In celebration of everyone’s favorite web-head, July is Spectacular Spider-Month at AiPT! We have a series of amazing articles in store for the month. Movies, television, gaming, and of course comics will all be covered with great responsibility as we honor one of comics’ greatest heroes.
Over the years, there have been many attempts at bringing Spider-Man and his supporting cast to the big screen. Some of them would have been genuinely interesting to see, while more than a few of them would likely have resulted in major missteps for the character and his fanbase. With that in mind, let’s dive into some of the many, many times we almost saw Spidey on the silver screen, taking a look at the background of each one as well as we can (this being Hollywood, there are a million contradictory stories, rumors, and half-truths about each project). I’ll also explain why they didn’t happen and, for each one, why it’s probably a good thing that they didn’t. Believe it or not, we live in a golden age of superhero cinema. We need only look at what may have been to fully understand how far we’ve come.
Cannon Films’ Spider-Man
What If?: The first attempt at producing a film based on the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man turned out to be a lot less friendly and a little more deadly than expected. In fact, it hardly resembled the beloved character in any recognizable way.
Following a deal in which Cannon purchased a 5-year option to make a Spider-Man movie, they almost immediately released ads hyping up their upcoming Spider-Man film, which at that point had neither a cast or a crew behind it. Cannon was nothing if not optimistic. They began courting major stars and filmmakers, at one point eyeing Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper to helm the project and with a wish list of actors that included a young Tom Cruise as Peter Parker and Bob Hoskins as Doctor Octopus. Sounds exciting, right?
Well, the optimism ends there, as Cannon clearly had no idea how to handle the property. Joseph Zito, known primarily as the director of such films as Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and the Chuck Norris-starring Missing in Action, was hired to direct. Zito reportedly cast stunt actor Scott Leva as Peter Parker, who went through costume fittings and publicity photos for the role. A script was drafted that featured Peter as an unwilling science experiment, mutated into a hideous eight-armed creature by a mad scientist named Dr. Zork. Another draft saw Otto Octavius transforming Peter into Spider-Man, leading to a confrontation with the maniacal Professor (not Doctor) Octopus and his faithful sidekick, Weiner.
The film languished in development hell, eventually being handed to Albert Pyun, the man who would eventually direct the much-maligned 1990 Captain America film starring Matt Salinger and his rubber ears as Steve Rogers. Pyun pushed for the Lizard to be the lead villain of the movie, but following a series of setbacks — including one instance where Marvel realized Cannon had literally “forgotten” to pay for the rights to make the movie — Cannon’s Spidey dreams were crushed when the company went under after the failure of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Why not?: If we’re being honest, the release of these movies might not have negatively impacted the Marvel brand in any negligible way. Cannon’s original conception of the film would have been Spider-Man in name only, so it’s hard to imagine it actually hurting the character or ruining it in the eyes of fans who probably wouldn’t have bothered watching this thing anyway. The later “Professor Octopus” movie would probably have been a major disappointment in the same way that Superman IV and Captain America were, and may have even gone direct-to-video in the same way the latter film did.
Basically, it’s likely none of these flicks would have been pleasing to longtime fans, but any long-term damage to the brand would have been negligible, at best. After all, even Cap eventually got a great trilogy.
James Cameron’s Spider-Man
What If?: James Cameron’s Spider-Man was an interesting beast. It appears that the film never got past the treatment phase, but the lengthy treatment provided some very clear looks at where the movie would have gone in the blockbuster director’s hands. The film would have been produced by Carolco, then the unstoppable juggernauts who produced True Lies and Basic Instinct. If those two movies weren’t any clue as to the contents of this script, let me just make it clear: this movie would have been the horniest superhero film ever.
Peter discovers his powers in a sequence that is meant to bring to mind the aftermath of a wet dream, as he wakes up stuck to his sheets by his own webbing (Cameron’s take on Pete had organic web shooters, which would eventually be used in Sam Raimi’s films). In one of the creepiest bits, Peter climbs on the wall outside Mary Jane’s bedroom and watches her undress. There was to be an extended sequence of Peter explaining spider mating rituals to Mary Jane, followed by a bondage-style love scene where Peter webs MJ to the Brooklyn Bridge and the two consummate their relationship … while Pete keeps his mask on. Even one of the movie’s villains, Electro, went insane because his static powers kept him from experiencing physical intimacy. Everyone in this movie was either banging, about to bang, or turning to a life of crime due to a distinct lack of banging.
It would have been a very “adult” film, is what I’m saying. And that’s before we even get into the copious F-bombs. If this film had spun-off into a franchise in the 90s, I sincerely hope one of the sequels would have been called The F***ing Clone Saga.
Though concept art was produced for the project and rumors over the years attached actors like Edward Furlong and Leonardo DiCaprio to the title role, the film eventually died with the collapse of Carolco and the rights were snatched up by Sony, leading to the Sam Raimi series.
Why not?: In a pre-Avatar world, a Spider-Man flick from James Cameron sounds like a recipe for awesomeness. Cameron’s take is so desperate to be “not your daddy’s Spider-Man” that it ends up feeling like it wouldn’t have pleased anyone. Fans of the character would likely have been turned off by the massive swings in tone (no pun intended) and the wild amount of foul language and sex. It seems that Cameron felt he could elevate the material by making it “more adult,” which defeats the purpose of the wide-eyed optimism of the early Spidey stories he was trying to adapt. Then again, it’s a James Cameron film, so it would likely have made a zillion dollars and precluded the Raimi films from ever happening, so we’re pretty lucky that this one died in preproduction.
