ew comic book characters are as beloved as Spider-Man, as audiences have continued to flock to theaters throughout the past decade to see the character on-screen. With “Spider-Man: Far From Home” hitting theaters, it’s only appropriate to look back at the web-slinger’s storied on-screen history and separate the worst from the best.
7. “The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012)
Andrew Garfield’s first appearance as Peter Parker earns its last-place spot for sheer unoriginality. Sony’s attempt to reboot the franchise a mere five years after the final entry of Sam Raimi’s trilogy retreads the tired path of Spidey’s origins while adopting a darker, edgier tone that jettisons the character’s inherent charm and joy. Though Garfield does his best to stutter in a few scenes, his smug rendition of Parker is far from sympathetic, and the movie’s villain — the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) — is a forgettable addition from the B-sides of Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery. The one bright spot is Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy, whose genuine chemistry with Garfield injects the film with something resembling sex appeal.
6. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014)
The best that can be said for the sophomore (and final) entry into the “Amazing Spider-Man” series is that it’s crazier than the first one. There’s a subplot about a secret subway station. The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) shows up twice. Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) becomes Electro after an electric shock inexplicably closes up his gap tooth. Dane DeHaan’s Harry Osborn shows up snarling and riding a hoverboard 20 minutes before the movie ends. Gwen dies. There’s a Sinister Six tease. And all this is after other things — like Shailene Woodley’s version of Mary Jane Watson — were cut. Not one subplot makes much sense, but there’s a strange joy in watching the train wreck play out.
5. “Spider-Man 3” (2007)
“Spider-Man 3” — the last of director Sam Raimi’s original trilogy — is similarly overstuffed. Peter’s relationships with Harry Osborn (James Franco) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) continue to form a convincing emotional center for the trilogy, and Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is a potentially compelling central villain. Yet these elements are overshadowed by the inclusion of the Venom symbiote and a God-awful iteration of the fan-favorite villain from Topher Grace. There are glimmers of a satisfying finale for Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker here, but it’s hard to find them in the mess. That being said, Maguire is still cooler in this one scene from “Spider-Man 3” than Garfield was across the run time of his two films.
4. “Spider-Man” (2002)
A classic in the wall-crawler’s canon, “Spider-Man” is filled with iconic moments that have come to define cinematic versions of the character: the upside-down kiss, a corny, cackling Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), “with great power comes great responsibility.” It’s a simple origin story that has since been outpaced by its successors, but Tobey Maguire’s performance as the downtrodden Parker and the film’s willingness to lean into the wholesome, cheesy vibe of the character’s comic book beginnings infuse the whole affair with undeniable jubilation.
3. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe allowed its version of Peter Parker to zip past the all-too-familiar beats of his origins, resulting in a lighthearted story centered around a Spider-Man who actually behaves like he’s in high school. Tom Holland’s stellar showing as an exuberant, eager and often naive Peter Parker is the most comic book-accurate version of the character yet, fortified by an excellent supporting cast that includes Michael Keaton as a skillfully drawn villain and Zendaya as an appropriately snarky MJ. “Homecoming” understands its central character, keeping its conflicts relatively low-stakes and incorporating elements of coming-of-age romance movies alongside the Marvel Studios house style. It’s a modern, funny take on the character that manages to feel utterly fresh while still fitting neatly into the wider MCU.
2. “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
Simply put, this isone of the best superhero films ever made. “Spider-Man 2” is a more complex, engaging follow-up to 2002’s “Spider-Man” that explores Peter’s classic struggle to balance being a normal guy with the crushing responsibility of being a hero. Tobey Maguire is at his best here, making Peter’s agony over balancing Mary Jane and his superheroics palpable. Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock is the most compelling villain in a “Spider-Man” movie by a mile, and the action makes use of his extra appendages to deliciously horrifying effect. From Aunt May articulating to Peter why people need heroes to a group of civilians discovering their savior is “just a kid,” “Spider-Man 2” is an emotional depiction of the web-slinger that remains just as resonant 15 years later.
1. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (2018)
The most recent “Spider-Man” movie is also the unparalleled best. The plot’s embrace of multiverses allows for a quirky, diverse cast of Spider-people, solidifying this entry as the most unapologetically nerdy, comic book-y “Spider-Man” film yet. The movie’s innovative use of colorful, detailed animation made for some of the most beautiful scenes of 2018, and Daniel Pemberton’s electronic score adds resonance and kineticism to every moment. But most of all, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is poignant in a way that few other films of its genre have managed. The simple, central message of “Spider-Verse” — that “anyone can wear the mask” — is the founding principle behind Spider-Man. “Into the Spider-Verse” embraces this idea in the most contemporary, sincere fashion yet; to watch the film is to believe that the potential for heroism is within you, even if society has deemed you unextraordinary. That belief is what makes the character of Spider-Man special, and it’s why “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” deserves top billing on this list.
Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected].