After progress on the film stalled for nearly 25 years, it was licensed for a worldwide release by Columbia Pictures in 1999 after it acquired options from MGM on all previous scripts developed by Cannon Films, Carolco and New Cannon. Exercising its option on just two elements from the multi-script acquisition (a different screenplay was written by James Cameron, Ted Newsom, John Brancato, Barney Cohen and "Joseph Goldman"), Sony hired David Koepp to create a working screenplay (credited as Cameron's), and Koepp received sole credit in final billing. Directors Roland Emmerich, Ang Lee, Chris Columbus, Jan de Bont, M. Night Shyamalan, Tony Scott and David Fincher were considered to direct the project before Raimi was hired as director in 2000. The Koepp script was rewritten by Scott Rosenberg during pre-production and received a dialogue polish from Alvin Sargent during production. Filming took place in Los Angeles and New York City from January 8 to June 30, 2001.
High-school senior Peter Parker lives with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and is a school outcast. On a school field trip, he visits a genetics laboratory with his friend Harry Osborn and love interest Mary Jane Watson. There, Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered "super spider." Shortly after arriving home, he becomes unconscious. Meanwhile, Harry's father, scientist Norman Osborn, owner of Oscorp, is trying to secure an important military contract. He experiments on himself with an unstable performance-enhancing chemical. After absorbing the chemical, he goes insane, and kills his assistant.
The next morning, Peter finds that he is no longer near-sighted, and his body has metamorphosized into a more muscular physique. At school, he finds that his body can produce webs, and his quickened reflexes let him avoid injury during a confrontation with Flash Thompson. Peter discovers he has developed superhuman speed, strength, the ability to stick to surfaces, and a heightened ability to sense danger.
Brushing off Ben's advice that "with great power comes great responsibility," Peter thinks of impressing Mary Jane with a car. He enters an underground fighting tournament and wins his first match, but the promoter cheats him out of his money. When a thief suddenly raids the promoter's office, Peter allows him to escape. Moments later, he discovers that Ben was carjacked, and killed. Peter pursues and confronts the carjacker, only to realize it was the thief he let escape. After Peter disarms him, the carjacker flees, but dies in the process. Meanwhile, a crazed Norman interrupts a military experiment, and kills several scientists and the military's General Slocum.
Upon graduating, Peter begins using his abilities to fight injustice, donning a costume and the persona of Spider-Man. J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper company headmaster, hires Peter as a freelance photographer, since he is the only person providing clear images of Spider-Man.
Norman, upon learning Oscorp's board members plan to sell the company, assassinates them at the World Unity Fair. Jameson quickly dubs the mysterious killer the Green Goblin. Norman offers Peter a place at his side, but Peter refuses. They fight, and Peter is wounded. At Thanksgiving dinner, May invites Mary Jane, Harry, and Norman. During the dinner, Norman sees the wound and realizes Peter's identity. Shortly after he leaves, Norman attacks, and hospitalizes May.
Mary Jane admits she has a crush on Spider-Man, who has rescued her on numerous occasions, and asks Peter whether Spider-Man ever asked about her. Harry, who loves Mary Jane, arrives and learns she has feelings for Peter. Devastated, Harry tells his father that Peter loves Mary Jane, unintentionally revealing Spider-Man's biggest weakness.
Norman holds Mary Jane and a Roosevelt Island Tram car full of children hostage alongside the Queensboro Bridge. He forces Peter to choose whom he wants to save, and drops Mary Jane and the children. Peter manages to save both Mary Jane and the tram car, while Norman is pelted by civilians who side with Spider-Man. Norman then grabs Peter and throws him into an abandoned building where they battle. When Norman boasts about how he will later kill Mary Jane, an enraged Peter overpowers Norman.
Norman reveals himself to Peter, who stops attacking. He begs for forgiveness, but at the same time controls his glider to impale his foe. Sensing the attack, Peter dodges, and the glider impales Norman. As he dies, Norman begs Peter not to tell Harry of Norman's identity. Peter takes Norman's body back to his house. Harry arrives to find a costumed Peter standing over his father's body. He seizes a gun, intent on shooting Peter, but Peter escapes and hides Norman's equipment.
At Norman's funeral, Harry swears vengeance toward Spider-Man, whom he deems responsible for his father's death, and asserts that Peter is all the family he has left. Mary Jane confesses to Peter that she is in love with him. Peter, however, feels that he must protect her from the unwanted attention of his enemies. He hides his true feelings, and tells Mary Jane that they can only be friends. As Peter leaves the funeral, he recalls Ben's words, and accepts his new responsibility as Spider-Man.Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker / Spider-Man
An 18 year-old academically brilliant but socially inept freelance photographer who gets bitten by a genetically modified spider and gains spider-like abilities, all of which he uses to fight crime as a spider-masked vigilante learning for himself that great power comes with great responsibility. Maguire was cast as Peter in July 2000, having been Raimi's primary choice for the role after he saw The Cider House Rules
. The studio was initially hesitant to cast someone who did not seem to fit the ranks of "adrenaline-pumping, tail-kicking titans", but Maguire managed to impress studio executives with his audition. The actor was signed for a deal in the range of $3 to $4 million with higher salary options for two sequels. To prepare, Maguire was trained by a physical trainer, a yoga instructor, a martial arts expert, and a climbing expert, taking several months to improve his physique. Maguire studied spiders and worked with a wire man to simulate the arachnidlike motion, and had a special diet. The studio had expressed interest in actors Leonardo DiCaprio
, Edward Furlong, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Chris Klein, Wes Bentley
, and Heath Ledger. Edward Furlong had been considered by James Cameron
for the role in 1996, while Raimi joked of Prinze that "[he] won't even be allowed to buy a ticket to see this film." In addition, actors Scott Speedman, Jay Rodan, and James Franco were involved in screen tests for the lead role with Franco later being cast as Harry Osborn.Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn / Green Goblin
A 56-year-old scientist, engineer, billionaire, founder and owner of Oscorp, who tests an unstable strength enhancer on himself and becomes the insane and powerful demon. Unaware of Spider-Man's true identity, he also sees himself as a father figure for Peter, ignoring his own son, Harry. Dafoe was cast as Osborn in November 2000, after Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich
, and John Travolta turned down the role. Dafoe insisted on wearing the uncomfortable costume as he felt that a stuntman would not convey the character's necessary body language. The 580-piece suit took half an hour to put on.Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson
A 17-year-old girl who Peter Parker has loved since childhood. Mary Jane has an abusive father, and aspires to become an actress, but becomes a waitress at a run down diner, a fact she hides from her boyfriend, Harry. Before Raimi cast Dunst, he had expressed his interest in casting Alicia Witt. Dunst decided to audition after learning Maguire had been cast, feeling the film would have a more independent feel. Dunst earned the role a month before shooting in an audition in Berlin.James Franco as Harry Osborn
A 16-year-old boy who is Peter Parker's best friend and Norman's son. Before being cast as Peter's best friend and flatmate, Franco had screen tested for Spider-Man himself.Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker
May Parker's husband and Peter Parker's uncle, a fired electrician who is trying to find a new job. He tells Peter an important advice about responsibility out of concern for his changing behavior before being killed by a carjacker whom Peter failed to stop, and leaves Peter with the message, "With great power comes great responsibility."Rosemary Harris as May Parker
Ben Parker's wife and Peter Parker's aunt who is supportive of Peter's love for Mary Jane.J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
The grouchy and miserly owner/publisher of the Daily Bugle
who despises Spider-Man. Nonetheless, he has a good side and pays Peter for photos of Spider-Man, and refuses to tell the Green Goblin the identity of the photographer.Joe Manganiello as Flash Thompson:
A repugnant high school jock who bullies Peter, and is defeated in a fight after Peter inherits his spider powers.Bill Nunn as Robbie Robertson
The kindly editor at the Daily Bugle
, who on occasion helps Peter.Michael Papajohn as The Carjacker
