Whether it's Uncle Ben or Aunt May wielding the sage words, Spider-Man fans know that with great power comes great responsibility. Of course, that extends to the actors who have donned Spider-Man's web slingers on the big screen. Between live-action and animation, we've seen more than a few depictions of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man — from Peter Parker to Miles Morales and beyond.
Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man trilogy will always hold a soft place in fans' hearts, as does the aptly-named director of The Amazing Spider-Man films: Marc Webb. And we can't forget our beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe Spidey, who won over audiences with wholesome charm and wholesome naivety.
However, it wasn't a live-action movie that turned Spider-Man on his axis with a wildly funny and surprisingly deep love letter to the web slinger and his many comic book variations. Fans had asked for a Miles Morales-led Spidey flick for almost a decade by the time Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse first graced our screens in 2018. Not only does Miles offer some much-needed representation to the role, but the character's first comic introduction in 2011 was a nice change of pace after one iteration of Peter Parker's untimely demise.
Comic book fans are used to new characters taking up a superhero mantle when a character meets a deadly fate. Changes in secret identities are a vital way for comics to shake up a superhero's arc, and it usually falls somewhere between bittersweet and an exciting change of pace. And though Spider-Man films have typically honed in on Peter Parker and his origin story, Into the Spider-Verse and its Across the Spider-Verse sequel cover a wide array of Spider-Men (and women) — filling the void for the versions of the superhero that fans were itching to see on the big screen.
In many cases of dual identity superhero films, actors often excel at one aspect of their character over the other: the secret identity or their superhero persona. Yet it's always refreshing when an actor comes along and nails all versions of their superhero. Regardless, there's something to love about every version of Spidey — between the Peter Parkers, the Miles Morales, and yes, even Peter Porker. So, here are the best on-screen depictions of Spider-Man that make our spidey senses tingle.
If we're honest, there wasn't a serious film version of Spider-Man until Tobey Maguire changed everything in 2002. The character received a few mildly corny adaptations in the late '70s to early '80s that primarily consisted of TV movies and other small-screen character versions that were adapted into feature films.
So, Spider-Man fans were thrilled to get a trio of blockbuster films starring their favorite superhero in a series that (mostly) takes the character seriously. Sure, Maguire was a little old to play a teenager, but that's par for the course in Hollywood. Yet despite his age, Maguire nailed the nerdy and slightly awkward aspects of Peter Parker in a series that is a charming product of the early aughts. Though his will they/won't they dynamic with MJ can be frustrating (and problematic at times), fans can't help but fall in love with the angst fest of Peter and MJ's young love. Spider-Man 3 gets a lot of admittedly deserving skepticism — between Peter's emo haircut and Peter's controlling behavior toward MJ — but even the third film in the trilogy has its moments.
Additionally, the OG trilogy nails something that Spidey's live-action iterations largely fail to do: offer cohesive and connected villain arcs. Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin is one of the most iconic comic book villain portrayals we've ever seen on film, and the tie-in with Harry's descent to the dark side is gut-wrenching. Maguire was there to helm it all, and it continues to be one of the strongest depictions we've seen on the big screen. Unfortunately, the mixed reviews of the third movie led to a scrapped fourth film, but 2007 wasn't the last of Maguire's Spider-Man.
Okay, so Andrew Garfield may be one of the most controversial live-action Spider-Men, but there's no arguing that he nailed Spidey to a T. Not everyone loved his too-cool-for-school Peter Parker, but Garfield embraced an aspect of Spidey that we didn't see much of from Maguire's version: the web slinger's witty zingers. Peter Parker may be a shy, gawky, awkward nerd, but he's a wise-cracking sass machine as soon as he puts on the spandex.
Garfield's comedic timing in his two Spidey flicks brings the superhero to life, making his turn as the Webbed Slinger a fan-favorite. Yet it's his relationship with Gwen that fans love the most about his turn with the dual role. Where MJ and Peter fall flat in many ways, Emma Stone brings so much life to Peter's love interest, making her death that much more tragic.
Sometimes, superheroes can't save the girl. Harry's arc in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 admittedly comes a bit out of left field. However, he does bring about Peter's darker side after what is arguably one of the most iconic scenes in a Spidey flick to date. Garfield's Spider-Man is a millisecond too late when he slings down to save Gwen, leading to a heartbreaking snap that has nothing to do with Thanos. Peter loses Gwen, and he's irrevocably changed.
Fans were hoping to finally see Spider-Gwen on the big screen after her death in the second film, but sadly, a third movie never happened. Yet with the 2021 reprisal of Spideys from years past, never say never.
