Making a film is undoubtedly hard but getting stuck in Development Hell is all too easy. Spider-Man found himself inside the realms of development hell for a long time before he finally made it to movie screens in the summer of 2002; a triumphant moment that saw the film open to the largest box office opening weekend at the time and cemented the character as the lead of what was to be one of the biggest movie franchises of the 2000s, while becoming pivotal in furthering Hollywood’s interest in comic books and superheroes.
Like Batman, it’s easy to think of Spider-Man as being a character that we’ve seen a lot of on our cinema screens. Anytime a Batman actor leaves, or a particular branch of the cinematic franchise is finished, it seems only a short time passes before we get another one.
Given the three faces that have worn the Spider-Man mask since 2002, it’s hard to forget that Peter Parker’s journey to the cinema screen was one fraught with difficulties and legalities. The rights to the character were sold by Marvel at a time when the company was going through a period of financial upheaval; landing initially at Cannon Studios, then subsequently Carolco where it was at one time a project pursued by James Cameron who had even gotten as far as writing a detailed treatment for what his movie would be, before eventually finding a home, still to this day, at the Sony-owned Columbia Studios.
Many writers had contributed scripts, but in the end, it would be David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way) that would bring a workable shooting script to order with the directorial duties handed to Sam Raimi, infamous for having directed The Evil Dead series of films and the superheroic-flavoured Darkman. Raimi may have seemed an unusual choice, but it continued Hollywood’s manner of handing a superhero property to a director who may have seemed unusual but managed to bring the film together brilliantly.
The next question would be who would play the lead role, one of the most iconic and famous in all of comic books and a flagship character for Marvel Comics. The choice of Tobey Maguire seemed, once again, unusual and unexpected, but like a lot of these things, the choice worked a charm and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the role at the time.
The rest of the cast would fill out nicely with Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, JK Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson (and to this day it’s hard to think of the possibility of anyone else playing that role), Rosemary Harris as Aunt May, James Franco as Harry Osborne, and Willem Dafoe as Harry’s father Norman, aka The Green Goblin.
With X-Men having made its debut two years previously to critical acclaim and pretty decent box office, excitement was palpable for another Marvel property, but where X-Men did decent business, and could be seen as a ‘year zero’ for the current generation of superhero films and their proliferation in Hollywood, Spider-Man would be the film that would prove that genre movies still had the ability to do the type of business that had previously been the domain of the earlier Superman films starring Christopher Reeve, and 1989’s Batman.
Spider-Man‘s opening box office weekend of $114 million marked the first time a film opened to over one hundred million dollars on the first weekend of release, and with a plethora of positive critical reviews and audience reactions, launched the character as a popular franchise during the decade.
Raimi may have been famous for directing horror films, but he brought a delicate tone to proceedings with emphasis on humour, emotion and romance that might have come as a surprise to audiences only familiar with the onslaught of comedic horror that came from The Evil Dead series. The film also felt like a lighter concoction than Darkman, but the murder of Uncle Ben did emphasise a tragic aura similar to that film, brilliantly helped by the performances of Maguire and Cliff Robertson as Ben.
There was an element of controversy in the UK due to the film’s 12 rating which stopped younger fans from seeing it, and was a large part of the reasoning for the BBFC to create the 12A rating – a UK equivalent to the US PG-13 rating.
Spider-Man may not be a part of a larger cinematic universe as franchise films are prone to be nowadays, but its tone and brilliant way of mixing high octane special/visual effects sequences, sense of humour and unabashed emotions could be seen as an influence on Marvel’s output when they would set up their own studio a mere four years later. No surprise that one of the associate producers credited on this film was a certain Kevin Feige.