With Sam Raimi's original game-changing blockbuster turning 20 this week, we take stock of the web-slinger's filmic ventures so far...
Has it really been 20 years since Tobey Maguire donned the Spidey suit for the first time, and – along with co-star Kirsten Dunst – performed that iconic upside-down kiss in the rain? Yes, this week marks the 20th anniversary of Sam Raimi's seminal superhero blockbuster Spider-Man, arguably the most influential comic book movie of all-time, and the one that set the prescient for the modern superhero movie as we know it. As fate would have it, Raimi returns to the director's chair for the first time in ten years this week, too, with another Marvel venture, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness – his first as part of the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. And how interesting it is to explore the timeframe between these two very different features, one movie essentially procuring the existence of the other, 20 years down the line.
To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the film that arguably kicked off the 21st century's comic book movie obsession, we've looked back at every Spider-Man film to date in order to ask: which one slings webs around the others?
9. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
An inarguable mess of a movie whose only redeeming factor is the on-screen chemistry shared between Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy (enhanced, perhaps, by their real life relationship at the time). Elsewhere, too many villains and a chaotic script makes this an outright chore to endure. Andrew Garfield deserved better – a movie so muddled that it brought his run as the web-slinger to an abrupt end.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Faring better than its sequel, this is still an uneven movie in many regards, though it's held together by Andrew Garfield's likeable turn as the eponymous hero. Emma Stone shines as Gwen Stacy, but this was also a film that gave us too much of what we'd seen before, reprising similar beats to little overall effect. It was all a bit “been there, done that,” though perfectly watchable.
7. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Misjudged, cringeworthy, tonally bizarre: Spider-Man 3 is all of these things, and yet it's so much more, too, a hodgepodge of wayward elements that makes for one of the weirdest – and at points – absurdly entertaining entries in the series. If you can forget its unforgivable retconning of Uncle Ben's death, and the emo dance sequence (though do we actually like it?), there's plenty to relish here, especially in the first half. The moving scene where Flint Marko is transformed into Sandman remains a triumph of CG wizardry and a franchise high.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Tom Holland established himself as arguably the definitive screen Spider-Man with his arrival in Captain America: Civil War – finally, a Peter Parker who looked age appropriate! He carried the same scrappy charisma into his first big screen solo flick, Homecoming, which also had the inspired idea to cast Zendaya in the role of love-time interest M.J., and Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/The Vulture. This is slick, entertaining filmmaker with enough wit and charm to make you forget there's nothing in the way of memorable action.
5. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
The follow-up to Homecoming benefits from being a lot weirder than its predecessor and taking a few more narrative risks. Assuming the form of a European vacation movie, it doesn't get where it needs to go with quite the same degree of effortlessness, though taking place in the aftermath of the world-changing Avengers: Endgame means it has a lot of cleaning up to do, of which it does a valiant job. The whole movie, true to its villain (Jake Gyllenhaal working tonal wonders as Mysterio), feels like a mischievous slight-of-hand trick – and that's meant in a good way.
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
As an exercise in pure, unadulterated nostalgia, Spider-Man: No Way to Home lacks coherent plotting and falls into logical traps at every turn. Yet it is entirely impossible to resist as a piece of entertaining, so delicious is its premise that unites three generations of Spider-Man – Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, Tom Holland – in a single film and forces them to do battle with the franchise's villains at large (Alfred Molina, flawlessly channelling his Doctor Octopus from 2004, is majestic). The most surprising thing about No Way Home, though, is just how sincere these could-be cameos are played – Garfield, especially, brings his unjustly abandoned series full circle with a poignant, reflective turn. A celebration of Spider-Man.
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
This beautifully animated triumph arguably paved the way for the onslaught of meta-minded superhero yarns we now find ourselves drowning in – but none have yet found the balance of heart, humour and thrills that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did when it landed without expectation and blew audiences away. Repositioning Miles Morales as the key figure in this frantic adventure was an inspired move – and the sheer volume of creativity on display means this one can be enjoyed over and over again.
2. Spider-Man (2002)
It all started here: the first Spider-Man movie set the precedent that has come to define the modern movie-going experience. That is, multiplexes filled with big budget, CG-heavy superhero stories. But this, a blueprint for everything that followed, holds up remarkably well. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man doesn't take itself too seriously, yet still holds real reverence for its source material. Whereas superhero movies predating this one came with a sense of silliness and mockery, here the respect comes through. Lest we not forget Danny Elfman's dynamic score, which really captured what it might feel like to swing effortlessly through the New York skyline, and iconic moments such as Peter and Mary-Jane's upside-down kiss in the rain. Warm and wonderful.
1. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The epitome of Spider-Man movies is also the epitome of the comic book movie genre total: Sam Raimi's second Spider-Man movie built on everything that was great about the first instalment, offering a relentless belt of inventive set-pieces, a genuinely great villain, more complex relationships, while expanding on the turbulent romance between its two leads. Alfred Molina is sensational as Doctor Otto Octavius, but perhaps more than anything, it's this film's post-9/11 vision of New York, and its assured sense of community spirit, that pushes it into the stratosphere of truly great superhero films. Arguably no other comic book movie has struck the right balance of what it means to bring paper panels to the big screen than this masterpiece.
These films are available across various streaming platforms. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is now showing in UK cinemas.