Spider-Man is one of the oldest and most iconic superheroes, so it’s only fitting that the 2002 Spider-Man was one of the films responsible for kicking off our modern superhero renaissance. Since then, the history of Spider-Man on screen has been decidedly mixed, but a slew of different actors have had the chance to take on the part, and each of them has brought something different to it.
As we’ve seen in multi-versal projects like Into the Spider-Verse and No Way Home there are plenty of ways to play Spider-Man, and a number of them have already been tried.
A movie far too focused on setting up future sequels to actually be any fun in the present, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a great example of a movie that took all the wrong lessons from the success of Marvel.
In spite of pretty compelling performances from Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fluctuates between a wide variety of different tones and never coheres. It has its moments, such as Gwen Stacy’s surprisingly effective death sequence, but those moments are too few and far between.
Plenty of people love Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man, but he tends to work better in the context of Avengers movies. On his own, the results vary pretty widely, and most of the issues with Far From Home stem from the way Holland’s version of Peter Parker lacks many of the struggles that have typically defined the character. He mostly cribs Tony Stark’s technology and his lives as Peter and Spider-Man don’t come into conflict nearly enough.
There’s also the strange choice to set this movie outside of Spider-Man’s native New York. Holland and Zendaya are charming, but Far From Home is too obsessed with the broader MCU canon to feel distinctive on its own.
Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man movies are widely regarded as the least successful, and with good reason, but his first outing at least has the benefit of including Garfield and Stone’s dynamite chemistry. The plotting in The Amazing Spider-Man is far from perfect, but this movie’s version of Peter’s origin story is fairly effective.
This movie rises and falls on the backs of its central performances, though, which means that Garfield and Stone have to sell a lot of plot developments that, at least on their face, don’t actually make a ton of sense.
The first two Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies are incredibly effective, but Spider-Man 3 is overstuffed with ideas that keep it from totally working. Kirsten Dunst, who is great throughout the entire trilogy, is the anchor to the emotional beats in this movie that work, and while Maguire’s dancing has become a meme, that weird energy isn’t the part of this movie that’s most offensive.
Instead, it’s the multiple villains running around, each of which is underserved and underbaked, as well as the introduction of Gwen Stacy, that makes this movie feel less compelling than Maguire’s first two entries.
The first hour and a half of No Way Home‘s 2.5-hour running time are incredibly sweaty. It’s basically just a series of things to have to happen to get us to the last hour, but it’s pretty hard to deny that when that final hour starts, things get pretty thrilling.
Seeing all three filmic versions of Spider-Man team up and interact is just undeniable, and the writing is sharp enough that each of them gets to have a tiny arc in that part of the film. The film’s ending leaves Peter in an interesting place, and while the action is not as thrilling as some other entries on this list, it’s good enough to earn it a more middling spot.
The movie that arguably launched the entire superhero craze, Spider-Man was a wild success not just because of the character that it chose to center, but also because it was a pretty excellent adaptation of its source material. The movie pretty evenly divides its time between Peter’s high school origin story and his life as a young New Yorker who moonlights as Spider-Man.
Both halves work, and the movie gets away with some corny one-liners because it is so incredibly sincere and intense when it needs to be. It also comes in under two hours, which is not true for many superhero movies these days.
Holland’s first entry into the Spider-Man universe remains his most successful, even though Tony Stark is watching over his shoulder the whole time. The movie is set firmly in Queens and follows Peter as he contends with being Spider-Man even as he finds that what he really wants is just to take a girl he likes to a dance.
Homecoming‘s most effective sequence comes when Peter discovers that the father of the girl he likes is his primary antagonist, a perfect twist that also works thematically, meshing Peter’s real life and his super-life in a way that most other superheroes don’t have to deal with.
One of the most surprising movies of 2018, and one of the greatest Spider-Man movies ever made, Into the Spider-verse tells the origin story of Miles Morales and brings in a slew of other Spider-characters to do it effectively.
What makes the movie work, though, besides its wonderful visuals and its outstanding vocal ensemble, is the way it remains firmly rooted in Miles’s growth as a hero. He proves that he is a great Spider-person, and in doing so broadens the very idea of what a hero can be so that it can include people who don’t look like Peter Parker.
The greatest Spider-Man movie, and maybe the greatest superhero movie, remains Spider-Man 2. Every moment of this thing feels perfectly calibrated from the incredible action sequences to the genuine distress Peter finds at having to balance his life as a hero with all of his other commitments.
When he quits being Spider-Man, everyone in the audience totally understands. He ultimately finds his way back to it and stops Otto Octavius in the process, but Spider-Man 2 is really about Peter Parker, and that’s why it rules so hard.
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