The criminal who robs the wrestling manager who refuses to pay Peter Parker for his ring performance and later murders Ben Parker when he carjacks him in the course of his escape. He dies by falling from a window when confronted by Peter.Elizabeth Banks as Miss Brant
As seen in past Spider-Man
comics, Betty Brant is Jameson's secretary who has a bit of a soft spot for Peter.Ron Perkins as Dr. Mendel Stromm
A scientist employed by Oscorp that assists Norman Osborn in developing the Human Performance Enhancers that eventually transforms Osborn into the Green Goblin which kills him.Randy Savage as Bone Saw McGraw
A wrestler whom Spider-Man defeats in the cage match at the wrestling tournament.Octavia Spencer as Check-in Girl
who signs Peter Parker into the wrestling match and warns him that they are not liable for the injuries he will sustain.Lucy Lawless as Punk Rock girl
Bruce Campbell, a long-time colleague of director Sam Raimi, has a cameo as the announcer at the wrestling ring Peter takes part in. Years later, Jeffrey Henderson who worked on the storyboards for the cancelled Spider-Man 4 movie, released information regarding which villains would appear within the movie. One of those included Bruce Campbell's character's progression into Quentin Beck / Mysterio. Ted Raimi, Sam Raimi's actor brother, plays a small role as editor's assistant "Hoffman". Sam Raimi himself appeared off-screen, throwing popcorn at Peter as he enters the arena to wrestle Bonesaw McGraw. Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee also has a cameo, in which he asks Peter, "Hey kid, would you like a pair of these glasses? They're the kind they wore in X-Men." The scene was cut, and Lee only briefly appears in the film to grab a young girl from falling debris during the battle between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in Times Square. R&B/soul singer Macy Gray appears as herself. One of the stunt performers in the film is actor Johnny Tri Nguyen. Robert Kerman, best known for his performances in pornographic and exploitation films, has a bit part as a tugboat captain. It was also intended for Hugh Jackman to make an appearance in the film as Logan / Wolverine, reprising the role from 2000's X-Men, but a dispute between Sony and 20th Century Fox over the characters' film rights prevented it from happening.
In April 1999, although Sony Pictures optioned from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer all preceding script versions of a Spider-Man film, it only exercised the options on "the Cameron material," which contractually included a multi-author screenplay and a forty-five page "scriptment" credited only to James Cameron. The studio announced they were not hiring Cameron himself to direct the film nor would they be using his script. The studio lined up Roland Emmerich, Tony Scott, Chris Columbus, Ang Lee, David Fincher, Jan de Bont and M. Night Shyamalan as potential directors. Fincher did not want to depict the origin story, pitching the film as being based on The Night Gwen Stacy Died storyline, but the studio disagreed. Sam Raimi was attached to direct in January 2000, for a summer 2001 release. He had been a fan of the comic book during his youth, and his passion for Spider-Man earned him the job.
Cameron's work became the basis of David Koepp's first draft screenplay, often word for word. Cameron's versions of the Marvel villains Electro and Sandman remained the antagonists. Koepp's rewrite substituted the Green Goblin as the main antagonist and added Doctor Octopus as the secondary antagonist. Raimi felt the Green Goblin and the surrogate father-son theme between Norman Osborn and Peter Parker would be more interesting, thus, he dropped out Doctor Octopus from the film. In June, Columbia hired Scott Rosenberg to rewrite Koepp's material. Remaining a constant in all the rewrites was the "organic webshooter" idea from the Cameron "scriptment". Raimi felt he would stretch the audience's suspension of disbelief too far to have Peter invent mechanical webshooters.
Rosenberg removed Doctor Octopus and created several new action sequences. Raimi felt adding a third origin story would make the film too complex. Sequences removed from the final film had Spider-Man protecting Fargas, the wheelchair-using Oscorp executive, from the Goblin, and Spider-Man defusing a hostage situation on a train. As production neared, producer Laura Ziskin hired her husband, award-winning writer Alvin Sargent, to polish the dialogue, primarily between Peter and Mary Jane. Columbia gave the Writers Guild of America a list of four writers as contributors to the final "Spider-Man" script: Rosenberg, Sargent and James Cameron, all three of whom voluntarily relinquished credit to the fourth, David Koepp.
