Later this year, Tom Holland will don his spidey suit for the sixth time when Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters. Today it seems like we’ll never stop seeing Spider-Man at the movies, but back in 2002—when Sam Raimi's Spider-Man was released—it seemed amazing that we ever saw him there in the first place. The original film, which saw Tobey Maguire in the title role, was a massive cinematic endeavor that required 17 years, multiple screenplays, a costume theft, and a very convincing CGI performance to complete.
1. It took 17 years to get Spider-Man made.
Before superhero mania took over Hollywood, it was a 17-year journey just to get the character onto the big screen the first time. In 1985, amid lagging studio interest in superhero movies (at the time the only major franchise was Superman, and his series was lagging), cult film powerhouse Cannon Films acquired the movie rights to the character from Marvel for $250,000.
After several script attempts, Cannon folded, and producer Menahem Golan moved the rights to his successor company, 21st Century Films. By 1991, 21st Century was also finished, and Carolco Pictures picked up the rights, which they held until filing for bankruptcy in 1995. The Spider-Man rights then went to MGM, but Marvel—which was undergoing bankruptcy troubles of its own—filed suit, claiming they were due the rights back because the original Carolco option had expired in the summer of 1996, before MGM put a film into production.
Further complicating matters was the fact that 21st Century Film had, once upon a time, sold off home video and television rights to Columbia and Viacom, respectively. Finally, in 1999, the web was untangled when a court dismissed MGM’s claim to Spider-Man. Marvel, with the rights back at home, struck a new deal with Sony Pictures, which released Spider-Man through Columbia Pictures in 2002.
2. James Cameron came close to making his own version of Spider-Man in the 1990s.
When Carolco secured the rights to Spider-Man, they handed the project over to James Cameron, fresh off the success of the Carolco-produced Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Cameron, a lifelong fan of the character, produced a 57-page “scriptment” detailing his vision for the character. The scriptment, which included a romance with Mary Jane Watson and Spider-Man facing off against Cameron’s version of Electro, was well-received, and earned the director the approval of Spidey’s co-creator, Stan Lee. After turning in his version of the story, Cameron set off to make True Lies. In interviews to promote that film, Cameron seemed to indicate that his next project would indeed be Spider-Man, but Carolco’s bankruptcy halted those plans, and he moved on to Titanic instead.
3. Several major directors were considered to sit behind the camera for Spider-man.
By the time Columbia began production, Cameron was no longer interested in Spider-Man, preferring instead to devote himself to his own original creations. Hoping to land a big-time director for their big-time film, Columbia considered Roland Emmerich, Chris Columbus, and David Fincher, who wanted to gloss over Spider-Man’s origin and focus on the famous Death of Gwen Stacy storyline from the comics.
“My impression [of] what Spider-Man could be is very different from what Sam [Raimi] did or what Sam wanted to do. I think the reason he directed that movie was because he wanted to do the Marvel comic superhero. I was never interested in the genesis story,” Fincher told io9. “I couldn't get past a guy getting bit by a red and blue spider. It was just a problem … It was not something that I felt I could do straight-faced. I wanted to start with Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin, and I wanted to kill Gwen Stacy.”
Eventually, the job was given to The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi, who impressed executives with his passion for the classic Marvel Comics version of the character.
4. The Green Goblin was not supposed to be Spider-Man's villain.
Though Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is as much an essential part of the film now as Spider-Man himself, he was not the original choice for the webslinger’s nemesis. Back in the days when Cannon was going to produce the film, original drafts featured Doctor Octopus as the main antagonist. James Cameron ditched that idea and concocted his own version of Electro, with the Sandman as his sidekick. When Sony and Columbia began developing their version, screenwriter David Koepp introduced the Green Goblin, which Raimi favored because of his personal connection (being the father of Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn) to Spider-Man’s alter-ego Peter Parker. Initially, the Columbia version was planned to feature the Goblin with Doctor Octopus as a secondary villain, but Raimi nixed that idea, believing that introducing two supervillains and a superhero in the same movie would have “compromised” all three characters.
Doctor Octopus wound up being the main villain in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, and the Sandman appeared in Spider-Man 3. Electro also eventually got his big-screen moment, appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014.
