In July, superhero fans will be treated to the sixth Spider-Man movie in just 15 years. Spider-Man: Homecoming, which stars Tom Holland, might be the tipping point for superhero saturation. (Actually, maybe that was 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man.) But there’s a good reason Sony keeps churning out movies about Peter Parker, the teen bitten by a radioactive spider who must learn that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The character swung into the comics in 1962 when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko decided the world was ready for a teenage protagonist who wasn’t just the sidekick. The nerdy Peter Parker appealed to adolescent and adult readers alike: unlike the super-rich Iron Man or actual god Thor, Parker is just in high school. He’s an orphan trying to balance his schoolwork and crushes with his radioactive spider-induced growing pains and crime-fighting hobbies. His development from shy, floundering teen into wisecracking superhero follows a classic bildungsroman structure that lends itself well to the silver screen.
The first three Spider-Man from the early 2000s, which set a high bar for the many superhero movies that followed, ensnared new fans in Spidey’s web. Now, Sony and Marvel Studios have teamed up to make Homecoming, brokering a rare deal between two major studios to revitalize a popular but flagging character. Here’s how it happened.
We can’t get enough of Spidey
Back in 1999 nary a superhero could be found in the summer cinema. (Among the top-grossing films that year: the first Star Wars prequel, The Sixth Sense, The Matrix and the Austin Powers sequel.) Marvel was struggling financially and sold off the movie rights to its most valuable properties: Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four. This sale is arguably the origin of the franchise frenzy we’re living in today: Fox got the X-Men and spun it into a massive franchise. (Fox’s Fantastic Four franchises were less successful.) Sony snagged Spider-Man and made three well-received movies directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the early 2000s. A fourth Raimi film starring Maguire was eventually scrapped.
That might have been the last we saw of Spidey. But then Marvel Studios struck gold with the first Iron Man movie in 2008, which became the bedrock of what would be a massive, character-driven empire. (Marvel was also bought by Disney.) Other studios began to mimic Marvel’s strategy, but Sony only held the rights to Spider-Man.
Reasoning that Spider-Man has everlasting appeal — the way James Bond continues to thrive despite the proliferation of onscreen spies — Sony decided to reboot Spidey, slap “amazing” in front of the character’s name and cast Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. (Instead of Mary Jane, Stone plays Gwen Stacey, Peter’s earlier love interest in the comic books.)
Despite the auspicious name of the movies’ director, Marc Webb, the reboots simply didn’t live up to the first Spider-Man series — critically or commercially. In 2014, Marvel turned Guardians of the Galaxy, an obscure comic featuring aliens, a talking raccoon and a monosyllabic tree, into a massive hit. The film handily beat the well-known and well-loved Spidey at the box office. That second Amazing Spider-Man film was the lowest grossing of Sony’s Spider-Man films to date.
So here we are with a third reboot, except production-wise things are changing a lot.
And this time Disney’s involved
After Marvel sold off some of its best characters, it was left trying to make blockbuster movies out of its B-team. They succeeded with surprise hit Iron Man. Disney snatched up the studio and began building what we now know as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, adding movies about Thor, Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy and other heroes. For comic book fans, though, there was a gaping hole in the Avengers team: a snarky Spider-Man.
After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underperformed, Marvel Studios and Sony struck a deal: Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige had long wanted to get Spider-Man back in the Marvel movies, and Sony needed a win as it fell behind other studios in the superhero race.
They came to this resolution: Spider-Man would feature as a player in the Marvel movies, including last year’s Captain America: Civil War and next year’s Avengers: Infinity War, and Disney would team up with Sony to revitalize Spider-Man in his own spinoff. Marvel has certainly benefited from the arrangement thus far: Spider-Man’s cameo in Civil War was greeted with delirium by comic book fans.
And we get to skip that damn backstory
The creators of Spider-Man: Homecoming have wisely decided to skip over Peter Parker’s origin story, which fans have already seen twice onscreen. We meet Peter in Civil War when he already has his powers and is lobbying Tony Stark (Iron Man) to make him a part of his Avengers team. The movie will focus on Peter as a teenager trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life, and how to balance school with superhero responsibilities.
That also means that Peter will be spending a lot more time around his locker than the previous two Spider-Men. Even though Peter was allegedly in high school at the beginning of both of those films, Tobey Maguire was already 27 when he first donned the Spidey suit, and Andrew Garfield was 29. The latest Spider-Man, Tom Holland, is just 21.
And it will become a whole universe
Spidey’s friends and foes are going to get their chance to shine. Several Spider-Man spinoffs are in the works, including a movie about the Spider-Man villain Venom starring Tom Hardy and one focusing on two female characters from the universe, Silver Sable and Black Cat. The Internet is also lobbying for Donald Glover to get his own Spidey spinoff — even though we’re not sure who he’s playing in Homecoming yet.
Mentions of poor Spidey’s ubiquity at the movies in reviews of Homecoming are inevitable. But the box office has proven that audiences are willing to watch certain heroes — James Bond, Batman, Han Solo — fight evil over and over again. Spider-Man is no exception.