If there's one thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe nails, it's casting. The budget for these movies is nothing to scoff at, allowing a host of incredible CGI and the partnership between Peter and other iconic Marvel heroes. Tom Holland was a relative newcomer when he first graced the screen as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Yet that's precisely what the character needed.
Holland excels at both sides of the Spider-Man persona, offering an adorkable Peter with a heart of gold and a more confident Spidey with enough one-liners to last a lifetime. Of course, Holland has the most screen time of any Spider-Man, having snagged three films of his own and extensive arcs in a number of MCU films.
Holland's Spidey is the result of a partnership between Marvel Studios and Sony, and fans are more than grateful that the two Hollywood powerhouses worked together to make it happen. Though Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy still has what many fans consider the best villainous arcs, Holland's second and third movie offers a fantastic slate of villains — both old and new. And if you can watch a terrified Holland tell "Mr. Stark" that he doesn't want to go without crying, you just might be in your villain era.
Aged-up Peter Parkers in Spider-Man: No Way Home
One thing that both of the OG live-action Spider-Man franchises failed to do is give fans closure. Spidey die-hards wished the first trilogy went out on a better note, and we were itching to see a storyline that extended past Gwen's death in Garfield's movies. The return of Garfield and Maguire was teased for months ahead of Spider-Man: No Way Home's release, but their iconic entrances into the film still shocked fans.
Not only was it an incredible feat to showcase all three Spider-Men on the same screen, but watching three very different versions of the characters interact and make each other better is fascinating. And sure, not every villain needs a redemption arc. Still, the movie rights the villainous wrongs of Peter's greatest foes, offering more developed and three-dimensional psyches to our favorite and even least favorite villains.
Green Goblin may be one of fans' favorite foes. However, Norman Osborn's struggle with his humanity and dual personality was never quite explored the way it could have been in the original trilogy. And that goes for all of Spidey's nemesis. Holland's third film is a character study on what drives a villain, and Goblin offers the most satisfying conclusion to that concept.
One can hope that his stint in the film changes the grisly direction of his son and himself. Yet even more gratifying is Garfield's Spidey righting his most significant life regret. He gets to Holland's MJ just in the knick of time to save her from a deadly fall, and the look in his eye is one of the most gut-wrenching (and rewarding) moments in Spider-Man movie history.
Finally, we meet Miles Morales in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. After years of anticipation, Shamiek Moore brought Peter Parker's successor to life in the animated film that many consider the best Spider-Man movie yet. Not only is the film brilliantly animated, but Moore adds a refreshingly modern twist on the beloved hero. He brings the culture of Brooklyn to life, which is a change of pace from Peter's typical Queens residence. Additionally, it's fun to see an aged Peter mentoring the next generation — something we haven't seen on-screen prior to the animated film.
Up until Into the Spider-Verse, fans never got to see what happens to Spidey a few decades after he starts slinging webs. In fact, most superhero movies don't broach this concept at all. What happens after a lifetime of sacrifice, wear and tear on the body, losing loved ones, and the toll of a fractured existence? Well, Jake Johnson explores that notion in the animated movie, and it's not pretty — nor should it be.
The life of a superhero may seem glamorous. But in reality, it's hard, it's messy, and it's filled with sadness. Imagine the weight of a secret so dangerous that it puts your loved ones at risk just knowing it. That's what superheroes have to contend with, and it's a lonely, deadly existence. Of course, Peter reluctantly helps Miles take on the webbed throne, but the cost of being a superhero is not lost on audiences. We just hope Miles fares better.
Is the concept of Peter Porker (AKA Spider-Ham) ridiculous? Sure. Is it also absurdly iconic? Absolutely. And who better to take on this role than comedian John Mulaney? Fans can't help but laugh any time Peter Porker graces the screen in Into the Spider-Verse. Given the animation of the movie, we get to see all kinds of Spidey depictions that would never work in a live-action capacity, and Peter Porker is just one of the many iconic Peters the film has to offer.
Adding to the delightful absurdity of Into the Spider-Verse's wacky slate of Spider-people (and pigs), the movie scored a cameo from Nic Cage as Spider-Man Noir. The character is precisely what you'd expect: a black-and-white homage to the classic '20s genre. Cage is just one of many star-studded actors the movie nabbed, joining the likes of Chris Pine, Kathryn Hahn, Oscar Isaac, and Zoë Kravitz.
Fans are still bitter that we never saw Emma Stone take up the Spider-Gwen mantle, but Hailee Steinfeld rights that wrong in Into the Spider-Verse. While her male counterparts are bested by a gender-bent Doc Ock, Spider-Woman comes in to save the day in an effortlessly cool way that only Gwen Stacey can pull off. In Gwen's world, she loses Peter Parker instead of the other way around. But, hey. Who runs the world? Girls.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse premieres in theatres on June 2! See it at Regal.