With Spider-Man cast, filming was set to begin the following November in New York City and on Sony soundstages. The film was set for release a year later, but when the film was postponed to be released on May 3, 2002, filming officially began on January 8, 2001 in Culver City, California. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, certain sequences were re-filmed, and images of the Twin Towers were digitally erased from the film. Sony's Stage 29 was used for Peter's Forest Hills home, and Stage 27 was used for the wrestling sequence where Peter takes on Bonesaw McGraw (Randy Savage). Stage 27 was also used for the complex Times Square sequence where Spider-Man and the Goblin battle for the first time, where a three-story set with a breakaway balcony piece was built. The scene also required shooting in Downey, California. On March 6, forty-five-year-old construction worker Tim Holcombe was killed when a forklift modified as a construction crane crashed into a construction basket that he was in. The following court case led to the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to fine Sony $58,805.
In Los Angeles, locations included the Natural History Museum (for the Columbia University lab where Peter is bitten and receives his powers), the Pacific Electricity Building (the Daily Bugle offices) and Greystone Mansion (for the interiors of Norman Osborn's home). In April, 4 of the Spider-Man costumes were stolen, and Sony put up a $25,000 reward for their return. They were recovered after 18 months and a former movie studio security guard and an accomplice were arrested. Production moved to New York City for two weeks, taking in locations such as the Queensboro Bridge, the exteriors of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library and the New York Public Library, and a rooftop garden in the Rockefeller Center. The crew returned to Los Angeles where production and filming ended in June. The Flatiron Building was used for the Daily Bugle.
Although it wound up being faithful to the comics, many designs were made for Spider-Man's costumes: one concept costume designer James Acheson became fond of the idea of having a red emblem over a black costume. Another, which would eventually lead to the final product, featured an enlarged logo on the chest and red stripes going down the sides of the legs. To create Spider-Man's costume, Maguire was fitted for the skintight suit, being covered with layers of substance to create the suit's shape. It was designed as a single piece, except for the mask. The webbing, which accented the costume, was cut by computer. The mask eye lenses were designed to have a mirror look.
Visual effects supervisor John Dykstra was hired to produce the film's visual effects in May 2000. He convinced Raimi to make many of the stunts computer generated, as they would have been physically impossible. Raimi had used more traditional special effects in his previous films and learned a lot about using computers during production. Raimi worked hard to plan all the sequences of Spider-Man swinging from buildings, which he described as, "ballet in the sky." The complexity of such sequences meant the budget rose from an initially planned $70 million to around $100 million. Shots were made more complicated because of the main characters' individual color schemes, so Spider-Man and the Green Goblin had to be shot separately for effects shots: Spider-Man was shot in front of a greenscreen, while the Green Goblin was shot against bluescreen. Shooting them together would have resulted in one character being erased from a shot.
Dykstra said the biggest difficulty of creating Spider-Man was that as the character was masked, it immediately lost a lot of characterization. Without the context of eyes or mouth, a lot of body language had to be put in so that there would be emotional content. Raimi wanted to convey the essence of Spider-Man as being, "the transition that occurs between him being a young man going through puberty and being a superhero." Dykstra said his crew of animators had never reached such a level of sophistication to give subtle hints of still making Spider-Man feel like a human being. When two studio executives were shown shots of the computer generated character, they believed it was actually Maguire performing stunts. In addition, Dykstra's crew had to composite areas of New York City and replaced every car in shots with digital models. Raimi did not want it to feel entirely like animation, so none of the shots were 100% computer generated.
After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Sony recalled teaser posters which showed a close-up of Spider-Man's face with the New York skyline (including, prominently, the World Trade Center towers) reflected in his eyes. The film's original teaser trailer, released in 2001 and shown before Atlantis: The Lost Empire, American Pie 2, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Jurassic Park III, featured a mini-film plot involving a group of bank robbers escaping in a Eurocopter AS355 Twin Squirrel helicopter, which gets caught from behind and propelled backward into what at first appears to be a net, then is shown to be a gigantic spider web spun between the World Trade Center towers. According to Sony, the trailer did not contain any actual footage from the film itself and is consequently one of the most popular "Special Shoot" trailers since Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The trailer and poster were pulled after the events of the attacks, but can be found on the internet on websites such as YouTube.
