Debate Club: Best Spider-Man movie

Debate Club: The top 5 Spider-Man movies, ranked

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Tim Grierson
Dec 5, 2018

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 this week's Debate Club, we're getting excited for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse by looking back at the earlier installments in the web-slinger saga.

For years, it seemed like we'd never get a full-fledged studio Spider-Man movie — the tangled rights issues were a legal nightmare — but now that those problems are behind us, we've been gifted with plenty of Peter Parker on the big screen this century.

He's the hero as a regular guy — a New York kid with a smart-aleck streak and fairly typical adolescent anxieties. But once that radioactive spider bites him, everything changes. As we prepare for Spider-Verse, here's our ranking of the five best Spider-Man movies to this point. (Don’t worry, the Jamie Foxx one doesn't put in an appearance.)

Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Some Part Threes are the best films in a trilogy (we're thinking Toy Story 3 and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.) Others... well, others are like Spider-Man 3, where everybody involved seems so exhausted and complacent that they say screw it, let's just mess around a little bit. Yes, this is the Spider-Man movie with the dance sequence. And, right, this is the one where Topher Grace plays Venom (in terms of bad guys, he was better as David Duke in BlacKkKlansman.)

But most importantly, Spider-Man 3 made us all even more aware how special Spider-Man 2 was: that film's mixture of emotion, humor, and spectacle just weren't as potent this time around. Spider-Man 3 isn't terrible... but we (and its makers) know it isn't up to par.

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The first reboot of Spider-Man came far too soon to really have much of a chance to succeed — seriously, we know how Peter Parker got his powers, you really don't have to tell us again — and the sequel (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) was so terrible that we've mostly all collectively agreed to pretend these two movies didn't happen.

But The Amazing Spider-Man really isn't that bad, thanks almost entirely to the supernova star wattage of both Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who are so likable as Parker and Gwen Stacy that the movie actually loses momentum when Garfield puts the spider suit on. The movie is still an awkward fit, and boy is that second one just horrible, but history should remember Garfield and Stone in these parts better than it does.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man (2002)

We'll always wonder what a James Cameron Spider-Man movie would have looked like, but it turned out that a Sam Raimi one was pretty great, too.

The man behind Evil Dead II and the underrated Darkman went mainstream without ignoring his fanboy side, giving us an origin story that's funny and light on its feet, while still being emotionally grounded enough that we care about Peter Parker's coming of age.

Audiences knew Tobey Maguire as a sensitive young actor in acclaimed prestige dramas; Spider-Man supersized his nerdy-kid appeal, and in Kirsten Dunst, the producers found his perfect indie-film counterpart. At the time, Spider-Man's very existence seemed like a miracle. Decades later, what's most impressive is that, with all the comic book films that have come since, this one still holds up so damn well.

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

It is quite astounding, after all the lobbying and fan-servicing that both Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire did before taking on the part of Peter Parker, how immediately comfortable Tom Holland seems as Spider-Man. He, more than anyone else to take on the role, truly does play Parker as a boy, a high school kid who is a little too immature and silly to have his powers but also brave and good-hearted enough to earn them. This is a Spider-Man you want to protect and nurture ... and you also know that you'll need him to save you.

And the smartest move this movie made was sparing us the Spider-Man origin story. Let's just get into it, please. Oh, and talk to us about the ending of Avengers: Infinity War, thanks, we're still not ready.

Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

A grand sequel that surpasses the (still excellent) original, Spider-Man 2 expands the canvas, gives Peter Parker a legitimate, emotional crisis and, perhaps best of all, reminds us that this is a Queens kid and this is a New York City story.

This is an under-considered New York film, with the city and its people, just three years after 9/11, constantly banding together as one collective. The most moving moment (and maybe the best scene in the whole series) comes when Spider-Man saves a runaway subway train and, after passing out, is watched over by the passengers, who then realize, in the words of a guy in a Mets cap, "He's just a boy."

This is the Spider-Man movie that will move you. And, in Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, it has the best villain, too.

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