Spider-Man has always held a hallowed place in the halls of comic book nerds everywhere. Though his powers aren’t terribly impressive in comparison to his more regal peers in Marvel, his big heart, refreshingly human origins and signature sense of humour won the public over. I myself was somewhat of a Spider-Man fanatic in the past. However, that burning love for the character eventually simmered into a quiet respect in time. There’s no denying Spidey’s popularity, or his monetary value. In 2014, Spider-Man had a media net worth of 1.3 billion dollars a year in terms of licensing. Sweet Uncle Ben, that’s a lot of money! Beating out the collective worth of Batman, Superman and the whole freaking Avengers. Needless to say, Spider-Man has had a long storied career in the media and market. That being said, his cinematic career can be classified as something of a recent phenomenon. It’s inception being the early 2000’s.
Throughout the years we’ve seen many actors come and go, donning the web marked mask and taking to the big screen. Each of them injecting their own unique ticks and idiosyncrasies to the character. Different directors and studios have also left their own distinct mark on the wallcrawler, each time putting their own spin on an o’so familiar tale. Sometimes, they’ll go off the rails and pull an Into The Spider-Verse but even then it’s a still a meta-deconstruction of the same story! So in celebration of all things Spidey, we’re ranking all the different versions of Spider-Man in film, from worst to best. So grab your underoos and silly string, cause it’s about to get webby!
4. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man (2016-Present)
Was this really such a surprise? I mean I’ve made known my thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Spider-Man in the past. At the risk of sounding downright blasphemous, I think Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is frankly the less Spider-Manny (I know it’s not a word) in the pack. There are a whole bunch of reasons why I think so but for the sake of brevity, I’ll be truncating my argument into two reasons: his lack of development and agency. A big part of Spider-Man’s drive and motivation is drawn from tragedy and loss. It’s what makes him relate to the downtrodden and motivates him to fight on their behalf. Just as the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents is closely tied to the creation of Batman, tragedy is a necessary component in creating a believable Spider-Man. Frankly, Parker here doesn’t seem to be too have much in the MCU. Furthermore, we’ve yet to really see him come into his own in terms of a solo act. Even in Homecoming, I couldn’t quite wipe the taste of the Avengers out of my mouth.
As of now, Tom Holland is the worst on this list. That could change in the foreseeable future if Disney does decide to flesh out his character more in future films. I mean Far From Home isn’t too far away come next year. Personally, I think MCU Peter Parker is a pretty cool guy to hang out with, maybe a little annoying if he’s constantly making references but an okay fella la. But as Spider-Man, it would seem the kid has more style than substance. Still, I’m rooting for Holland to become the Spider-Man we’ve come to know and love.
3. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man (2012-2014)
Ah yes, the odd middle child between the years. For what it’s worth, it’s also fun to call him Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man. Though I suspect the pun in his name isn’t the only reason Marc landed the directing gig. Picture it with me: it’s 2012, it’s been half a decade since the world bore witness to the mess that is Spider-Man 3. They’re ready to hope again, they’re ready for a new Spider-Man. Enter Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. His origin story is pretty by the numbers but this time around there’s a little more high school drama thrown into the mix. Overall, I really dug Garfield’s rendition of Spider-Man. He managed to find that right balance between humour and heroics. He luxuriated in the powers bestowed unto him and certainly used it to his own ends. But beneath all of that newfound strength, he had to learn the value of responsibility and life the hard way. Not just with the death of Uncle Ben but with Gwen Stacy’s dad as well.
He would be certainly higher on this list, if his second outing didn’t shit the bed, that’s for sure. Nonetheless, at the risk of sounding like an old Jewish stereotype, the kid’s got moxie. No matter how many times he gets the living crap kicked out of him, he gets back up. No matter how many personal losses from family to love interest the guy has suffered, he still freaking puts on the suit. While there are a lot of things to hate about Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker was not one of them. Till the very end, even after Gwen’s death, he still finds the strength to inspire the good people of New York and fight the good fight. It’s just too bad, he couldn’t survive a reboot. R.I.P. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, you shall be missed.
2. Miles Morales (2018-Present)
Spoilers for Into The Spider-Verse ahead.
I like Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker BUT I love Shameik Moore’s Miles Morales! He was an absolute breath of fresh air, giving us one of the most unique cinematic takes on the ole Spidey formula. I won’t be touching on the technical brilliance, aesthetics and structure of the film, seeing that Dash has already addressed that. That being said, I will be talking about some of the major plot beats in the film. Miles Morales is an intercity kid whose pressured by his cop dad to get into this snobby prep-school called Vision Academy. His dad really wants to give him a chance to move away from the inter-city life into something better. Miles begrudgingly complies. Miles finds comfort in his uncle Aaron Davis, who has a strained relationship with his brother. Just from that, you can start to see how Miles’ struggles are unique and yet familiar to us because a major theme in Spider-Man’s mythos is family. And because the film understands that, it properly sets up the emotional stakes in the beginning, so when tragedy comes around…it nails you in the gut. Gotta admit, there were some genuinely heartfelt moments between Miles and his uncle and dad, like man-tear moments. Moments I wish MCU Peter Parker had with his loved ones.
Besides having a pretty rich origin story, seeing Miles’ journey from inexperienced boy to fully realized Spider-Man is a trip. Remember those emotional stakes I was talking about, Spider-Verse expertly weaves them within the greater action-packed narrative seamlessly. Miles’ inability to cope with his powers is framed as a physical manifestation of his feelings of inadequacy. So when he finally takes a leap of faith, as advised by his alternate universe mentor, you see him have better control of his powers and abilities. It feels cathartic and well-earned. Oh, and speaking of powers, Miles has the ability to turn invisible and launch electric charges from his hands. I certainly never seen that before. You see Disney, this is how you do a teenage Spider-Man! Y’all got taken to school.
1. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man (2002-2007)
Next to The Dark Knight, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films are some of the greatest comic-book films of all time. In many ways, we owe them for the comic-book cinematic renaissance we enjoy today. Back then, comic-book films were seen as campy, childish and downright cartoonish. But when the world was introduced to Spider-Man in 2002, a major paradigm shift occurred. Superheroes could be seen as more than just live action childhood fantasies, they could be grounded and dramatic. And it all started with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Though not nearly as quippy as his counterparts, Maguire makes up for it in sheer dramatic chops. The man has been through hell and back again. Witnessing his uncle dying before his very eyes and carrying the guilt of indirectly his best friend’s dad, man he gives Batman a run for his money. It never ceases to amaze how someone who endured so much pain can still rise above it, time and time again.
The greatest testament to the true power of Spider-Man can be found in his second film. There is a powerful scene when an unmasked Peter is carried onto a train by its passengers after literally using everything in his arsenal to stop it from crashing. The passengers are stun to realize that hero is no more than just an ordinary kid, doing the best he can to make New York a better place. When the villain Doctor Octopus shows uptake Spider-Man, the civilians in defiance, stand in his way, defending their defender. Now that is Spidey’s greatest asset, his ability to inspire the people around him to rise above their selfish desires and fears to become everyday heroes. Though we can see traces of this in other versions Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire’s did it first and in my opinion better than anyone else. And while his third film was a mediocre affair, it is dwarfed by the cultural significance that the character brought to the cinematic world. For being the catalyst of the modern day comic-book era of films and being an all-around example of heroism, it is with great pride I crown thee the best Spider-Man…so far!
So who do you think was the superior Spider-Man? Do you agree with our list? Or do you think we’ve gotten the order all wrong? Be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments down below and stay tuned to your friendly neighbourhood film publication for all the latest films news, reviews and more!