With Spider-Man: No Way Home kicking all kinds of box office butt this weekend, I figured it was time to update my Spidey-on-film rankings. Considering this was the ninth iteration of the character on the big screen dating all the way back to Sam Raimi’s original 2002 blockbuster, it’s impressive that Sony and Marvel have continuously found new ways to keep the character feeling fresh and exciting — despite experiencing numerous hiccups and missed opportunities along the way.
Naturally, this list may change significantly once I get another look at Spider-Man: No Way Home, but as of now it just feels right. Let us know what you think of this list and feel free to chime in with your own!
9. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
As good as Spider-Man 2 was, that’s how bad Spider-Man 3 turned out to be. Never have I witnessed such a vitriolic reaction from attendees at a film screening than I did following the closing shot of Raimi’s trilogy capper. Popcorn was thrown at the screen, people booed, curse words were tossed about, tears were shed. It sucked. One of the most highly anticipated films of all time stumbled under its own bloated weight, resulting in a convoluted mess containing all the glaring trademarks of studio interference.
Raimi’s style occasionally pops through the facade, particularly during the sequences involving Thomas Haden Church’s Sandman; and Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst do what they can with the material, but the film can’t decide which direction it wants to go and introduces far too many characters in a vain effort to expand its universe. Chief among them, Topher Grace’s poorly conceived Eddie Brock/Venom, who is never menacing nor sympathetic enough to make much of an impact. Bryce Dallas Howard pops in as Gwen Stacy for a beat but doesn’t get much to do, and James Franco is embarrassing as Harry Osborn, who, curiously, loses his memory for a spell only to return as the New Goblin to deliver swift vengeance for his psychotic father.
Weirdly, the film sidesteps any and all dangling plot threads established in Spider-Man 2 — notably, Dylan Baker’s Dr. Curt Connors, who should have become the Lizard; John Jameson, whose astronaut background and understandable disdain for Peter Parker felt like the perfect way to introduce the symbiote; and Harry Osborn, whose increasing insanity should have afforded him top duties as the film’s chief villain — in favor of all new plot threads and villains that end up going nowhere.
On a positive note, Spider-Man 3 does start strong and moves at a brisk pace. The battle between the black-suited Spider-Man and Sandman packs a wallop, and there are interesting bits littered throughout that make this third entry at the very least watchable. Too bad it all flies off the rails in a weak third act that regurgitates tired action troupes and leans far too heavily on forced melodrama.
Seriously, one of cinema’s biggest blunders. It’s fair to wonder where Spider-Man would be today had Raimi stuck the landing.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
After the negative reaction to Spider-Man 3, the powers that be foolishly opted to reboot the Spidey franchise with an all-new cast and crew. Into the blue spandex steps the likable Andrew Garfield, flanked by the lovely Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, who navigates a convoluted narrative that suggests Peter Parker was destined to become Spider-Man because of his blood … or something. Marc Webb’s film occasionally slows down enough to linger on Peter and Gwen’s budding (and forbidden) romance, and certainly finds ways to offer new spins on the Spidey formula — it’s “darker,” you see? But mostly, The Amazing Spider-Man traverses the same territory we saw just ten years prior in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and feels more like the required film needed to get to the sequel everyone wants to make than a novel, unique piece of comic book cinema.
Still, there are a few bright spots to be found such as Denis Leary’s performance as Captain Stacy and Martin Sheen’s all-too-brief bit as Uncle Ben; some of the action, including a battle between Spidey and Rhys Ifans’ goomba-like Lizard set in a high school, is splashy fun. However, by the time the Lizard explains his needlessly ridiculous plan to turn the world entirely into lizards, you’ll end up reaching for your phone to play the latest Bubble Shooters sorely lamenting Sam Raimi’s proposed Spider-Man 4, which would have been so much better than this mess.
7. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Director Jon Watts and Marvel decided to double down on everything that worked in Spider-Man: Homecoming to deliver this bloated, disappointing follow-up that bounces from scene to scene with all the grace of a Night Monkey. In a bizarre move, the film has Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and Zendaya’s MJ desperately in love right from the get-go, despite the latter functioning as little more than a glorified cameo in Homecoming, and needlessly moves the action to Europe where Spidey takes on Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio.
Far From Home was the first MCU entry following Endgame and has far too many boxes to check to work as a standalone adventure. Still, the leads are great, some of the action pops, and Gyllenhaal, more than anyone else, has a blast as the aforementioned Mysterio, even if the character eventually gets lost amidst the big-budget effects and action featured in the third act.
Where the best Spidey flicks find ways to sprinkle humor into the drama, Far From Home plays like a straight-up raucous comedy throughout. As such, none of the dramatic beats land, and the desperate attempt to affirm Spidey as the new Iron Man are foolhardy at best. The film also sidesteps any and all issues regarding “The Blip” and struggles to give its supporting cast, including Samuel L. Jackson and Marisa Tomei, much to do.
In short, Far From Home doesn’t suck, but can best be described as a forgettable piece of cinematic fluff that fails to leave much of an imprint beyond its shocking mid-credits twist.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a frustrating film that can never decide what it wants to be and spends so much time trying to please everyone it ultimately pleases no one. Here we have a film made by a marketing committee, resulting in a hollow experience packed with convoluted storylines — what’s with the subway car? — far too many characters, and cynical attempts to expand the brand in a million different directions.
