“I think my favorite comic book movie was the first one that was such a hit, the first Spider-Man. After that, everything else seemed easy.” – Stan Lee (2016)
Not enough people truly appreciate the work of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy nowadays. Typically when the trilogy is brought up, one of the first things said is how bad the third movie is, or how Tobey Maguire isn’t a good iteration of the character of Spider-Man. But the truth is, without Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the MCU would not be the way that it is today. Spider-Man (2002) is responsible for single-handedly shaping the way and creating the path of success for the all of the Marvel movies.
When the touchy subject of what movie or franchise REALLY paved the way for the MCU, many bring up the first X-Men movie that came out in 2000. Now it is somewhat of a fair argument because that movie received a positive response from critics and audience members, but the movie only made about three times its budget. That was a very encouraging response, but exactly two years later another little movie came out and produced monstrous results.
Sam Raimi was an odd choice to direct Spider-Man if you really break it down and are not familiar with his entire filmography. Most people only recognize him and are familiar with his work on the Evil Dead trilogy, but others aren’t entirely aware of his superhero movie that came out in 1990 entitled “Darkman.” Sam Raimi is indeed a massive comic book fan and an even bigger fan of Spider-Man, which resulted in him winning the spot over several other talented directors such as M. Night Shyamalan, David Fincher, and Ang Lee (thankfully).
One quality of Raimi that made him the perfect ingredient to making this franchise so successful, aside from his passion and enthusiasm for the character, is how much of a character director he is. He was able to convince actors to be in the films that one would never expect to see in a superhero movie. Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, and Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman. He was able to draw fantastic performances out of the actors and his background in horror lent to some of the most chilling scenes in any superhero movie ever made. (Ex: Doc Ock Hospital Scene, Willem Dafoe Mirror Scene).
It’s evident that the movie made a connection with audience members across the world because at the time not only was it one of the highest grossing movies ever made, but it was the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. The movie boasted an $821 million worldwide gross compared to the $296 million grossing X-Men movie released two years prior. This caught the attention of every studio in Hollywood and superhero movies gradually started popping up every couple of years, which plummeted into an eventual snowball effect. To name a few, Hulk, Daredevil Fantastic Four, X-Men sequels, The Incredible Hulk, and eventually Iron Man.
This begs the question as to how Spider-Man was able to connect to an audience on a much larger scale compared to previous superhero films. This goes back to Raimi being a master at character because in each film, the character of Spider-Man is going through a different phase in his life. The first movie being an origin story with a young man learning to control this new power he has received while balancing a normal life, the second movie being about Spider-Man giving up his power to live a normal life, and the third movie being about pride and downfall. Of course there are numerous other themes that run throughout the trilogy too, but that is for another article on another day.
Say what you will about Tobey Maguire, but he remains the best actor to ever portray the character of Spider-Man and he will not be surpassed anytime soon. The biggest complaint with Tobey is that he was not able to portray a satisfying Spider-Man, but there is no denying he played a killer Peter Parker. However, that is one of the things that made the first movie so special. Throw in the most grounded and realistic superhero story every told on the big screen at the time, with an actor like Tobey Maguire, who made Peter Parker instantly relatable showing his struggles with this extraordinary “gift” he’s been given – INSTANT SUCCESS.
It’s interesting to think where the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be right now if Raimi’s Spidey trilogy had been a failure. Eventually it would’ve found its footing through numerous combinations of trial and error, but it’s almost as if superhero films are starting to have a resurgence with movies coming out such as Deadpool and Logan. There’s no denying that the MCU has pumped out some great movies and that they are money monsters at the box office, but the movies are getting repetitive as time goes on. This is yet again another instance in which the original Spider-Man movie has unintentionally influenced the success of movies such as Logan or even Deadpool. Studios need to always look back and remember how Sony took a chance with Sam Raimi, a passionate and enthusiastic man eager to tell the story of Spidey on the big screen, which resulted in a historic win.