5. The movie changed a key component of Spider-Man's origin story.
When Cameron composed his treatment for the film in the early 1990s, he altered one key part of Spider-Man’s origin and power set: his webshooters. In the comics, Peter Parker fashions the webshooters himself, using a super-strong, super-sticky fluid of his own design, but in Cameron’s version, the webs are organically produced by Peter’s body after he gains his powers. Raimi liked Cameron's idea, and opted to keep it.
“He sticks to walls; he can leap; why does he then have to invent a web fluid?” Raimi said in an interview with Fangoria. “Why not just mutate him far enough into a spider to produce webbing?”
6. Tobey Maguire was not the studio's first choice to play Peter Parker in Spider-Man.
When casting the lead role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Columbia initially seemed to be looking for a more classic leading man type, considering stars including Colin Farrell, Heath Ledger, Ewan McGregor, Scott Speedman, and Wes Bentley. Raimi, on the other hand, wanted Tobey Maguire—and eventually got his way after the star turned in some convincing screen tests. After an intense diet and exercise regimen to give him a superhero body, Maguire was ready for the part.
7. Willem Dafoe was not the only choice to play the Green Goblin in Spider-Man.
In casting Spider-Man’s nemesis, the studio looked at several major stars with villainous expertise, including Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich, who turned down the role for a number of reasons.
"It was everything," Malkovich told Empire in a 2000 interview. "Way too much time, not enough money, not enough of anything. I mean, if I'd have loved it, obviously I would have done it, but those sort of films aren't art films, they're business propositions."
Willem Dafoe eventually won the role.
8. The CGI Spider-Man fooled studio executives.
One of the chief hurdles in producing Spider-Man was creating the convincing illusion of a man swinging between New York City skyscrapers. The production called on Industrial Light & Magic pioneer John Dykstra, who realized that some shots would require a fully computer-generated version of the title character. The shots Dykstra and his team came up with were so convincing that producer Laura Ziskin decided to see if they could fool Columbia chair Amy Pascal and Sony chair John Calley.
“I called up John Calley and Amy Pascal and told them we’d put Tobey [Maguire] in the suit and had him crawling up a building, and we’d shot a test and wanted to show them,” Ziskin recalled. “We went to the screening room and I showed the test of CGI Spider-Man—they thought it was Tobey! Then I told them that was the computer-generated Spider-Man.”
9. Several Spider-Man suits were stolen from the film's production.
Making Spider-Man was a massive undertaking involving 100 sets and hundreds of crew members. It also required several costumes for Maguire, four of which went missing from a locked building on the Sony Pictures lot. The handmade suits were valued at around $50,000 apiece, so Sony was very eager to get them back. Eventually, a former Sony security guard was caught after authorities received a tip from his ex-wife. When his home was searched, police also discovered that he’d stolen a $150,000 Batman costume from the Warner Bros. lot in 1996.
10. A shot from another Sam Raimi movie appears in Spider-Man.
Raimi originally intended to shoot all-new material for the sequence early in the film in which Peter Parker has a fever-addled nightmare the night after his life-altering spider bite. Budgetary restraints prevented this, so Raimi instead cut together shots from the film’s opening, along with one from his 1990 superhero film Darkman.
11. The World Trade Center was cut from Spider-Man's marketing materials following 9/11.
The very first teaser trailer for the film, released in the summer of 2001, feature bank robbers escaping in a helicopter pulled into a giant web spun between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The teaser was a major hit, but after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, Sony executives opted to pull the footage from distribution (though bits of it still exist in a montage in the final film). A teaser poster featuring the Trade Center was also pulled.
12. Spider-Man is packed with cameos.
Superhero movies and cameo appearances are basically synonymous now, but Spider-Man has a particularly large number of special guests. Spidey co-creator Stan Lee made his now-customary appearance in the film, pulling a girl away from falling debris during the Times Square action sequence, but he’s far from alone. Wrestling legend Randy Savage wrestles Peter Parker as Bonesaw McGraw, Raimi’s brother Ted appears as J. Jonah Jameson’s assistant Hoffman, and frequent Raimi collaborator Bruce Campbell appears as the ring announcer. Also featured are Xena: Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless (“Punk Rock Girl”) and Raimi’s Evil Dead II co-writer Scott Spiegel (“Marine Cop”). Plus, as longtime Raimi fans know, Spider-Man also includes a cameo by a well-known car. The Oldsmobile Delta 88 driven by Uncle Ben is “The Classic,” Raimi’s college car, which he has featured in almost all of his films, most prominently The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.
Comic Book Movies by David Hughes