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Debate Club: Here's how we rank the many Spider-Man actors

Debate Club Best Spider-Men

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

For years, the rights to a possible Spider-Man movie were tied up in legal limbo, making the possibility that we’d ever see the web-slinger on the big screen seem unlikely.

But since 2002, we've had eight Spider-Man films, including this week's Spider-Man: Far From Home, and a handful of different young men playing Peter Parker. So which one wore the Spidey suit best?

For this week's Debate Club, we rank the Spider-Man actors. The good news: All five of these performers honor the legacy of one of Marvel's greatest creations. The bad news: Sometimes, the Spider-Man movies they were in weren't very good.

05. Jake Johnson

The idea of a past-his-prime, full-of-regrets Spider-Man sounds like something in a dark, Nolan-esque Spider-Man, and it certainly could have been.

But casting Johnson as Spidey's voice in Into the Spider-Verse gives up the game: He's too likable and funny to be too downcast. He's mostly just a slacker-ish, lost Spider-Man, but still generally a good guy and a superhero. Johnson keeps him amusing and grounded in self-doubt... yet still full of some hope.

04. Andrew Garfield

There were a lot — a lot — of problems with Marc Webb's Spider-Man movies (the convoluted backstory, the arduous narrative, the terrible villains), but the casting was absolutely not one of them: Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are the platonic ideal of Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker.

The Amazing Spider-Man movies only truly come alive when the two actors are together and Peter's out of costume... which maybe is not the best sign for a superhero film. Still, Garfield's sincerity shines through in every scene, and he's so good you desperately want the movies to rise up and meet him. They don't, but that's not his fault.

03. Shameik Moore

The 24-year-old actor/singer had his big-screen breakthrough thanks to his starring role in the 2015 Sundance smash Dope, and while working on that film, he wrote in his diary, "I am Miles Morales. I am Spider-Man."

The producers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse agreed, casting him as the voice of Miles, who's about to go on one fantastic journey.

Like Peter Parker, Miles is a nerdy, insecure teen, and Moore really sells the kid's dorky side. But the role also requires Miles to grow — he witnesses death first-hand and discovers what it takes to be a hero — which wouldn't have worked without Moore's nuanced, emotional portrayal.

Similar to Spider-Verse itself, Moore gives us a new way of thinking about Spider-Man's legacy — he's funny and so-very-relatable as a sweet, naïve young man who takes a plunge into the scary unknown.

02. Tom Holland

Spider-Man is supposed to be young — he's a confused high school kid, after all — but he was never played quite as young as Tom Holland plays him, and to great results.

He is, truly, a kid: an enthusiastic, wise-cracking superhero, of course, but also a nervous teen worried about girls and prone to mistakes and immaturity. We love him anyway, and Holland has that perfect mixture of both wonder and responsibility. And he's young enough that it might be a decade until he ages out of the role... if even then.

01. Tobey Maguire

Before becoming the web-slinger, Tobey Maguire was a critics' darling in acclaimed films such as Wonder Boys, The Cider House Rules, and The Ice Storm. After Spider-Man, he was a superstar, bringing his trademark modesty and sensitivity to the role of Peter Parker.

2002's Spider-Man was one of the signal superhero movies of the early 21st century — and the first Spidey film — so it's hard not to forever associate the character with Maguire, no matter all the fine actors who have come since.

But Maguire understood Peter's boyish charm — he mastered the guy's sense of being perpetually overwhelmed but always ready to rise to the challenge. And in Spider-Man 2, Maguire fleshed Peter out as the Queens kid prepares for his most dangerous foe: Doctor Octopus.

Every Spider-Man that has come in Maguire's wake, in one way or another, is paying homage to him.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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