Today Is Spider-Man Day! So Here’s the History of Spider-Man in Film and Television
Today is "Spider-Man Day", celebrating one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time. So today, we're taking a look at the nearly 40 year film and television history of the man that does whatever a spider can. For this, we're only looking at TV shows and movies where Spider-Man was the featured character, not including shows where the character made a guest appearance.
Jointly produced between Canada (voice talent) and America (animation), the first Spider-Man cartoon was very faithful to the source material. Towards the end of its three-season run, a drop in production value was apparent with obvious reusing of scenes from old episodes. Recently, Spider-Man has been the source of an internet meme, using awkward screen shots from the series.
The first live-action Spider-Man centered series, The Amazing Spider-Man only lasted 13 episodes, including the made-for-television movie that acted as the pilot episode. The pilot episode and other episodes would be released in other countries and full-length films. For this series the character of Peter Parker was slightly altered from a high school student to a college student. The show, though earning decent ratings, was highly criticized by fans of the comic book for the changes to the core material and a lack of true super-villains. CBS cancelled The Amazing Spider-Man after reportedly being concerned about having too many comic book projects.
This series came about from a three-year licensing agreement between Marvel and the Toei Company in Japan, allowing both companies to use each other’s intellectual properties as they saw fit. Spidey’s costume is basically the one similarity between this series and the main Marvel story, with the origin of Toei’s Spider-Man being completely different and Spider-Man using a large robot, Leopardon, to fight monsters. In 2009, Marvel subtitled all 41 episodes and made them available on their website.
The new Spider-Man cartoon followed the live action series by keeping Peter Parker a college student. Not much stands out about this series, and is often confused to be a precursor to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, though both aired at the same time.
Created to replicate the popularity of The Superfriends on ABC, NBC created this cartoon centering on Spider-Man, Ice Man, and Firestar. As this and Spider-Man share identical designs, soundtracks, and title cards, it is often believed that this was a follow-up to the other series. However, both shows ran at the same time and it wasn’t until the final season of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends where flashback episodes referenced the other series.
Airing on Fox Kids, this cartoon version of Spider-Man was Marvel’s second longest running cartoon behind X-Men. The series avoided an origin story, picking up right away with an established Spider-Man and Peter Parker back in college. The series was very popular among loyal fans, delving further into the lore of Spider-Man than any interpretation before it, bringing in S.H.I.E.L.D. and other characters like Iron Man, Captain America, The Punisher, and the Fantastic Four. The series was also known for a high level of censorship, with Spider-Man rarely in a physical confrontation with another character and laser guns instead of actual firearms.
Originally conceived to be a low-budget adaptation of the first 26 issues of ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ comic book, licensing and production disputes resulted in Spider-Man having to be depicted in a brand new costume and a new story being developed. For this series, Peter Parker is blamed for John Jameson losing contact with Earth while attempting to find Counter-Earth, an alternate Earth constantly on the opposite side of the Sun from us. The show was cancelled after only a few episodes, and then later picked back up for a few more episodes, totaling 13 and ending on a cliffhanger.
After several failed attempts to bring Spider-Man to the big screen, including a failed attempt by James Cameron, Spider-Man hit theaters with Tobey Maguire in the title role and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson, a role rumored to have been given to actress Alicia Witt before Dunst arranged for the role to be given to her instead. Going back to a high-school scenario, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was extremely faithful to the source material, being one of the few interpretations of the Green Goblin (Willem Defoe) to feature the character’s split personality and going into Peter’s attempts to being a Pro Wrestler before a vigilante. However, one controversial change was made, doing away with Spider-Man’s webshooters and giving the character organic webbing that shoots out from his wrist, a change praised by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee.
Following the events of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man, this series stood out from the rest of the animated shows by using CGI and cell-shading. Airing on MTV for a single 13-episode season, The New Animated Series had a much more mature tone than its predecessors, showing characters dying and implying other characters having sex. After its initial season, MTV felt the ratings weren’t high enough to warrant a second season, leaving the show ended on a cliffhanger. This is also the first Spider-Man animated series to use known actors for the voice cast, with Neil Patrick Harris as Peter Parker, and others actors like Michael Clarke Duncan, Ed Asner, and Rob Zombie providing supporting roles.
Often praised as one of the best comic book films ever made, Spider-Man 2 harkened back to the original comics more so than its predecessor, going as far as to recreate an iconic scene from the comics where Peter Parker decides to quit being Spider-Man and leaves his suit in the trash. Alfred Molina, though a fan of Marvel comics, wasn’t too familiar with the character of Doc Ock before being cast. Molina researched the character and asked that, no matter what changes had to be made to update the character, Ock’s dark sense of humor remained. After injuring his back on the set of Seabiscuit, Maguire almost had to drop out of the role of Spider-Man, which would have gone to Jake Gyllenhaal who was dating Kirsten Dunst at the time. Maguire recovered in time and earned $17 million for his performance.
As a follow-up to one of the best comic books films ever, Spider-Man 3 was a financial success but is widely considered to be a failure compared to its predecessors. The film has been highly criticized for too many villains (Venom, Sandman, and New Goblin), poor casting choices (Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom), Peter Parker going emo, and a pointless inclusion of a classic character (Bryce Dallas Howard as Gwen Stacy). Even though the film was unpopular with fans, two more sequels were planned, both to be directed by Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire, and featuring Anne Hathaway as Black Cat. After disputes with the studio, Raimi left the project and the sequels were cancelled, making Spider-Man 3 the final film for this series.
Airing on the CW and later Disney XD, The Spectacular Spider-Man focused on the original stories from Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, while integrating aspects from various points in the Spider-Man lore. This version of Spider-Man also went back to Peter Parker being a high school student, a Junior at the start of the series, and once again bypassing an origin story at the start. This series is also unique for focusing the love story on Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey as it was in the comics instead of the more commonly known Mary Jane Watson, whom Peter dated and married after Gwen was killed.
After the success of the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy, there was a desire to make a new film that would stand on its own and not feel like a continuation of the previous films. The Amazing Spider-Man took the series in a new direction, immediately starting with Gwen Stacy being the love interest, focusing on Dr. Connors as the villain “The Lizard”, the return to Peter creating mechanical webshooters, using more live action for the web-swinging, and delving more into Peter’s parents and why he was raised by his Aunt and Uncle. The tone of the film was also a bit darker, portraying Peter as a sarcastic and somewhat angry young genius rather than the unassuming geek. The Amazing Spider-Man was a critical and financial success, leading to two sequels being approved.
The most recent animated adaptation of Spider-Man is being written by the same writers as the comic book of the same name. This version of Spider-Man has capitalized on the popularity of the Marvel film series, integrating Spider-Man into S.H.I.E.L.D. and having several actors reprise their roles from the films, such as J.K. Simmons and Clark Gregg voicing J. Jonah Jameson and Agent Coulson respectively.
The first of two sequels greenlit after The Amazing Spider-Man, this film will reunite almost even member of the first cast, even those who were killed off. This time around, Peter Parker will deal with two villains, Electro played by Jamie Foxx and Rhino played by Paul Giamatti. Paul Giamatti has confirmed that he’s signed on for both this film and the next; leading to speculation that the super-villain group “The Sinister Six” will be making an appearance. Shailene Woodley from The Secret Life of the American Teenager had filmed scenes as Mary Jane Watson, but her role was ultimately cut to focus on the relationship between Peter and Gwen. This film is also believed to feature the death of Gwen Stacy after set photos were released showing actress Emma Stone wearing clothing almost identical to what the character wore in the comics when she was killed.
First released as an easter egg on the first X-Men DVD release, this blooper shows Spider-Man's "cameo" during the Statue of Liberty battle.