The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is almost upon us, but maybe this version of Spider-Man just isn’t for you. Maybe you prefer good ole punch-him-and-he’ll-bleed Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, and the decidedly kiddie Sam Raimi films. However, whether or not your favorite Spider-Man is Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire they’re both a heck of a lot better than the versions of Spider-Man that almost happened over the years.
1) Peter Parker Almost Sang in a Spider-Man Musical Decades Before Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
It was a long time before Marvel actually knew what the heck they were doing in Hollywood. Originally, they sold off the film rights for their characters for embarrassingly cheap, long-lasting contracts, and were supposed to be consultants on projects but were usually ignored. In 1971, the rights for all Marvel characters, including Spider-Man, were sold to a concert promoter named Steve Lemberg. His plan? Movies, TV shows, musicals, and radio plays! That sounds great, Steve, but very, very expensive. So, Marvel managed to get out of that contract after a couple of years, and sold the rights for a live-action Spider-Man movie to Steve Krantz, with whom they’d previously worked on the animated 1960s Spider-Man cartoon (which they generally didn’t like). What did Krantz originally want to do? A musical-fantasy picture. That’s right – basically, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, just several decades earlier.
By 1976, Krantz realized a Spider-Man musical was just an awful idea. So, he opted for a more straightforward approach with a college-aged Spider-Man, but this being the 1970s and all he’d still be fighting a 100-foot-tall robot and Nazis. Plus, Gwen Stacy would have died by the end, but did I mention the 100-foot-tall robot?
Why Didn’t It Happen?: No studios bit due to the expected exorbitant budget, and the film rights lapsed and reverted back to Marvel.
2) Peter Parker Almost Single-Handedly Prevented a Nuclear War with Russia
Legendary schlock-fest producer Roger Corman did this to the Fantastic Four in 1994:
That was so bad it was never officially released to theaters or home video. Imagine what he could have done to Spider-Man!
It almost happened. Corman picked up the film rights in 1982 through Orion Pictures, and worked from a story treatment done by Stan Lee himself, who was then manning the Marvel Productions office in Hollywood and tirelessly working to get Marvel films and TV shows made. Lee’s version of a Spider-Man movie would have been recognizable (e.g., Peter Parker as a college student, Dr. Octopus as the bad guy, Mary Jane Watson as the love interest) but also a bit crazy (e.g., sexy KGB agents, Spider-Man stopping a nuclear war with Russia all by his lonesome). Lee didn’t seem to pay much mind to writing with an eye toward budget and practicality. So, he had Spidey fighting atop the U.N. building at one point and engaging in combat with Doctor Octopus much as Sam Raimi would ultimately depict it Spider-Man 2 in 2004. There’s no way they could have pulled off anything remotely like that in 1982, especially not from low-budget master Roger Corman.
Why Didn’t It Happen?: Orion let their option on the rights expire, presumably due to budgetary concerns
3) Peter Parker Was Almost a Giant, Mutant Spider
In 1985, Marvel sold the film rights to the Cannon Group for $225,000 (spread across 5 years) plus a percentage of the profits. Cannon was being run at the time by two Israeli cousins whose business model was scraping the bottom of the Hollywood barrel for scripts and cranking out B-movies, usually in the action genre. This worked nicely for them at first, scoring big from 1978 on with hits like Death Wish, Delta Force, Exterminator 2, The Last American Virgin, and the two Breakin’ films. So, they seemed like a company on the rise. They were greatly enthusiastic about Spider-Man, but don’t mistake enthusiasm for competence. As director Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) would later declare, Cannon initially operated under the impression that Spider-Man was somehow just like the Wolfman.
How strange was this thing?
In their original script, which was to be directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist), a mad, corporate scientist named Dr. Zork intentionally exposes ID-badge photographer Peter Parker to radiation which turns him into a human tarantula. The conflict would then come from the now eight-armed Parker’s refusal to join Zork’s army of mutant monsters.
Why Didn’t It Happen?: Stan Lee put a stop all that nonsense about an actual eight-armed Spider-Man, writing a more traditional story treatment which Cannon was then commanded to adapt into a script.
4) Peter Parker Almost Did Spider-Man 2 Around 20 Years Before Sam Raimi Did
Ted Newsome and John Brancato wrote, Barney Cohen re-wrote, and Golan (under the pseudonym Joseph Goldman) polished an adaptation of Lee’s story treatment. The resulting script featured Otto Octavius as a college professor and mentor to Peter Parker. A cyclotron accident would give both Parker his Spider-Man powers and morph Octavius into Doc Ock. Driven mad, Doc Ock would then seek to re-create his experiment in a bid for anti-gravity even though it would threaten to engulf most of New York. Does that last bit sound familiar?
Unlike Spider-Man 2, though, this version of Doc Ock would refer to his mechanical arms as waldos, and thanks to the Cohen re-write would have a sidekick named Wiener and a sure-to-be classic catchphrase: “Okey-dokey!” Plus, the love interest would be Liz Allan, Flash Thompson’s popular girlfriend in high school who Peter Parked adored. Sound familiar?
Joseph Zito was hired to direct, and things progressed far enough that they scouted locations (in Italy and England), hired a storyboard artist, performed special effects tests, and at least started considering potential actors as a pre-cursor to actually casting. Their wish-list consisted of Tom Cruise as Peter Parker, Bob Hoskins as Doc Ock (who would wear a latex fake torso to make it appears as if his cybernetic tentacles had fused with his body), and Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn for Aunt May. That’s who they wanted. Stan Lee has often mentioned in interviews that he actually wanted to play J. Jonah Jameson in the film. Whether or not Cannon would have obliged him is unclear.