Before the film's British theatrical release in June 2002, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) gave the film a "12" certificate. Due to Spider-Man's popularity with younger children, this prompted much controversy. The BBFC defended its decision, arguing that the film could have been given a "15". Despite this, North Norfolk and Breckland District Councils, in East Anglia, changed it to a "PG", and Tameside council, Manchester, denoted it a "PG-12". The U.S. rated it "PG-13" for "stylized violence and action". In late August, the BBFC relaxed its policy to "12A", leading Sony to re-release the film.
Spider-Man became the first film to pass the $100 million mark in a single weekend, even when adjusting for inflation, with its $114,844,116 mark establishing a new opening weekend record. The gross surpassed the previous record holder's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone $90 million opening; on this, Rick Lyman of The New York Times wrote, "while industry executives had expected a strong opening for the film because there was little competition in the marketplace and prerelease polling indicated intense interest from all age groups, no one predicted that Spider-Man would surpass the Harry Potter record."
The film also set a record for crossing the $100 million milestone in 3 days, at the time being the fastest any film had reached the mark. This opening weekend haul had an average of $31,769 per theater, which at time, Box Office Mojo reported as being "the highest per theater average ever for an ultra-wide release." The film's three-day record was surpassed by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest four years later. The $114.8 million opening weekend was the highest at the North America box office film for a non-sequel, until it was surpassed eight years later by Alice in Wonderland.
With the release in the United States and Canada on May 3, 2002 on 7,500 screens at 3,615 theaters, the film earned $39,406,872 on its opening day, averaging $10,901 per theater. This was the highest opening day at the time until it was surpassed by its sequel Spider-Man 2's $40.4 million haul in 2004. Spider-Man also set an all-time record for the highest earnings in a single day with $43,622,264 on its second day of release, a record later surpassed by Shrek 2 in 2004. On the Sunday during its opening weekend, the film earned an additional $31,814,980, the highest gross a film took in on a Sunday, at the time.
The film stayed at the top position in its second weekend, dropping only 38% and grossing another $71,417,527, while averaging $19,755.89 per theater. At the time, this was the highest grossing second weekend of any film. During its second weekend, the film crossed the $200 million mark on its ninth day of release, also a record at the time. At the end of its second weekend, the film brought in a 10-day total of $223,040,031.
The film dropped to the second position in its third weekend, behind Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, but still made $45,036,912, dropping only 37%, averaging $12,458 per theater, and bringing the 17-day tally to $285,573,668. Its third weekend haul set the record for highest grossing third weekend, which was first surpassed by Avatar (2009). It stayed at the second position in its fourth weekend, grossing $35,814,844 over the four-day Memorial Day frame, dropping only 21% while expanding to 3,876 theaters, averaging $9,240 over four days, and bringing the 25-day gross to $333,641,492. In the box office, Spider-Man became 2002's highest-grossing film with $403,706,375 in the U.S. and Canada, defeating The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Spider-Man currently ranks as the 24th highest-grossing film of all time in the U.S. and Canada, not adjusted for inflation. The film also grossed $418,002,176 from its international markets, bringing its worldwide total to $821,708,551, making it 2002's third-highest-grossing film behind The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the 58th highest-grossing film of all time, worldwide. The film sold an estimated 69,484,700 tickets in the US. Spider-Man was the highest-grossing superhero origin film, a record it held for 15 years until it was surpassed by Wonder Woman. It is the eighth highest-grossing superhero film, as well as eighth highest-grossing comic book adaptation in general.