Marc Webb’s second stab at Spidey works best when it lets its plucky stars, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, do their thing; and when it stops long enough to focus on one of its many plots. Some of the action, such as an opening chase sequence and a violent finale set inside a clock tower, is visually impressive, and Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Johnny Marr’s score electrifies. But the missed opportunities — Jamie Foxx’s Electro, for one — and inconsistent tone result in a clunky epic that damn near ruins any goodwill established in the previous entry.
5. Spider-Man (2002)
There’s so much to admire about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, it’s a shame that the picture never really achieves the level of greatness it aspires to. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are cute and plucky in their respective roles as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and love-of-his-life Mary Jane Watson, but it’s Willem Dafoe who steals the film with his memorable turn as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (even behind that awful mask).
At this juncture, the comic book movie was still evolving. As such, Raimi chucks numerous ideas at the screen — zany comedy, clunky action, quiet character beats — in the hopes something sticks, and ultimately delivers a satisfying Spidey experience that frustrates just as much as it thrills.
Still, at the time, Spider-Man was a monumental success — the first big superhero blockbuster since Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (1978) — that established comic book films as a bankable commodity and ushered in a new pop culture phenom that remains just as popular (if not more so) today.
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Jon Watts’ first foray into the Spider-verse began with this small scale, John Hughes-esque comedy that sees the webhead taking on Michael Keaton’s sinister Vulture under Tony Stark’s watchful eye. Shamelessly riffing from ’80s classics such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Homecoming nonetheless kicked Spidey’s latest franchise off on the right foot by leaning into the awkwardness of youth, and surrounding Peter Parker with a colorful cast of supporting characters, chief among them Jacob Batalon’s Ned Leeds — as good a friend as you’ll likely find at the movies.
Homecoming occasionally allows Robert Downey, Jr. a little too much mugging, which overshadows Spidey’s journey, wastes Zendaya in what amounts to an extended cameo, and gives way to generic blockbuster action in its third act. Overall, though, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a smart, delightfully earnest introduction to this version of the character that boasts strong performances from Holland and Keaton, an interesting villain, and enough exciting set pieces to satisfy action junkies.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Since most have yet to see No Way Home, I’ll nix spoilers and cut right to the chase: I loved it. Jon Watts does the impossible and stages a superhero epic for the ages that still, somehow, plays more like a fascinating character study than a big-budget blockbuster. Spidey is absolutely pushed to his limits here, particularly during the second half that damn-near abandons the bright and plucky tone established in Homecoming and Far From Home in favor of a darker narrative that intermixes plenty of crowd-pleasing spectacle with powerful emotional beats that hit hard. Tom Holland comes into his own with the character, delivering a memorable performance that places him firmly atop the Spidey pack.
Also, this is the first time in a long while where I’m actually interested to see where Spidey’s future takes him.
Of course, this could just be opening weekend bias, or maybe I’m ranking No Way Home too low … as it stands, I’m comfortable placing Marvel’s latest at No. 3 until further notice.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 will forever rank as one of the great Spider-Man films. Since it came out 17 years ago, it’s easy to forget how influential Sam Raimi’s electrifying sequel truly was at the time. In a marketplace suddenly flush with subpar comic book fare, namely Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, Marvel/Universal’s Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Punisher, Hellboy, and the Blade films, Spider-Man 2 was the first modern superhero film that really swung for the fences and demonstrated the possibilities of the genre. Raimi’s flick ultimately paved the way for more serious adaptations, including Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and established the light-hearted humor found in Marvel’s current batch of films.
The cast entire is terrific, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst leading the way as Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, a pair of would-be lovers forever trapped on the wrong side of the love boat, while Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock ranks among the all-time villains. Raimi and screenwriter Alvin Sargent borrow elements from Richard Donner’s Superman II to show Peter’s struggles in balancing ordinary life with the responsibilities that come with the Spidey mantle, and infuse so much heart, humor, and super-heroics — namely a powerful sequence in which Peter, sans powers, rescues a child trapped in a fire — into the narrative, all but the stingiest of moviegoers will find themselves swept away in the spectacle.
Honestly, the only thing hampering Spider-Man 2 in any way is Spider-Man 3, one of the worst follow-ups in cinematic history. Really, the fact I’m still able to watch and enjoy Spidey 2 despite its awful threequel is a testament to the power of Raimi’s awesome sequel.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
As much as I love Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse delivered the ultimate Spider-Man experience and forever changed the way we look at the webhead — a character who seems destined to experience agonizing pain before discovering their inner hero. That sense of tragedy simmers beneath the deliciously flashy animation and energetic action and makes us appreciate Spidey’s super-heroics on a completely different level. The introduction of Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) is brilliantly handled, while the villains, particularly the larger-than-life Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), and razor-edged Prowler (Mahershala Ali), possess a particular brand of menace (and violence) typically missing from this type of picture.
Out of all the Spidey films, Into the Spider-Verse is the one that perfectly balances humor, heart, and action into one coherent whole all the while introducing colorful new heroes — Hailee Steinfeld’s terrific Spider-Woman and Nicolas Cage’s brooding Spider-Man Noir, among others — along with unique new villains, such as Kathryn Hahn’s Doc Ock giving Alfred Molina’s take on the character a run for his money, all the while expanding pre-established Spidey lore in creative ways. Shout out to Jake Johnson, whose voice work as Peter B. Parker practically steals the show, and Brian Tyree Henry, who delivers a pitch-perfect performance as Miles’ overprotective father.
Also, considering No Way Home more or less borrowed from Into the Spider-Verse’s aesthetic, it seems criminal to place the new film over the animated classic … at least for now.
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