Why Didn’t It Happen?: Having lost so much money on other films that they had to turn to Warner Bros. to bail them out, Cannon slashed Spider-Man’s proposed budget of $15-20 million down to less than $10 million, Zito walked in protest, and the whole thing was shut down for good in 1986
5) Peter Parker Almost Fought a Vampire
After shutting down the Joseph Zito Spider-Man film, Cannon became so focused on doing Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe they forgot to make a payment to Marvel as part of their contract for the Spider-Man rights meaning they actually lost the rights around 1987. By 1988, they were back in the saddle again, and gave directing duties to Albert Pyun, who eventually gave us the truly dreadful 1990 Captain America.
As boisterous as usual, Canon announced a Christmas 1989 release date, which kept being pushed back as they hired a rotating cast of writers to re-write the script with an eye toward getting to a shooting script they could produce as cheaply as possible. So, due to the efforts of the likes of Don Michael Paul and Ethan Wiley (House) the Joseph Zito Doc Ock script morphed into something in which Spider-Man fought a scientist-turned-vampire. Pyun’s preference was for The Lizard to be the villain, and he almost got the film made. He told io9, “We were experimenting with centrifuges and wire work but it was daunting on a low budget. We were fully cast and had most of the major sets built when the plug got pulled.”
Why Didn’t It Happen?: Cannon was purchased by Pathe, and Golan was allowed to walk, taking the film rights to Spider-Man and Captain America with him. He would start a new company, 21st Century Films, through which he aimed to produce a Spider-Man movie.
Spidey-Fact: Pyun put all of his pre-production work on Masters of the Universe 2 and Spider-Man to good use when he used props and sets originally meant for those films in his Jean Claude Van Damme action flick Cyborg
6) Peter Parker Almost Suffered from Wet Dreams Before Making Sweet, Sweet Love to Mary Jane
Golan went back to the Doc Ock script Joseph Zito was going to direct and shopped it around Hollywood to secure funding for production, selling TV rights to Viacom and home video rights to Columbia. By 1990, he threw in the towel, selling the rights to Carolco (the Rambo trilogy, Terminator 2) on the condition that whatever film they made credited him as a producer. Unfortunately, Carolco hired James Cameron to produce, write, and direct, but forgot that the contract they gave him, re-used from Terminator 2, granted him final say on all credits on the film. Would future “king of the world” Cameron really allow Golan a credit? Of course not. Would Golan let that pass since he was contractually guaranteed a credit? Of course not. The resulting lawsuits were the talk of Hollywood, ensaring Carolco, 21st Century Films, and later Viacom, Columbia, and even 20th Century Fox.
What kind of movie would Cameron have made? It’s complicated. At some point, Cameron simply threw his name on the old Cannon Doc Ock script, possibly just to fulfill part of his $3 million contract with Carolco. However, various interviews over the years have indicated Cameron didn’t even read the thing. As a result, the more extreme (Doc Ock’s plan mostly amounts to stealing a physics paper from Parker) and easily mockable (Ock saying “Okey-dokey!”, sidekick named Wiener, dialogue that tries to be hip by having characters say things like, “Jumping jellybeans!”) parts of the script are often but most likely unfairly attributed to Cameron.
Mock away, but direct it at the right target: Cameron’s subsequent “scriptment” (somewhere between a script and story treatment), which he claimed to have written without reading any of the pre-existing film scripts even though one of those bore his name In his version, Uncle Ben never gives a “with great power comes great responsibility” speech nor is his death the catalyst to spur Parker into do-gooding. J. Jonah Jameson is a TV station owner, instead of Daily Bugle’s editor-in-chief. The villains are re-named and unrecognizable versions of Electro and Sandman while the love interest is a decidedly snootier and less likable version of Mary Jane Watson, equipped with an abusive father. At one point, Electro actually kills MJ only to prove, based upon Spider-Man’s “I’ll kill you, motherfucker!” (no, seriously, Spider-Man says that) response, that they are not so different, the two of them. Electro uses his powers to revive MJ, and by the end Spider-Man reveals his secret identity to her, although they would have already had some seriously kinky sex earlier in the film. Also, this would happen:
THE NEXT DAY. Tight on Peter as he wakes up. He opens his eyes cautiously. Not knowing what to expect. PULL BACK to reveal that he is still in bed. All is normal. He breaths a sigh of relief. In fact… he feels pretty good. Lots of energy. He pulls back the covers and…
Something is causing the sheet to stick to him. He lifts it, revealing a sticky, white mass completely covering him, gluing him to his bedding.
Why Didn’t It Happen?: Carolco went bankrupt in 1995, though their production on the Spider-Man film apparently never went past 1992.
Spidey-Fact: To Cameron’s credit (or discredit, depending on your interpretation), his “scriptment” introduced the concept of Peter Parker’s webbing simply coming out of his wrist as part of the genetic mutation post-spider-bite.
It would be nearly a decade until Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man came along, and then another decade until Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man spun into action. So, if Amazing Spider-Man 2 somehow disappoints you (it did me), or you never cared for Raimi’s approach to the material remember the stories above and tell yourself: It could always be worse. Like, a LOT worse.
Sources: LATimes (invaluable resource which has greatly informed every account of Spider-Man’s film history since), io9.com (a similar article to my own), Cracked.com (a funnier take on the material), Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, VideoJunkie
This article is part of our Spider-Man celebration coinciding with the U.S. release of Amazing Spider-Man 2. Use the following links to check out our other articles: