Sam Raimi looks back at Marvel’s first mega-hit, how it helped New Yorkers heal after 9/11

SPIDER-MAN, Tobey Maguire, Kirstin Dunst, 2002, (c) Columbia Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in 2002 Spider Man† (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

The first Spider Man film opened 20 years ago, on May 3, 2002, a time when superhero movies were far from the box office giants they are in 2022.

For any instant comic-based classic like 1978’s Superman and from 1989 Batman in the previous decades there were countless misses such as: Flash Gordon (1980), Howard the Duck (1986), The shadow (1994), the phantom (1996) and Steel (1997), not to mention several much-maligned sequels Man of Steel and Caped Crusader.

“For a long time there were movies that failed,” Sam Raimi told us while promoting Marvel’s latest surefire hit, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Raimi, still gripped by his horror cult classic Evil Dead trilogy, had unsuccessfully tried to obtain the rights to both Batman and the Shadow. Instead, he made the brooding Liam Neeson starring in 1990 dark manan $18 million superhero monster movie mashup that was well received, but underperformed in ticket sales.

However, in the year 2000, everything changed. Just days after the turn of the century, Raimi was hired to direct Spider Man after Sony originally considered filmmakers like Burton, David Fincher, Chris Columbus, Michael Bay and M. Night Shyamalan. When Fox’s Marvel Ensemble X-Men opened to excellent reviews and hefty box office receipts in July, it set the blueprint for today’s comic book movie franchises.

Tobey Maguire, director Sam Raimi, Kirstin Dunst on the set of SPIDER-MAN, 2002 (c) Columbia Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Tobey Maguire, director Sam Raimi, Kirsten Dunst on the set of Spider Man† (Photo: Columbia Pictures/Courtesy of Everett Collection)

The cinematic Spidey swept into theaters with huge hype in May 2002 starring Tobey Maguire as the hero of all boys, Peter Parker. Telling the iconic comic origin story and alongside Kirsten Dunst as love interest Mary Jane Watson and Willem Dafoe as the evil Green Goblin, Spider Man impressed critics, admired fans and registered $403 million at the US box office (and $821 million worldwide). The film’s domestic gross was not only the highest of the year, it also beat major franchises Star WarsAttack of the ClonesHarry PotterSecret room) and Lord of the RingsThe two towers) each with a cool $100 million.

The first mega-hit of a millennial superhero was born.

Today, Raimi credits Sony and Marvel executives Amy Pascal, John Calley, Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach for Spider Manthe succes. “They knew this was going to be a good movie,” he says. “They had the foresight to see that this was really good footage.”

The blockbuster also came at a particularly challenging time in American history.

Spider Man went into production on January 8, 2001 and ended in June, three months before the tragic, world-changing events of 9/11.

In the film’s first teaser trailer, released that summer for movies like Jurassic Park III and American pie 2, a team of bank robbers is shown escaping a robbery by helicopter, only to be stopped in mid-air and trapped in a giant web. A dramatic pan-out reveals that the web has been spun in the middle of the World Trade Center’s two massive towers. Likewise, the film’s early teaser poster featured footage of Spider-Man peering between New York City’s skyscrapers, the World Trade Center reflected in his mask eyes.

Sony deleted such footage after terrorists attacked the US and destroyed the towers, killing thousands. (The footage in the trailer was never intended to be in the film.) However, Raimi and team had to digitally remove other shots of the Twin Towers from the film.

New York was still reeling from the devastating effects of 9/11 when Spider Man opened eight months later.

One scene in particular proved cathartic for the Big Apple audience seeking their favorite Queens-born hero. After Peter narrowly rescues Mary Jane and a streetcar full of kids all dangling down from Queensboro Bridge – while New York-accented extras hurl objects at Green Goblin with cries like “You’re messing with Spidey, you’re messing with New York” and “You’re messing with one of us , you’re messing with all of us” – the web slinger gets hearty cheers from the locals watching.

Crowds in New York City movie theaters also cheered.

Spidey had recovered to save the day, and New York could also return stronger than ever.

Raimi humbly acknowledges that the scene helped the city heal.

“In its own little way, the way escapist entertainment can take us away from our problems, I thought Spider-Man was trying his part to take New Yorkers away from the horror of 9/11 [with] short entertainment,” he says.

Raimi succeeded Spider Man with the even better received Spider Man 2 (2004), which some still consider the best comic book movie, and the decidedly more mixed film Spider Man 3 (2007).

The director hoped to make a fourth film, but it never happened.

“I took a break, I made a horror movie called drag me to helland then I would go into Spider Man 4,” he says. “But we couldn’t get the script together in time to make it great quality, so Sony Pictures and I decided to let them go through with the reboot and that I would quit.” (Sony has the series eventually rebooted, first with Andrew Garfield in it) The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider Man 2and then with Tom Holland in Spider-Man: HomecomingFar from home and the one from last summer No way homewhich brought all three Spider-Men together.)

Part of Raimi still hopes the story gets told. In fact, he won’t say much about the plot they made up for part 4, just in case that ever happens.

“We were still working on the script, and that was the problem, we were still trying to find the right journey for him, but it was the next step in his evolution. I don’t want to say too much in case Marvel or Sony want to move on.” with a version, but it was the next chapter that followed the story of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and the other characters.”

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of MadnessRaimi’s first superhero movie since Spider Man 3opens Friday.

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