Still, there are elements of Cameron’s treatment that were worth salvaging and exploring further. Eventually, Sam Raimi would tackle the film and succeed with a blend of “gee whillikers” heroism and modern soap operatic storytelling. We’re in a better timeline of superhero films because this one didn’t get made.
What If?: Though Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 wasn’t exactly a critical darling, with fans and the director himself voicing disappointment with the film’s final product, it still raked in the money. After brief talks with Sony about shooting a potential Spider-Man 4 and 5 back-to-back, it was decided to focus Sony’s efforts into making a single sequel as a potential return to form for the franchise. The only confirmed actors returning for the next film were Tobey McGuire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Bruce Campbell … as Mysterio?
Yes, it appears that the long game of having Campbell cameo as different characters in the first three films would have paid off with his fourth cameo, this time as a disgraced Quentin Beck, being hauled into the police station by Spider-Man. Early concept art shows this Mysterio as having a bit of a beer belly, suggesting he may have been relegated to joke villain status, perhaps as a quick arrest that opens the film. Whether or not this means that Mysterio was also the wrestling announcer, restaurant maître de, or snooty usher remains to be seen (but that sure as hell is my head-canon).
As for the villains? Actor Dylan Baker hoped to be asked to reprise his role as Curt Connors, perhaps finally as the Lizard. However, Raimi and the producers had other plans, with the early drafts focusing on the Vulture as the lead villain (with John Malkovich being considered for the role). Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway was reportedly being courted for the role of Felicia Hardy, who in this version would not become the Black Cat, but rather a villain original to the film called the Vulturess (yuck).
Ultimately, the film did not proceed due to Sony’s decision to reboot the Spider-Man franchise from scratch, going in the darker tone seen in The Amazing Spider-Man.
Why not?: Honestly, out of all of the films here, this is both the one I most would be interested in seeing. It’s also probably a good thing that it never happened. Not only would we have lost the rush of seeing the Vulture on screen for the first time in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but Felicia Hardy deserves so much better than … the Vulturess (yuck).
If this film had been made, there’s honestly no telling how it would have done. After all, Spider-Man 3 already saw diminishing returns, and it was a sequel to the incredible Spider-Man 2! Let’s say this came out and was a hit. Then we probably don’t get the ASM series (no big loss), but Sony also would have been much less willing to give Spidey back to Marvel for a reboot if they had a proven cash cow franchise on their hands. On the flipside, this movie flopping would have made people less secure about Spidey as a box office star, which may have affected the future of Spider-Man film even further. Of all of the what if’s of Spidey flicks, this one is easily the most tantalizing, even with the misguided characterizations of its villains.
The Amazing Spider-Man 3
What if?: The journey of the Amazing Spider-Man series is a wild one, with both films having been released with tons of excised content, including entire character arcs and subplots. Remember when The Amazing Spider-Man was supposed to tell us the unknown truth about Peter Parker’s parents, but then didn’t? Remember how Alistair Smythe and Felicia Hardy were characters in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Yeah, the films themselves kind of forgot.
And we’re not even getting into the weirdness of the deleted scenes featuring Norman Osborne as a Futurama-style head in a jar or Richard Parker revealing that he faked his own death. Basically, for all the enjoyable bits in those films, the final products were a total mess from a narrative standpoint, so it’s really hard to tell what The Amazing Spider-Man 3 would have ended up being.
So much of ASM2 is spent on setting up a Sinister Six spin-off that never happened that it’s tough to figure out which threads would have been explored in a proper Spidey solo flick. Director Mark Webb and Spidey actor Andrew Garfield were definitely back on board, but not much else is known about the real plan, if there was one. Paul Giamatti was supposedly contracted to reprise his role as the Rhino (possibly in a Sinister Six tease?) Webb hoped to bring Chris Cooper back as Norman Osborne, playing another Goblin one movie after ASM2‘s tragic take on Harry Osborne. There were also supposed to be further revelations regarding the Gentleman, the infuriatingly thin character played by Michael Massee who was apparently helping to form the Sinister Six. Development ended on this one when Sony decided to team with Disney for Captain America: Civil War, ending Andrew Garfield’s tenure on something of a down note.
Why not?: I’m still not entirely convinced that this movie would have ended up being made, even if the Disney deal hadn’t happened. The ASM series was arguably already in a confused spiral from the moment the first film arrived, edited down to the point where it didn’t follow through on any of the revelatory promises from its marketing. The indecision of where to take the spinoffs, coupled with the thrashing ASM2 received from critics, probably gave Sony pause.
Still, if this movie got made and came out around its planned release date of Summer 2016, we most definitely wouldn’t have gotten Tom Holland’s Spider-Man when we did, which would have been the harshest consequence of all.
That’s it for the first half of this look back at the Spidey movies that could have been! Make sure you join me next week as I take a look at the various spin-offs (mostly symbiote-related, as it turns out) that never happened! In the meantime, feel free to sound off in the comments with your conspiracy theories and your thoughts on these unmade flicks. Which ones would you have liked to have seen get made? Which ones are you eternally grateful to have missed out on?
Thank you for joining AiPT! during Spectacular Spider-Month! Be sure to check back in every day for more Spider-Man content including interviews, features, opinions, and more!