Before Spider-Man, Sam Raimi was mainly known for directing the cult classic The Evil Dead and the cult-er classic Evil Dead II. But Spider-Man wasn't Raimi's first superhero rodeo. He first tried his hand at bringing comic book-style action to the screen with 1990's Darkman, a dark, stylish story about a horribly burned scientist-turned-antihero who vows revenge on the people who disfigured him. Raimi both directed and had a hand in writing it.
With Darkman, Raimi dug deep into fantasy, even by superhero standards. That film's protagonist foils his enemies by impersonating them and wearing masks of their faces that he engineers in his lab—masks whose synthetic skin expires after 99 minutes.
Not exactly realistic.
Spider-Man, by comparison, is a much more grounded and realistic superhero film. It's set largely in Queens, New York, and centers on an otherwise normal teenager who still has to go to school and, later, find a way to pay the rent when he's not saving the world from the Green Goblin and roving bands of thugs.
Don't get it twisted, though: Spider-Man and the Green Goblin are still very much comic-book characters, but they're duking it out in a world that's familiar to the audience. While the CGI hasn't aged well in the years since Spider-Man's release, the backdrop against which Spider-Man slings and soars feels authentic. Raimi's direction captures the sense of excitement and outsized adventure that come with rocketing across New York City on a spider web or saving the girl.
At the same time, it reflects the mundane business of daily life. Even superheroes (and supervillains, for that matter) have downtime. Spider-Man can duke it out with the Green Goblin in a burning building, for example, but Peter is still expected to show up for Thanksgiving dinner, canned cranberries in hand.
Raimi's use of special effects lets us ride shotgun as Spider-Man zips around Queens, but it never overshadows the fact that Peter is still just a regular dude, dealing with a pain-in-the-butt boss and pining for the girl next door.
Production began on January 8th, 2001. Shot on a budget of $139 million, the movie was originally slated to be released in November of that year, but the release date was nudged back to the following spring when the filmmakers required more time to polish all of its digital effects. (Source)
On the eve of the film's release, Raimi told MTV News that, more than anything, he just wanted to do right by Spidey's legion of devoted fans:
I feel like there's a great bar of expectation that I have to meet. It better be damn good. That's all I'm thinking, and that's what occupies all of my waking hours and all of my sleepless nights. "Is it good enough? Is it right for the character?" All I can do is what makes the character work for me and what I was attracted to when I read the comic books and try and bring that to the big screen in the Spider-Man movie and hope that appeals to everyone else. (Source)
Given that Raimi's efforts on Spider-Man led to two sequels, both of which he directed, and that his trilogy of Spidey flicks grossed a combined $2.5 billion worldwide, yeah, we think it turned out pretty good.
Screenwriter David Koepp is no stranger to action flicks. Before he put pen to paper—or fingers to keys—for Spider-Man, he wrote the scripts for films like Mission: Impossible, Panic Room, the first two Jurassic Park films, and cult classic Toy Soldiers.
With Spider-Man, the Saturn Award-winning writer faced the challenge of bringing a comic book to the screen. And not just any comic book, but a beloved, 40-year-old property about a high school student who's grappling with his responsibility to fight crime in New York City…as well as enduring all the headaches, heartaches, and volcanic zits that come with being a young adult.
Koepp's script focuses on how being a superhero is a double-edged sword. Sure, you have crazy skills and abilities, but you also have a lot of pressure on you to do what's right. On top of that, Koepp layers in all the anguish and longing that come with being 18 and madly in love with someone who's set you squarely in the friend zone.
Oh, and Koepp's script is also an origin story that alternates between moments of drama (RIP Uncle Ben) and comedy.
Koepp was tasked with writing a script for Spider-Man before the film had a director or producer, and he was remarkably candid with The A.V. Club's Joshua Klein in a 1999 interview about his role in the highly anticipated big-budget film:
You are [part of the machine]. You really are. Spider-Man is just at the script stage. There's no director or producer, and I already have to answer to four executives and two comic-book guys. That's six people, and the film is only at the script stage! (Source)
Still, Koepp acknowledges that scripting an action spectacle is unlike writing, say, a romantic comedy. There's a certain type of freedom inherent in writing adventure films, no matter if they feature 20th-century dinosaurs or web-slinging high school seniors:
[…] With Spider-Man, it's nice to be able to write this great big fantasy action thing and realize you're not the one who will have to get up at 5 a.m. to figure out how to shoot it. I kind of like that. (Source)
Sounds like with great power comes great liberty to be creative—and to sleep in.
Spider-Man, a film based on one of Marvel Comics' most beloved characters, was produced by Marvel Studios (formerly Marvel Enterprises).
Shocking, we know.
We also know that you're probably thinking something like this right about now: "so, uh, why is he barely part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?"
Here's the short(ish) answer: back in the '90s, Marvel movies weren't the incredibly hot property that they were at the beginning of the 21st century. (Have you ever seen the trailer for 1994's The Fantastic Four? There's a reason why that was never released.)
So, instead of holding their myriad characters together—Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, et al.—Marvel sold off the rights for those heroes to whatever studios were interested in making movies about them. That means that, while the X-Men and the Fantastic Four are all Marvel characters, their movies are produced by 20th Century Fox.
The first five Spider-Man films, meanwhile, were distributed by Sony. In 2009, Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion, and with that came the rights to Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Black Panther—but not the X-Men, Fantastic Four, or Spidey. (That's why you've never seen Magneto try to ground Iron Man.)
That strange rights-management scheme changed, at least a little bit, with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017. The third reboot of the Spider-Man franchise saw Marvel and Sony share the rights to Spider-Man.
Sony can still crank out Spider-Man reboot after reboot, but everybody's favorite web-slinger can appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and MCU characters can appear in Sony's Spider-Man movies) for the first time since the MCU's inception in 2008.
Don't hold your breath for other characters from the Spider-Man universe crossing over into the MCU, though. (We're lookin' at you, Venom.) Kwame Opam of The Verge breaks down the unprecedented character sharing, and not sharing, like this:
[...] there's an easy way to think about what Marvel and Sony are trying to pull off: Spider-Man and his universe do technically exist in the MCU, but as a kind of unincorporated territory. His operating grounds have inherent ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since he's appeared in Captain America: Civil War, while MCU characters will appear in Homecoming. But the rest of his world will operate independently. (Source)
See? Sharing really is caring. Mainly about money, but Marvel fans benefit nonetheless.
Marvel's Spider-Man revived the comic-book movie genre that had been on life support ever since Joel Schumacher's critically reviled '90s spin on Batman that turned Gotham into an enormous paintball range built on the grounds of a failed Las Vegas casino.
After Tobey Maguire's 2002 turn as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man raked in almost $115 million over its opening weekend, superhero flicks were suddenly super popular. Between 2003 and 2012, Marvel and DC, the two largest comic-book publishers, produced a total of 36 major motion pictures based on their titles. Even the Fantastic Four, the Punisher, and Captain America got second shots at cinematic greatness.
The MCU didn't officially begin until 2008 with Iron Man, but once it was officially launched? Hold on to your 96-ounce commemorative Spider-Man soda cups.
Swinging. Swooping. Buzzing. How do you capture these spider-riffic sensations on screen?
CGI, that's how.
Spider-Man's production is heavy on the computer-generated imagery. Hopefully, that sentence doesn't come as a surprise to you—and you didn't turn off your TV or close your laptop and think, "Man, that Tobey Maguire can really jump!"
The filmmakers used a clever combination of practical stunts, including acrobats and wirework, and CGI, including digital animation, to send Spider-Man and the Green Goblin soaring through the streets of New York City.
Take a quick look at the list of special effects technicians, visual effects artists, and stunt performers in the closing credits, and it's clear that it takes a village to raise a spider.
But sometimes, even by 2002 standards, the special effects are a little "off": Spidey looks a little too much like a video-game character or a little too cartoonish. Most of the time, though, these effects are breathtaking, and Spider-Man, on screen, is a boundless comic-book sketch come to life. It's as close as filmgoers are going to get to hurtling through Queens while rockin' some spandex.
Creating the score for a movie about a nerd who gets bitten by a spider, gets superpowers, climbs up walls, and beats up a demented rich guy who wears a goblin suit and throws pumpkins at people can't be easy.
We imagine the scene at the studio went something like this:
BOB: All right, we need music for our movie. We need somebody with established musical chops who knows how to score action scenes that are rich with fantastical elements. Somebody who can write music that's exciting and bold, but with a sense of whimsy and intelligence.
DAVE: What if we get the guy who wrote The Simpsons theme song?
KAREN: Ooh! Or what about the main guy from groundbreaking '80s new-wave band Oingo Boingo?
LANCE: You know who we need? That dude who writes all the music for Tim Burton's movies.
BOB: Good news, gentlemen and lady. That person is all Danny Elfman.
Film composer Danny Elfman is Hollywood's main musical man for soundtracks that are dark but playful. In addition to scoring the first two Spider-Man movies and all but three of Tim Burton's movies, he's also responsible for the score for everything from Men in Black and Mission: Impossible to Oscar fare like Silver Linings Playbook. He can do menacing whimsy, but he can do just about everything else, too.
And check this out: at the 1997 Academy Awards, he was nominated in both Original Score categories—dramatic, for Good Will Hunting, and comedy, for Men in Black. Unfortunately, he didn't win either award.
Fortunately, those were just his first two nominations; he'd snag two more in the 2000s (for Big Fish and Milk), further solidifying his place as one of the most important film composers of his generation.
Let's cut to the chase: Spider-Man's fan base is huge.
The wall-crawler made his comic-book debut in 1963; that's a lot of time to gain a devoted fan following. As a result, fans of Spider-Man movies fall into two main groups: comic-book purists and the movies-only crowd.
For those Marvel fans who've been following Spidey's adventures on the page, Spider-Man serves up plenty of Easter eggs. For starters, there's Stan Lee's cameo at the World Unity Festival. The Marvel maestro makes an appearance in almost every Marvel film, dating all the way back to 1989's TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. (Source)
The fan service doesn't stop there, though. When Peter brainstorms costume ideas, for example, one of his rejected drawings is of Stingray, another Marvel hero. When he can't figure out how to make his webs work, he tries borrowing the catchphrases of DC Comics' Superman ("Up, up, and away, web!") and Shazam ("Shazam!").
These are just two examples from the treasure trove of pop culture references, cameos, and comic-book deep cuts hidden throughout Spider-Man for Spidey fans to find.
Think you caught them all? Think again.