In 2002, Sam Raimi directed a movie where Spider-Man hangs upside down from his spider-web and kisses Mary Jane Watson. Spidey had saved MJ from a couple of goons so she thanked him by unmasking him halfway to lock lips in the pouring New York City rain. It was a kiss never seen before. The “Upside Down Kiss” projected through celluloid in Spider-Man (2002) is a significant moment in cinema that will be remembered forever. There aren’t that many comic book movies or even original movies that have anything that comes close to what that scene will carry to the history books.
Peter Parker had just become Spider-Man. He’d been slowly making a name for himself in New York and had already saved Mary Jane prior to the kiss from a more traumatic attack from the Green Goblin. It was no big deal for the spectacular Spider-Man but this second encounter with MJ had much more intimacy at stake. Peter Parker has had an inability to share his feelings with MJ, but the suit gives him the power to let it out. He’s much more confident with his words behind the mask. Even more importantly, this is Peter’s first kiss with Mary Jane.
A lot of these comic book and superhero movies have romantic moments but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man not only has a lot to say underneath the action, it sticks to its message to the very end. “With great power, comes great responsibility.” The guy doesn’t end up with the girl next door. Maybe the studio foresaw its success but credit to them for taking a risk and letting Raimi end the romantic storyline on a down-note. Marc Webb doesn’t end The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) in the happiest note either but that kiss in Raimi’s Spider-Man ends up being the only romantic victory for Peter.
After five movies and two Spider-Man reboots, that kiss has stayed in pop culture and has yet to feel dated. Others will continue to reference and parody it. Its been in Shrek, The O.C., Saturday Night Live, and even more recently on Lip Sync Battle with John Legend and Chrissy Tegan.
Everyone anticipates the first kiss in a movie. It’s something that everyone can relate to but what other kissing scenes are as visually unique and beautiful that compels a couple to imitate? Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams kissing in the pouring rain from The Notebook is an easy fun one. Lady and the Tramp’s spaghetti kiss can be a romantic mess. Jack and Rose kissing as they fly on the tip of the Titanic will surely be expensive. A more recent one is the simple but culturally impactful beach kiss from Moonlight, which puts itself next to these iconic kissing scenes.
Blockbuster movies control Hollywood but it still isn’t for everyone. Yet certain scenes and characters have broken through the genre and brought itself into pop culture. After 15 years, the “Upside Down Kiss” continues to live on as much as Darth Vader’s most infamous line, “Luke, I am your father.” Anyone who takes on Batman has the difficult task to distance themselves from the fun and campy performance of Adam West.
Heath Ledger made an unforgettable performance as the Joker, outshining Batman in The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan had a tough job following that and gave us as close of a memorable character in Tom Hardy’s Bane. There’s the classic hero shot in all of these movies but Joss Whedon assembling the Avengers in a circle, legitimized the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having other studios connecting their own movies together. The Usual Suspects lining up and E.T. flying across the moon have become iconic logos that might surprise a younger audience when they see those movies for the first time. This of course is obviously not the goal for films but it’s a testament to the handful of filmmakers and actors that have successfully broken the mold to impact people who wouldn’t normally be impacted by a film.
Centuries from now certain pieces of art will define our generation as much as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting defines the High Renaissance of the 1500s. The Dark Knight’s realism has the Joker represent terrorism for what it is, terrorism. Bryan Singer’s X-Men is a commentary of the lives of the LGBTQ community. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman successfully empowers young women, being the first female led superhero movie that was directed by a woman. These are iconic movies that have set the bar high, that will be remembered for a long time, while the rest fade away.
These films can be very formulaic so a director’s voice can make or break the film. Sam Raimi’s horror background bleeds into his Spider-Man trilogy. Beyond that, the “Upside Down Kiss” is so important that it’s in all three of his films. It’s the defining image of Peter and MJ’s relationship. It represents what modern love is today. In Spider-Man 2, Mary Jane kisses her astronaut fiancé upside down, not because she thinks he might be Spider-Man, but because she’s in love with someone else. In Spider-Man 3, Peter’s ego is filled with fame, and in costume hangs upside down yet again but to kiss Gwen Stacy in front of MJ and a cheering crowd. The first kiss defines a modern boy becoming a modern man. Peter’s still a boy who’s afraid to show his face to the love of his life but not as Spider-Man. The original trilogy and Spider-Man’s character is a story of romance and coming of age, setting it apart from the others.
Spider-Man is on its way back to the big screen in Spider-Man: Homecoming starring Tom Holland, who impressed a lot of people in Captain America: Civil War. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield each had their own personal take as Spider-Man so how will Holland set himself apart in his own movie? How will Jon Watts compare to Sam Raimi and Marc Webb? No doubt the new movie will have a lot of web slinging and kissing but what will people outside the fanbase reference in the years to come? A kiss is just a kiss but it’s something that can be remembered forever.