I did not do any research on the Spider-Man movies before endeavoring to rank them below. I do not claim to be ranking these in any other way than my personal preferences. For many, debating the ranking of movies such as this gives them a thrill. I hesitate to admit that I have no problem if your rankings are different than mine. That being said, I am still boggled by the fact that they rebooted Spider-Man as The Amazing Spider-Man just five years after Spider-Man 3 and then rebooted it AGAIN just three years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2. As an almost 40-year-old, I have been over twenty years old when all iterations of Spider-Man were released which puts me in a good position to accurately judge them all but also in an annoyed position that EIGHT(!!) Spider-Man movies have been released in the last 17 years. That is almost one every two years. And it’s not like they have just jumped in every time: three of those movies were origin stories and each new reboot (with the possible exception of Into the Spider-Verse) has ignored the story lines and characters of the previous group. This adds up to Spider-Man fatigue on my part and yet, I am excited to put out a ranking on the heels of three Spider-Man movies in the last two years. Feel free to disagree vehemently.
8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I am a big fan of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Their collective acting talents are impressive but they cannot save a movie that should never have existed in the first place. Jamie Foxx hams it up suitably as Electro, but his story makes very little impact. The death of Gwen Stacy is interesting and definitely adds unexpected emotional depth, but the movie never justifies its existence. And wasting Paul Giamatti is a sin I can not forgive.
7. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I like this movie much more than the average person. I realize that there are many weird parts (the dance scene not least among them), and it is clear from very early on that director Sam Raimi tried to stuff way too much story into one movie. Two villains is often too much for any comic-book movie and three is just silly. Thomas Haden Church does an exceptional job of gaining empathy for his big-screen baddie Sandman, Harry’s redemption story as the Green Goblin may have played out beautifully in a different movie where he was the showcase, and Topher Grace’s Venom has a backstory that would have been compelling had it been given more time to breathe. Add on to that an alluring Bryce Dallas Howard and you have a lot of wasted potential. Nevertheless, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the film, often defending it in the face of people who dismiss it as “stupid.” My affinity, though, does not extend to ranking it higher than #7.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Andrew Garfield was almost thirty years old when this movie was filmed and Emma Stone was around twenty-three. While I am aware that older actresses and actors often play high-school-age characters, these two looked particularly old and simply made me wish that they had been cast as Spider-Man and Gwen (or Mary Jane) in the first place. But wishing for a time machine does not erase the fact that this reboot happened much too close to the conclusion of the previous trilogy. It also does not erase the fact that Andrew Garfield skateboarding looks like a grown man trying to pretend he is hip or cool. To top it all off, they retold Peter Parker’s Spider-Man origin story as if the audience was seeing it for the first time, which made the movie feel stale. I think Denis Leary and Rhys Ifans try their level-best to instill the movie with some much needed energy, but nothing could make it feel relevant or needed. I would watch Garfield and Stone in any movie, truly. I would just rather watch them in something else.
5. Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
When Spider-Man got rebooted for the third time, I truly expected it was a prank. Though Tom Holland sparkled in Captain America: Civil War, to start another Spider-Man series seemed ridiculous. But since Marvel was taking over the world, they went for it anyway. Their initial effort (see above) surprisingly justified its existence, against all odds. This sequel is fun and features frisky work from Zendaya and Jake Gyllenhaal and tries its damnedest to embed an interesting twist but still feels too much like “been there, done that.” Tom Holland is charming and soulful, while realistically pulling off “high school student,” but he is stuck hitting similar Peter Parker notes. The movie’s conclusion is exciting in an “I am Iron Man”-type of way but the movie cannot quite add anything worthwhile to the canon.
4. Spider-Man (2002)
Sam Raimi’s initial Spider-Man film, which pre-dated the Marvel Cinematic Universe world takeover features subtle work from Tobey Maguire (still too old but suitably naive) and Kirsten Dunst and nails the tricky tone of a comic-book adaptation at a time when “comic-book adaptation” was a novel concept. Willem Dafoe overplays every scene but it somehow works. (His manic and bizarre conversations with himself in a mirror manage to be absurd and effective in equal measure.) James Franco’s arrogant glowering ascends to a category all its own, as if he stepped out of a John Hughes 80’s comedy. The story is mostly driven by the excitement of watching . . . .
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
This movie broke down my defenses. When I saw the first trailer, I vowed I would not see it. The sting of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was still fresh in my mind and the prospect of watching ANOTHER Marvel movie, especially one as played out as your friendly neighborhood webslinger. Alas, my kids begged me to take them and my wife passed the responsibility onto me. With great prejudice I took the kids and was heartened to find that it found a few new beats to hit and resonated in a way that I did not expect. The Iron Man/Spider-Man dynamic was well-observed by Robert Downey, Jr. and Tom Holland, adding pathos to a well-worn story. Zendaya introduced a moodier, more appealing version of Mary Jane, igniting peaked interest in the Peter-MJ pairing. The script also found room to make some comments about the plight of the working man through Michael Keaton’s sympathetic Adrian Toomes and utilized his interesting character for one of the most organic twists in the entirety of the MCU. The bottom line is that this movie successfully made the newer generation dismiss the previous Spider-Man iterations because they will never feel a need to go back and revisit them.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Prior to Iron Man and the launch of the extended Marvel Universe, Spider-Man 2 was considered the best comic-book movie pretty globally, or at least in the conversation with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, which came out a year later. Sam Raimi, freed from the constraints of an origin story, found ample room to play with the relationship between Maguire’s Peter and Dunst’s Mary Jane and introduced an iconic villain, Doctor Octopus, portrayed with panache by Alfred Molina. This movie features the now-classic train scene as Spider-Man saves a car-full of people and they keep his identity safe. It also reveals Peter’s secret identity to both Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, blowing up the normal rules of comic-book engagement. Even the demise of Doc Ock is moving and unexpected. I would suggest that Spider-Man 2 executed the comic-book template better than many of the Marvel movies by letting the story serve the characters more than the opposite. Arguably a classic of the genre.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Was any movie more unexpectedly incredible that Into the Spider-Verse? I can’t think of one. On the heels of the third go-round of a Spider-Man series came this animated bolt of lightning, somehow completely revitalizing the ethos of Spider-Man. Spider-Verse paid tribute to some of the past Spider-Men in a cheeky opening scene and then dove into a quirky story of multiple dimensions, multiple spider-people, and ample diversity, highlighted by the main character, Miles Morales, who has an African-American dad and a Latina mother. Miles has a somewhat fraught relationship with his police officer father, a warm connection with his ne’er-do-well uncle, and a budding friendship with a rebellious classmate. Some of those explanations may seem like tropes but the animation and the voice work imbue the familiar elements with electricity and insight. No comic-book movie has ever looked more like a comic book than Spider-Verse. The voice actors are uniformly fantastic, particularly Shameik Moore, who highlights Miles’ naivete and fear, Brian Tyree Henry, as Officer Morales, who delivers the loving angst of a worried father, Nicolas Cage, as Spider-Man Noir, who manages to steal every scene he is in simply through his line readings, and Jake Johnson, as Peter B. Parker, whose hangdog apathy gives way to compassionate mentorship with immediacy and truth. I have never been so excited to be proven wrong by the brilliance of a film than I was when I saw Into the Spider-Verse. For something that should have felt as stale as last year’s croutons, it came out as fresh as just-picked cilantro. It is as visually stunning as the best-shot live-action movies and as moving as the most affecting live-action dramas. Any movie that presents a character named Spider-Pig (voiced by John Mulaney) and lets him loose with a huge cartoon hammer is probably going to have my love. It’s as hard to describe as it is dazzling.