International markets which generated grosses in excess of $10 million include Australia ($16.9 million), Brazil ($17.4 million), France, Algeria, Monaco, Morocco and Tunisia ($32.9 million), Germany ($30.7 million), Italy ($20.8 million), Japan ($56.2 million), Mexico ($31.2 million), South Korea ($16.98 million), Spain ($23.7 million), and the United Kingdom, Ireland and Malta ($45.8 million).
Spider-Man became the highest-grossing superhero film of all time at the time of its release, both domestically and worldwide. Its domestic gross was eventually topped by The Dark Knight (2008). Its worldwide gross was first surpassed by Spider-Man 3 (2007). Since then, the 2012 Avengers film has topped all superhero films both domestically and worldwide.
The film's U.S. television rights (Fox, TBS/TNT) were sold for $60 million. Related gross toy sales were $109 million. Its U.S. DVD revenue as of July 2004 stands at $338.8 million. Its U.S. VHS revenue as of July 2004 is $89.2 million.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 89% based on 236 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Not only does Spider-Man provide a good dose of web-swinging fun, it also has a heart, thanks to the combined charms of director Sam Raimi and star Tobey Maguire." On Metacritic, the film has an average score of 73 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale.
The casting, mainly Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe, is often cited as one of the film's high points. Eric Harrison, of the Houston Chronicle, was initially skeptical of the casting of Maguire, but, after seeing the film, he stated, "within seconds, however, it becomes hard to imagine anyone else in the role." USA Today critic Mike Clark believed the casting rivaled that of Christopher Reeve as 1978's Superman. Owen Gleiberman, of Entertainment Weekly, had mixed feelings about the casting, particularly Tobey Maguire. "Maguire, winning as he is, never quite gets the chance to bring the two sides of Spidey – the boy and the man, the romantic and the avenger – together." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt thought, "the filmmakers' imaginations work in overdrive from the clever design of the cobwebby opening credits and Spider-Man and M.J.'s upside down kiss – after one of his many rescues of her – to a finale that leaves character relationships open ended for future adventures."
Conversely, LA Weekly's Manohla Dargis wrote, "It isn't that Spider-Man is inherently unsuited for live-action translation; it's just that he's not particularly interesting or, well, animated." Giving it 2.5/4 stars, Roger Ebert felt the film lacked a decent action element; "Consider the scene where Spider-Man is given a cruel choice between saving Mary Jane or a cable car full of school kids. He tries to save both, so that everyone dangles from webbing that seems about to pull loose. The visuals here could have given an impression of the enormous weights and tensions involved, but instead the scene seems more like a bloodless storyboard of the idea." Stylistically, there was heavy criticism of the Green Goblin's costume, which led IGN's Richard George to comment years later, "We're not saying the comic book costume is exactly thrilling, but the Goblin armor (the helmet in particular) from Spider-Man is almost comically bad... Not only is it not frightening, it prohibits expression."
Entertainment Weekly put "the kiss in Spider-Man" on its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, saying, "There's a fine line between romantic and corny. And the rain-soaked smooch between Spider-Man and Mary Jane from 2002 tap-dances right on that line. The reason it works? Even if she suspects he's Peter Parker, she doesn't try to find out. And that's sexy." Empire magazine ranked Spider-Man 437 in its 500 Greatest Movies of All Time list the following year.
The film won several awards ranging from Teen Choice Awards to the Saturn Awards, and was also nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Visual Effects and Best Sound (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Ed Novick), but lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Chicago, respectively. While only Danny Elfman brought home a Saturn Award, Raimi, Maguire, and Dunst were all nominated for their respective positions. It also took home the People's Choice Award for "Favorite Motion Picture." The film was nominated for Favorite Movie at the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, but lost to Austin Powers in Goldmember.
In January 2003, Sony revealed that a sequel to Spider-Man was in development, and would be produced and directed by Sam Raimi. On March 15, 2003, a trailer revealed that the film, Spider-Man 2, would be released in June 30, 2004. Spider-Man 3, the second sequel to Spider-Man and the final film in the series to be directed by Raimi, was released on May 4, 2007. Spider-Man: The New Animated Series was an alternate sequel to the film and did not include the events of Spider-Man 2 and 3.