How do the three Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies rank against each other? Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man spent decades as one of Marvel comics’ most iconic superheroes, but it was a long time before the character received the live-action treatment his status deserved. After some low budget straight-to-television affairs, talk of a Spider-Man blockbuster began as early as the 1980s, but soon evaporated as Hollywood soured on the superhero. As bankruptcy loomed in the 1990s, Marvel sold the movie rights to some of their biggest characters, and Spidey was top of the studio shopping list, swinging over to Sony after a brief development stint under the watchful eye of James Cameron.
After years of legal wrangling and creative dead-ends, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man released in 2002; a modern, visually stunning, big money take on Peter Parker that proved a hit with audiences just as Fox were enjoying their own success with another Marvel purchase, X-Men. Two further entries in Raimi’s Spider-Man canon arrived in 2004 and 2007, but Raimi’s clashes with Sony put paid to a potential fourth movie, resulting in the semi-successful The Amazing Spider-Man reboot and, eventually, a reunion with Marvel, who had spent the past decade building a modest little franchise of their own.
Spider-Man might be on his third actor, but Sam Raimi’s trilogy still holds a fond place in the hearts of many, and considered a hugely influential step towards the current superhero-dominated landscape. All three movies were also incredibly successful at the box office, but which of them swing for the rooftops, and which crash straight into an office window? Here are all three ranked worst to best.
A predictable pick for last place, perhaps, but not without good reason. Despite what some might suggest, Spider-Man 3 isn’t an abject failure by any means. Peter Parker’s relationship struggles and eventual redemption give Sam Raimi’s threequel the relatable foundation that’s so vital to Peter’s character, and the action scenes were as gorgeous a spectacle as one could find in 2007. The overarching stories with Harry Osborn and the death of Uncle Ben came to a conclusion, and Spider-Man 3 didn’t shy away from the darker trials and pitfalls of superhero life. Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3‘s failings overshadowed its positives, especially with two very strong previous efforts to live up to.
Spider-Man 3‘s fatal flaw is that it tries to do far too much, feeling cluttered and unfocused as a result. The villainous trio of Venom, Green Goblin and Sandman prove to be one bad guy too many, and with Peter’s personal storylines thrown into the mix, Spider-Man 3 lacked the streamlined cohesion of its predecessors. Structural problems aside, Spider-Man 3 unwisely committed to some odd creative choices that ended up dominating headlines in the aftermath and still haunt fans in 2020. The portrayal of Venom is a major bone of contention, with Raimi pushed into including the fan-favorite character by producer Avi Arad. Eddie Brock’s Venom in Spider-Man 3 is a shadow of the symbiote fans know and love, lacking the usual menace and madness. The effect of Venom on Peter Parker is even worse, giving rise to infamous dancing emo Peter Parker that was rude, moody and, worst of all, slightly irritable.
These moments of weirdness combined with Spider-Man 3‘s bloated composition effectively ended the franchise. While a fourth movie was in the works initially, Raimi was keen to avoid the issues suffered by his third film and sought more time from the studio, who were unwilling to oblige. In more recent years, Sam Raimi has continued to acknowledge Spider-Man 3‘s failings, describing the film as “awful” and bemoaning his lack of creative control.
It may be the middle entry in this list, but 2002’s Spider-Man is by no means an average superhero movie, spearheading a new wave of comic book characters on the big screen that still shows no sign of slowing down. Along with the 2000 X-Men movie, Spider-Man helped redefine what superheroes looked like in live-action, blending traditional comic book-isms with a more cinematic, real-world setting that inadvertently paved the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of the source material did take exception to a few changes Raimi’s Spidey was making. The mechanical web-shooters carried over from James Cameron’s plans caused a minor stir, and Peter Parker being played by a distinctly not-school-age Tobey Maguire ruffled feathers. Fortunately, the overall impact of the finished product and the vivid realization of Spider-Man on film rendered these issues relatively minor.
By modern standards, Spider-Man might look a little basic – a classic origin story pitting Peter Parker against one of his most famous foes in Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin, with Mary Jane Watson as the two-dimensional love interest. But this formula only seems derivative now because Spider-Man laid out the template 18 years prior, forging a modern path after the Superman movies of the 1970s/1980s and the more stylized Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman series. And just as Richard Donner’s first Superman entry made fans believe a man could fly, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man made them believe a man could create a steel-like webbing in his bedroom and swing gracefully from building to building.
Despite the early Maguire criticism, Spider-Man‘s casting was spot on, with the central quartet of Maguire, Dunst, Dafoe and Franco giving performances that echoed all the attributes of their comic counterparts, but simultaneously came across as fully fleshed-out dramatic entities. Sure, the effects might look dated nowadays and today’s audience expect female characters to be more than mere love interests, but Sam Raimi struck a sweet balance between the core components of a good Spider-Man story, and crafted a film that appealed to Spidey fanatics and arachnid amateurs alike.
If the biggest criticism of Raimi’s first Spider-Man effort is aging poorly, the same can’t be said of the director’s follow-up. Moving away from the confines of Peter Parker’s origin story took the reins off Spider-Man 2, allowing the sequel to explore Mary Jane in more detail and fully embrace the duality of Parker and Spider-Man in a moving, emotional, human way. Alfred Molina joined the cast as Doctor Octopus and remains one of the greatest comic book movie villains of all time across any era or franchise. Playing an almost Shakespearean tragic fallen king role, Doc Ock was the perfect antagonist to a now fully-matured Spidey, and with the Osborn story bubbling away in the background, there was plenty for the audience to dig into without the overload of stories and characters that would plague the next offering.
With a tight and compelling narrative that perfectly balanced outright superhero spectacle alongside quieter personal drama, Spider-Man 2 improved on the original movie not by trying to do everything bigger and better, but by offering richer detail and organically expanding upon elements already in place. Spider-Man 2‘s success is encapsulated in the scene where Spider-Man saves a trainload of passengers from his multi-armed nemesis. This famous scene remains the pinnacle of superhero cinema, giving Raimi’s world a deep connection between the protagonist and ordinary people – something modern movies are often guilty of ignoring. Spider-Man 2 also avoids the classic third act collapse so many superhero movies fall victim to, finishing with a flourish and tying every story off in a thrilling and kinetic climax.
The Dark Knight went darker and Captain America: The Winter Soldier upped the scale, but despite its age, Spider-Man 2 still goes toe-to-toe with those titles for the “best superhero movie ever” gong, delivering in every area, whilst also showing better longevity compared to the original, wearing the passage of time with far more grace. Awards success, glowing reviews and box office domination would follow, and the second wave of Spider fever gripped even harder than the first, leaving an impossibly high bar for the inevitable third film to reach (although it might’ve tried a little harder). For all of Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland’s merits, Spider-Man 2 remains the definitive big screen depiction of the web-slinger.
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