In the last 17 years, Spider-Man has appeared in 11 films, been played by at least four actors (or voice actors), and made billions of dollars. There has been no shortage of Marvel’s flagship hero in films that have come to redefine the superhero blockbuster (Spider-Man 2002) and marked important entries in the biggest movie franchise in history (Homecoming, Far From Home). Yet, not all Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Mans are created equal. With great brand visibility comes great responsibility that not all Spider-Man films have been able to live up to. From embarrassing finger guns to brilliant animated reinterpretations of the franchise, we’ve ranked every (modern) Spider-Man film from worst to best.
7. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ (2014)
Such a weird development here – this is the movie that grossed a paltry $700 million worldwide, prompting Sony to scuttle plans for a new franchise of Spidey offshoots and whatnot. (Is the movie business a stupid business? Sometimes.) Of course, many people watched it, but very few actually liked it.
“Amazing 2” wavers between passable stuff and outright dumpster fodder. Andrew Garfield was a likeable enough Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and he and Emma Stone enjoyed decent chemistry despite a mediocre script. The villains made it horrible: Jamie Foxx’s hideous Electro wasn’t just a lisping, idiotic nerd stereotype, he also looked like an action figure a bored kid melted with a Bic lighter. Dane DeHaan’s Hobgoblin was an angsty drag, and Paul Giamatti’s Rhino was as embarrassing as a fart during your wedding vows. Not great, Bob.
6. ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ (2012)
It really is a shame the “Amazing” movies were duds – they wasted the considerable talent of Garfield, Stone and Sally Field, and did a disservice to the most beloved superhero ever to jump from funnybook to big screen. Director Marc Webb could only piece together serviceable action sequences – not quite up to par for the franchise – and struggled to spin a decent Spidey story.
The entire project faced an uphill climb. Sony’s desire to reboot the series a scant five years after Sam Raimi’s successful trilogy concluded reeked of crass capitalism. Reiterating the well-worn origin story of a high-school kid bitten by a radioactive spider meant the movie was stale before we even saw it, and far from essential viewing. The whole endeavor reeked of calculation instead of creativity. Everyone got paid, but nobody was enthusiastic about the results. And that skateboarding scene set to a limp Coldplay song? Awful. Just awful.
5. ‘Spider-Man 3’ (2007)
The finger guns. The apple pie. The Topher Grace Venom. Spider-Man 3 may not only be one of the worst comic book film adaptations of all time, but it may be the most anticipated disaster in cinema history. Banking off the massive success of Sam Raimi’s excellent Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, expectations for the big finale of the trilogy could not be higher. But, after reports that Raimi was not happy with the over-abundance of villains in the production–he allegedly wanted nothing to do with the Venom character at all–fans could tell something was awry. The film turned out to be a huge flop, cancelling the possibility of a Raimi Spider-Man 4, and forever ingraining in our minds the image of an emo Tobey Maguire shaking his ass on the streets of New York.
4. ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ (2017)
This new Spidey takes some liberties with the source material – Aunt May isn’t a doddering old lady, his new suit is all Iron Manned up and his tingly “spider sense” is AWOL. But it’s a reboot done right for a change. Tom Holland’s squeaky-voiced-teen take on Peter Parker is on target, and bodes well for future installments.
Getting Spider-Man right is all about tone. Director Jon Watts wisely emphasizes the comedy, and Michael Keaton, as the nasty Vulture villain, generates just enough dramatic tension to keep the movie from being fluff. It’s a smart blend of John Hughesian teen dramedy, Marvel Cinematic Universe visual and narrative excellence and the classic cinematic Spidey style forged by Sam Raimi. I foresee multiple viewings in many a fanboy’s future.
3. ‘Spider-Man’ (2002)
I considered putting “Homecoming” in this spot, but wanted the hot hype to chill a bit first. These types of deadly serious lists ranking movies about a guy who has the proportionate speed, strength and abilities of a spider must forego rigorous logical consideration, and not be susceptible to emotional reactions. (Case in point: I’m still giggling at the “Ferris Bueller” reference in “Homecoming,” a week-and-a-half after seeing it.)
The argument for Raimi’s film lies in the establishment of tone and character – the director’s live-action-cartoon style is pitch-perfect for Spider-Man, and Tobey Maguire was a snug fit for the role. It also features the Spidey-Mary Jane upside-down kiss, which is a classic-cinema moment, up there with Lois Lane exclaiming, “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” in “Superman.” The rubbery CG effects don’t hold up, admittedly. But this film is a genre benchmark, and the case can be made that, without the comic-dramatic action-packed foundation laid by Raimi, the Marvel Cinematic Universe might not be what it is today.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
At the time of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s release, there had been eight different Spider-Man films with three different actors as Peter Parker over the course of a decade. Yet, miraculously, Into the Spider-Verse, the brilliant animated take on the character by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord, not only answered the Spidey fatigue, it corrected it. With new versions of the friendly neighborhood hero, along with the Peter Parker we’ve known, Spider-Verse at once embraces and rationalizes the overabundance of Spider-Type heroes with one easy answer: They’re all parallel universes! But along with a brilliantly-executed, mind-bending concept, Spider-Verse captures the spirit of Spider-Man, with a truly hilarious film that might be the only superhero film to-date that fully embraces the art of comic books. It’s a film that takes risks the way more superhero films—animated, live-action, or otherwise—should do.
1. ‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)
The strongest Spider-Man stories are small in scale – the best ones are about him saving people, while so many other superheroes yet again save the entirety of the world from intergalactic, interdimensional or existential threats. (Yawn.) Sure, “Spider-Man 2” boasts an over-the-top villain in Doctor Octopus, but the story is tightly focused on Peter Parker’s inner struggles – how he maintains his secret identity and protects those he loves, how he balances his personal life with the great responsibility that comes with his power. Iron Man is a billionaire; Spider-Man can’t always pay the electric bill. (As for the losing-and-regaining-his-powers plot? It dovetails with Peter’s relationship problems, and becomes a smart, funny metaphor for sexual impotency.)
The film has two powerful scenes: First, a sequence in which he saves a subway full of terrified passengers, who see him without his mask (“He’s just a kid!”) and delicately pass his unconscious body over their heads – he’s a profoundly human, and vulnerable, superhero in that moment. The other is the final scene: “Go get ’em, Tiger,” says Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane, with equal parts admiration and concern as Peter/Spider-Man swings off to risk his life, and maybe save someone else’s. “Spider-Man 2” is about a Peter Parker not just learning to be a hero, but learning to be a man.