, Cameron’s "Sandman" (simply named Boyd) is mutated by an accident involving Philadelphia Experiment-style bilocation and atom-mixing, in lieu of getting caught in a nuclear blast on a beach. The story climaxes with a battle atop the World Trade Centermarker and had Peter Parker revealing his identity to Mary Jane Watson. In addition, the treatment was also heavy on profanity, and had Spider-Man and Mary Jane having sex.

This treatment reflected elements in previous scripts: from the Stevens treatment, organic web-shooters, and a villain who tempts Spider-Man to join a coming "master race" of mutants; from the original screenplay and rewrite, weird electrical storms causing blackouts, freak magnetic events and bi-location; from the Ethan Wiley draft, a villain addicted to toxic super-powers and multiple experimental spiders, one of which escapes and bites Peter, causing an hallucinatory nightmare invoking Franz Kafka’s "Metamorphosis"; from the Frank LaLoggia script, a blizzard of stolen cash fluttering down onto surprised New Yorkers; and from the Neil Ruttenberg screenplay, a criminal assault on the NYC Stock Exchange. In 1991, Carolco Pictures extended Golan’s option agreement with Marvel through May 1996, but in April 1992, Carolco ceased active production on Spider-Man due to continued financial and legal problems.

Litigation troubles

When James Cameron agreed to make Spider-Man, Carolco lawyers simply used his previous Terminator 2 contract as a template. A clause in this agreement gave Cameron the right to decide on movie and advertising credits. Show business trade articles and advertisements made no mention of Golan, who was still actively assembling the elements for the film. In 1993, Golan complained publicly and finally instigated legal action against Carolco for disavowing his contractual guarantee credit as producer. On the other hand, Cameron had the contractual right to decide on credits. Eventually, Carolco sued Viacom and Columbia to recover broadcast and home video rights, and the two studios countersued. 20th Century Fox, though not part of the litigation, contested Cameron’s participation, claiming exclusivity on his services as a director under yet another contract. In 1996, Carolco, 21st Century, and Marvel went bankrupt.

Via a quitclaim from Carolco dated March 28, 1995, MGM acquired 21st Century's film library, assets, and received "...all rights in and to all drafts and versions of the screenplay(s) for Spider-Man written by James Cameron, Ted Newsom & John Brancato, Menahem Golan, Jon [sic] Michael Paul, Ethan Wiley, Leslie Stevens, Frank Laloggia, Neil Ruttenberg, Barney Cohen, Shepard Goldman and any and all other writers." MGM also sued 21st Century, Viacom, and Marvel Comics, alleging fraud in the original deal between Cannon and Marvel. In 1998, Marvel emerged from bankruptcy with a new reorganization plan that merged the company with Toy Biz. The courts determined that the original contract of Marvel's rights to Golan had expired, returning the rights to Marvel, but the matter was still not completely resolved. In 1999, Marvel licensed Spider-Man rights to Columbia (by then absorbed by Sony) for a reported $7 million. MGM disputed the legality, claiming it had the Spider-Man rights via Cannon, 21st Century, and Carolco, and threatened to make a competing film.

007 vs. Spider-Man

In the meantime, MGM/UA chief executive John Calley moved to Columbia. Intimately familiar with the legal history of producer Kevin McClory’s claim to the rights to both Thunderball and other related James Bond characters and elements, Calley announced that Columbia would produce an alternate 007 series, based on the "McClory material", which Calley acquired for Columbia. (Columbia had made the original 1967 film spoof of Casino Royale, a non-Eon production.)

Both studios now faced rival projects, which could undercut their own long-term financial stability and plans. Columbia had no consistent movie franchise, and had sought Spider-Man since 1989; MGM/UA’s only reliable source of theatrical income was a new James Bond film every two or three years. An alternate 007 series could diminish or even eliminate the power of MGM/UA’s long-running Bond series. Likewise, an MGM/UA Spider-Man film could negate Columbia’s plans to create an exclusive cash cow. Both sides seemed to have strong arguments for the rights to do such films.

The two studios made a complex trade-off in March 1999. Columbia relinquished its rights to create a new 007 series in exchange for MGM's giving up its claim to Spider-Man. Columbia acquired the rights to all previous scripts in 2000, but exercised options only on the "Cameron Material", i.e., both the completed multi-author screenplay and the subsequent "scriptment." After more than a decade of attempts, Spider-Man truly went into production.

Film series

After a long development history, all of the Spider-Man films were produced by Laura Ziskin and distributed by Columbia Pictures, the primary film production holding of Sony. They were all directed by director Sam Raimi.

Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man follows Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), an orphaned high schooler who pines after popular girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). While on a science class field trip, Peter is bitten by a genetically-engineered "super spider". As a result, Peter gains superhuman abilities, including increased strength, speed, and the abilities to scale walls and generate organic webbing. After his beloved uncle (Cliff Robertson) is murdered, a murder Peter could've easily prevented, the teenager realizes that he must use his newfound abilities to protect New York City. Meanwhile, wealthy industrialist Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the father of Peter's best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco), subjects himself to an experimental performance-enhancing serum, which creates a psychotic and murderous split personality. Donning a military battlesuit, Norman becomes a freakish "Green Goblin", who begins to terrorize the city. Peter, as Spider-Man, now must do battle with the Goblin, all while trying to express his true feelings for Mary Jane.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 picks up two years after the events of the first film. Struggling to balance both his superhero life and private civilian life, Peter still pines after Mary Jane, who's now engaged, and Harry continues to thirst for revenge against Spider-Man. As the stress of his dual life causes Peter's superpowers to wane, the hero must contend with the presence of Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), a.k.a. Dr. Octopus, a mad scientist with four mechanical tentacles fused to his spine who sets out to recreate a dangerous fusion-based experiment that could destroy half of New York City. As the villain rampages across the city, Peter must choose between living the normal life he desires, or committing to his responsibility to protect New York as Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Spider-Man 3 finds Peter (Tobey Maguire) basking in the spotlight as Spider-Man, and finding a balance between being a superhero and being with his love, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Harry (James Franco) finally decides to take his revenge by setting up Mary Jane, then becomes the New Goblin and threatens the elements in Peter's life. Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), another photographer for the Bugle, sets out on a mission to defame Spider-Man and incriminate him. Flint Marko AKA William Baker (Thomas Haden Church), an escaped convict, falls into a particle accelerator and becomes a shape-shifting sand monster later known as Sandman. He sets out to steal money for his chronically ill daughter. Peter later learns that Marko is the one that killed Uncle Ben, causing Peter's own dark intentions to grow. This vendetta is enhanced by the appearance of the mysterious black alien symbiotic substance that bonds to Peter, resulting in the formation of a new, jet-black costume. Once Peter separates himself from the alien, it finds a new host in the form of Brock, resulting in the creation of Venom.

Spider-Man 4 (2011)

Spider-Man 4 is expected to begin shooting in March 2010. The film will be released in both IMAX and conventional theaters nationwide on Friday, May 6, 2011. Sam Raimi will reprise as director, and returning cast members include Maguire, Dunst, J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and Michael Papajohn as Dennis Carradine (despite the latter character's supposed death). Bruce Campbell will also return, in a larger role than his cameos in the first three films, and Dylan Baker will reprise his role as Doctor Curt Connors. The film is being produced by Laura Ziskin, Avi Arad, Todd Black and Grant Curtis; executive producers are Stan Lee, Todd Hallowell and Josh Donen.

Both a fourth and a fifth movie are planned, and at one time the idea of shooting the two sequels concurrently was under consideration. However, Raimi stated in March 2009 that only the fourth film was currently in development. James Vanderbilt was hired in October 2007 to pen the screenplay, after initial reports in early 2007 that Sony Pictures was in contact with David Koepp, who wrote the first Spider-Man film. The script was subsequently rewritten by Pulitzer-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, and rewritten again by Gary Ross in October 2009. Sony has also engaged Vanderbilt to write scripts for Spider-Man 5 and Spider-Man 6.

In 2007, Raimi expressed interest in portraying the transformation of Dr. Curt Connors into his villainous alter-ego, the Lizard; the character's actor Dylan Baker and producer Grant Curtis have also been enthusiastic about the idea. Raimi was also interested in introducing Vulture and Electro into the films, as the next appearance of members of the Sinister Six group of supervillains after Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2) and the Sandman (Spider-Man 3).

Raimi has also said that he hopes to film second unit photography in his home state of Michiganmarker, having considered the location for Spider-Man 3 before opting for the cheaper Cleveland, Ohiomarker.

Venom (2012)

In July 2007, Avi Arad revealed a Venom spin-off was in the works. The studio commissioned Jacob Aaron Estes to write a script, but rejected it the following year. In September 2008, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese (Sony's Zombieland) signed on to write. Stan Lee has been signed on to make a cameo in the film. Rhett Reese later revealed that they had written two drafts for the film and that the studio is pushing the film forward. Gary Ross has been called to do a rewrite, and may also direct the film. Variety has stated that Venom will become an anti-hero instead of a killer. Venom will run as its own movie and Marvel Entertainment will produce the film.

Cast and characters

List indicator(s)

  • Italics indicate a transition to a minor role, such as an extended flashback or mentioned, after the initial appearance.
  • A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
  • An asterisk (*) denotes that the character is deceased.

Character Film
Spider-Man Spider-Man 2 Spider-Man 3 Spider-Man 4
Peter Parker / Spider-Man Tobey Maguire
Mary Jane Watson Kirsten Dunst
Harry Osborn / New Goblin* James Franco  
May Parker Rosemary Harris
Ben Parker* Cliff Robertson Cliff Robertson  
Norman Osborn / Green Goblin* Willem Dafoe Willem Dafoe  
J. Jonah Jameson J. K. Simmons
Joseph "Robbie" Robertson Bill Nunn
Betty Brant Elizabeth Banks
Hoffman Ted Raimi
Bernard John Paxton
Dennis Carradine* Michael Papajohn Mentioned only Michael Papajohn
Flash Thompson Joe Manganiello   Joe Manganiello  
Bone Saw McGraw Randy Savage  
Mendel Stromm* Ron Perkins  
Ring Announcer Bruce Campbell  
Snooty Usher (Dylan Reid)   Bruce Campbell  
Maître d’   Bruce Campbell  
Otto Octavius / Doctor Octopus*   Alfred Molina  
Rosalie Octavius*   Donna Murphy  
John Jameson   Daniel Gillies  
Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard Mentioned only Dylan Baker
Mr. Ditkovich   Elya Baskin  
Ursula Ditkovich   Mageina Tovah  
Mr. Aziz   Aasif Mandvi  
Eddie Brock Jr. / Venom*   Topher Grace  
Flint Marko / Sandman*   Thomas Haden Church  
Gwen Stacy   Bryce Dallas Howard  
Captain George Stacy   James Cromwell  
Emma Marko   Theresa Russell  
Penny Marko   Perla Haney-Jardine  


Box office performance

Film Release date Box office revenue Box office ranking Reference
Worldwide United States United States Outside US Worldwide All time US All time worldwide
Spider-Man May 3, 2002 May 3, 2002 $403,706,375 $418,002,176 $821,708,551 #8 #18
Spider-Man 2 June 30, 2004 June 30, 2004 $373,585,825 $410,180,516 $783,766,341 #11 #25
Spider-Man 3 May 1, 2007 May 4, 2007 $336,530,303 $554,341,323 $890,871,626 #16 #13
Spider-Man film series $1,113,822,503 $1,382,524,015 $2,496,346,518

The three Spider-Man films set new opening day records in the United States in their theatrical debuts. The films are at the top of the domestic rankings of films based on Marvel comics, with Spider-Man ranking first, Spider-Man 2 ranking second, and Spider-Man 3 ranking third. Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3 are also domestically ranked second, third and fourth for all superhero films, with the third film ranking second worldwide for superhero films (behind The Dark Knight). In the United States, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3 are respectively the most successful films produced by Sony/Columbia.

Critical reaction

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic Yahoo! Movies
Overall Cream of the Crop
Spider-Man 90% (207 reviews) 91% (11 reviews) 73% (37 reviews) B+ (12 reviews)
Spider-Man 2 94% (230 reviews) 100% (12 reviews) 83% (41 reviews) A- (13 reviews)
Spider-Man 3 62% (231 reviews) 47% (15 reviews) 59% (40 reviews) B- (14 reviews)

David Ansen of Newsweek enjoyed Spider-Man as a fun film to watch, though he considered Spider-Man 2 to be "a little too self-important for its own good". Ansen saw Spider-Man 3 as a return to form, finding it "the most grandiose chapter and the nuttiest". Tom Charity of CNN appreciated the films' "solidly redemptive moral convictions", also noting the vast improvement of the visual effects from the first film to the third. While he saw the second film's Doc Ock as the "most engaging" villain, he applauded the third film's Sandman as "a triumph of CGI wizardry". Richard Corliss of Time enjoyed the action of the films and thought that they did better than most action movies by "rethinking the characters, the franchise and the genre".

Colin Covert of the Star Tribune praised Spider-Man as a "superb debut" of the superhero as well as Spider-Man 2 as a "superior sequel" for filmgoers who are fans "of spectacle and of story". Covert expressed disappointment in Spider-Man 3 as too ambitious with the multiple storylines leaving one "feeling overstuffed yet shortchanged". Manohla Dargis of The New York Times enjoyed the humor of the first two films, but found it missing in the third installment. Dargis also noted, "The bittersweet paradox of this franchise is that while the stories have grown progressively less interesting the special effects have improved tremendously." Robert Denerstein of the Rocky Mountain News ranked the films from his favorite to his least favorite: Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 3. While Denerstein missed the presence of Alfred Molina as Doc Ock from the second film, he found the third film – despite being "bigger, though not necessarily better" – to have a "satisfying conclusion".

Home media release

All three films were released on DVD, the first two being released exclusively as two-disc sets, with the third film being released in both single and two-disc editions. All three films were later packaged in a "Motion Picture DVD Trilogy" boxed set.

Spider-Man 3 is the only Spider-Man film to be released individually on the high definition Blu-ray format. The first two films are available on Blu-ray, but only as part of a boxed set with the third film called Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy.

All three films are available in the U.S. iTunes store.


  1. David Hughes. The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made ISBN1-55652-449-8
  2. Lee, Stan. "Stan's Soapbox," "Bulletin Bulletins," Marvel comics cover-dated April 1992.
  3. "Bullpen Bulletins," Marvel comics cover-dated July 1992: "Countdown to Spider-Mna: The Motion Picture: 755 days and counting!"
  5. [1] Stan Lee in Venom
  6. Venom Movie is Moving Forward
  7. Gary Ross to Write and Potentially Direct 'Spider-Man' Spinoff 'Venom'
  8. http://[ Venom as an anti-hero]
  9. Marvel Scaring Up a Venom Solo Movie

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