2002’s Spider-Man was an absolute game changer, and while films like Blade and X-Men were popular, this was the film that kicked off the superhero craze that continues today. Sam Raimi was an inspired choice to helm the film, as his background with the Evil Dead franchise prepared him for the inventive visuals and cheeky humor. Best of all, the film captured a sense of corniness and self-awareness that suited Stan Lee’s classic text, and it wasn’t afraid to get a little bit sappy and goofy at points.
The origin story of Peter Parker is a perfect hero’s journey, and the exposition never grows dull due to Tobey Maguire’s charming idiosyncrasies. While the romance with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) can become slightly grating, all of the relationships within Peter’s life lay a foundation for the hero he becomes, especially his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson). It is now a moment that has been parodied and replicated countless times, but the “with great power comes great responsibility” speech remains a great cinematic moment that perfectly embodies everything that is integral to the character.
While he would be outdone by Alfred Molina’s performance as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2, Willem Dafoe is a great first antagonist as Norman Osborn/ Green Goblin. Dafoe is unafraid to embrace the campiness of the role, and seeing Harry Osborn (James Franco) get caught in between his father and best friend is one of the best storylines of the trilogy. There are moments that haven’t aged well, but for the most part the original Spider-Man holds up as a great example of how to capture heart, humor, and humanity in a summer blockbuster,
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
One of the biggest surprises of the decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a bold reinvention of the Spider-Man franchise that instantly ranked as one of the most visually inventive animated films ever made. It’s a story that could only be told through animation, as filmmakers Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman capture the feeling of flipping through the pages of a comic book. Each alternate version of Spider-Man brings with them a new style of animation, and because of the unique story, the origin story doesn’t feel stale.
Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a great protagonist, and while seeing the team of Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld), and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) assemble is an uproarious journey, the heart of the story lies in Miles discovering his identity. Many superhero films argue that “anyone can wear the mask,” but Into the Spider-Verse is the film that actually makes a compelling case for that message.
It’s also a hilarious film that is filled with sight gags and references, and fans have certainly enjoyed rewatching the film to look for added details. The relationship between Miles and Peter B. Parker is one of the most poignant hero/mentor relationships in quite some time, as both characters learn from each other equally. A film that captures the vastness of comic book universes that is still firmly rooted in the self-discovery of an origin story, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a breakthrough film within the medium.
2. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The best Spider-Man films are often the ones that adhere closest to the coming of age elements of the character, and Spider-Man: Homecoming feels like a modern take on a John Hughes type of high school comedy. Peter Parker has always been the kid that has bitten off more than he can chew, and Homecoming captures the insecurities that he feels better than ever before; Peter is an outsider at school and doesn’t know how to connect with other kids, but he also hasn’t been accepted as an Avenger and isn’t quite suited for the threats that exist. This approach helps to contextualize Spider-Man’s place within the MCU, but it also solidifies the eternal struggle of the character.
Tom Holland proves to be the perfect casting choice, capturing all the awkwardness and boyish charms of Peter Parker. The film also makes the smart decision to have Peter share his secret with a friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), who adds an appropriate amount of humor to the film and gives Peter someone to bounce his anxieties off of. Robert Downey Jr. makes appropriate appearances in the film as Peter’s mentor figure, but he doesn’t overshadow Peter’s journey or force any connections to the larger universe.
As Vulture, Michael Keaton proves to be one of the best superhero movie villains to date, as like Peter he is an ordinary guy who is thrust into circumstances he’s not prepared for. The scene in which Keaton is revealed to be the father of Peter’s crush Liz (Laura Harrier) is a genuinely unexpected plot twist, and the film’s action is all wonderfully low scale. Spider-Man: Homecoming reinvented the series without having to do an origin story, and it makes a compelling case that Tom Holland is the best actor to ever play Spider-Man.
1. Spider-Man 2
Over fifteen years later, Spider-Man 2 still hasn’t been topped. It’s the film that best encapsulates Peter Parker’s struggle, as he’s beset with every possible obstacle as he struggles to find work, is ignored by Mary Jane, and struggles to maintain his relationship with Harry Osborn when he blames Spider-Man for his father’s death. Given everything that he’s gone through and the unrewarding nature of being a hero who nobody truly knows, Peter decides to throw away the suit, and the film shows why this can never be the case.
This is one of the rare superhero films that is entirely built on character drama; while Sam Raimi includes an inherent campiness to the film, all of the characters have realistic motivations and leap off the screen. Harry is a conflicted character who investigates his father’s death, Mary Jane isn’t able to love Peter if he can’t show up for anything, and Aunt May must forgive Peter for hiding the truth about Uncle Ben’s death. The excellent character writing is most apparent in the depiction of Doctor Octavius (Alfred Molina), the rare villain who gains the audience’s sympathies to the same extent as the hero.
The iconic train action sequence isn’t just an electrifying set piece, but a perfect summation of Spider-Man’s relationship with New York and the reality of being a hero. The conclusions to Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane and Doctor Octavius’s sacrifice are earned, making for a strong conclusion that also paved the way for future adventures. Spider-Man 2 remains not only one of the best superhero movies ever made, but one of the best movie sequels of all-time.