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Spider-Man returns to Marvel: A short history of the webslinger on film

An image from a teaser for Marvel Comics' 2015
An image from a teaser for Marvel Comics' 2015 "Civil War," part of crossover "Secret Wars." Could Spidey appear in the new Captain America: Civil War film now that Marvel and Sony have worked out a deal?
An image from a teaser for Marvel Comics' 2015
Spider-Man alongside other members of the Avengers.
An image from a teaser for Marvel Comics' 2015
Spider-Man with the other core members of the Avengers: Captain America, Thor and Iron Man.

Spider-Man is coming home to join the rest of the Marvel movie family (um, except for the Fantastic Four and the X-Men) in upcoming films under a new deal struck between Sony, the home for Spider-Man movies, and Disney's Marvel Studios, home of Iron Man and the Avengers

It's been a bumpy road for Spidey for almost a decade, but now he's set to be part of the largely critically and financially successful Marvel Cinematic Universe films. He's already made history, and he could make more history soon. 

Here's a brief history of cinematic Spider-Man, looking ahead to his new adventures with Marvel's large and growing stable of movie superheroes.

Coming out of the superhero dark ages

Spider-Man was one of the catalysts for the current superhero movie boom. Superhero films were seen as potentially dead following the bomb of "Batman & Robin" with George Clooney, a critical failure and a mixed bag commercially.

Marvel dipped its toes in superhero movies with 1998's "Blade," which was a big hit, followed by 2000's "X-Men," but they both tried to distance themselves from their comic book source material (and the Joel Schumacher Batman movies) by putting their heroes in black leather and grounding them as much as possible in real-life aesthetics.

Sony's first "Spider-Man" movie came out in 2002 and showed that there was still room for an optimistic comic book take. The Sam Raimi-directed film also had a huge cultural impact as one of the first big summer movies following 9/11 — an early teaser that showed Spidey trapping bad guys between the two towers had to be pulled following the disaster.

Spider-Man 9/11 trailer

The movie ended up pulling in almost $822 million at the box office, including almost $404 million domestically, helmed by genre director Raimi, who had previously been best known for the horror-comedy "Evil Dead" films.

Spider-Man trailer

Tobey Maguire surprised as the star, pulling off the nerdy, earnest Peter Parker while also being believable enough as an action star in the Spider-Man suit. Maguire starred alongside Kirsten Dunst as love interest Mary Jane and Willem Dafoe as the villainous Green Goblin, and the film included the not-yet-a-superstar James Franco as Harry Osborn and now-Oscar-nominated J.K. Simmons as Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson.

A sequel, 2004's "Spider-Man 2," continued the success of the first, with only a slight dip in overall box office while proving that the first film's success wasn't just a flash in the pan, that there was room for a relatively bright superhero in a dark time.

Spider-Man 2 trailer

Maguire almost ducked out of filming during negotiations, complaining of back pains following injuries while filming "Seabiscuit," and Jake Gyllenhaal almost stepped into the role — but Maguire recovered and held onto his spot. The escapist entertainment of superhero movies was starting to take hold in a growing way, but the superhero train was about to come off the rails for a few years.

The twilight of Tobey Maguire

As "Spider-Man 2" was hitting theaters, 2004 also brought "The Punisher," "Blade: Trinity" and "Catwoman," none of which showed superheroes as particularly promising movie saviors.

Marvel turned out more superhero movies that weren't loved by critics, including "Elektra," "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," though the latter two still did well at the box office (all were released by 20th Century Fox). DC Comics made the critical and commercial hit "Batman Begins" in 2005, but stumbled in 2006 with the underperforming "Superman Returns."

In 2007, "Spider-Man 3" dropped, and while it did great at the box office — it was the series' most popular film worldwide, though it dipped domestically — it was slammed by fans and critics. They took that Spider-Man optimism and tried making him emo, while overstuffing the bad guys — going from one villain in the previous films and upping it to three — and turning the campy dialogue up to 11.

Spider-Man 3 trailer

Trying to be 'Amazing' in a new superhero era

While Spidey stumbled, the next year Marvel released its first film from its own studio, the groundbreaking "Iron Man." It showed that you could make a franchise from a hero who was big in the comics but didn't have the same mainstream recognition.

It revitalized Robert Downey Jr.'s career and put Marvel Studios on the map, with a post-credits sequence laying the seeds for completely tying the films together in a way that hadn't been done on this scale ever before.

While Marvel started to crank up their self-produced film, Spider-Man lay dormant. Eventually, it was decided to reboot the character with Andrew Garfield taking over the role in 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man." It scored the lowest domestic take of the series, while still excelling overseas.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 trailer 1

Sony quickly followed up with a sequel, while announcing their own plans to ape Marvel and try to create their own cinematic universe.

Amazing Spider-Man 2 villains trailer

The second "Amazing Spider-Man" movie set up other potential villains, and holding off the payoff of what exactly happened to Peter Parker's parents as Marvel tried to stretch Spider-Man into a female-led film, one focused on the villains, a movie led by Spidey character Venom and more.

Amazing Spider-Man first 10 minutes

The sequel showed diminishing returns, though, and plans for further sequels and spinoffs began to seem up in the air.


In the midst of the Sony hack, documents revealed that Sony and Marvel had been negotiating over Marvel using Spider-Man in its own films — despite Sony having the rights to the character in perpetuity as long as they kept producing films, a deal worked out before Marvel had the resources and the belief in their own filmmaking capabilities. Still, the documents also showed that the talks had fallen apart, and hopes for Spider-Man appearing with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the rest of his Marvel friends appeared dim.

Then, Monday, Marvel shocked everyone by announcing that Spider-Man was coming home and would be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe after all. There had been reports that they'd wanted Spider-Man for the third Captain America film, and with that film set for 2016, that may still happen. They also pushed back four of their "Phase Three" movies to make room in 2017 for a new "Spider-Man" movie, with reports indicating that the movie will feature a new actor taking over and Andrew Garfield getting pushed aside.

Spider-Man comes home

Andrew Garfield will likely go down in comics movie history as the right guy at the wrong time. He was a likable lead with a strong supporting cast, but Marvel looks ready to turn the page. Those on the Marvel side have previously indicated they'd avoid doing another origin story, so we'll probably skip seeing Uncle Ben killed to inspire Peter Parker once again.

"The new relationship follows a decade of speculation among fans about whether Spider-Man – who has always been an integral and important part of the larger Marvel Universe in the comic books – could become part of the Marvel Universe on the big screen," Marvel said in the announcement of the new deal.

Fans online have been largely ecstatic over the announcement of Marvel getting control of the character. Reports indicate that Sony still gets final say over Spider-Man, but that they're letting Marvel take the creative lead. Marvel also announced the possibility that other Marvel characters could appear in future Spider-Man films.

While Sony's Amy Pascal stepped down as the motion picture head of Sony following the hacking scandal and its associated public embarrassments, she's staying on as a producer — including co-producing the next Spider-Man film with Marvel creative film leader Kevin Feige.

Some fans have also asked for an even bigger step away from the traditional Spider-Man by introducing Miles Morales, the popular half-black/half-hispanic Spider-Man from an alternate universe in the comics, but the official Marvel press release does mention Peter Parker, and Marvel executives have previously taken a strong stance against moving away from Parker as the secret identity.

Still, as Badass Digest's Devin Faraci notes, the executive who'd taken the strongest stance against Miles Morales — Avi Arad — isn't mentioned in the press release about the new film, so maybe Marvel will surprise fans once again. Also, relations have apparently been icier between Marvel and Fox, with fans speculating that Marvel is trying to ice out the X-Men and the Fantastic Four from their comics — but if the companies could work out a deal to use those heroes in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, it could prove to be an even bigger surprise.

The new Spider-Man film is set for July 28, 2017, and he may appear in another Marvel film sooner.