So here we go: the definitive ranking of all five Spider-Man movies, from worst to best.
If it was possible for me to rank this any lower, I would. Spider-Man 3 is not just by far the worst Spider-Man movie made to date, but one of the worst superhero movies ever made. It’s a bloated, unfocused, atrocious, awful, hideous, cringe-worthy mess.
Buckle up, people, because this is going to get ugly.
To start, there’s not one, not two, but three main villains. That’s too many. And in the process of stuffing so many different storylines and characters into one film, Spider-Man 3 ruins nearly everything. Gwen Stacy is reduced from the strong, smart leading lady we see in The Amazing Spider-Man and in the comics to a footnote. James Franco’s Green Goblin is fine, but he easily could have made up his own movie, just like Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin did. Sandman, on the other hand, isn’t nearly a strong enough villain to justify stealing as much precious screen time as he does. And then we have Venom, who is easily the coolest villain in the Spider-Man universe and, I think, one of the coolest super villains period: a parasitic alien goo that latches onto a host and gives it enhanced super powers while slowly corrupting it. And what is Venom in the film? A tertiary villain and subplot. At the very least, Venom’s existence would have been at least tolerable had it not produced the now infamous bar scene. I’m going to link to it here in case you for whatever reason haven’t seen it, but be warned: it’s bad.
Spider-Man 3 subscribes to the “more is more” school of thought, but there’s just so many characters and villains and conversations and fight scenes that nothing really sticks together. It’s an awful, awful movie that tarnishes the legacy of the original trilogy and all copies of it should be destroyed by any means necessary.
As I hope I’ve made clear in my thorough trashing of Spider-Man 3, more villains do not a better film make. So imagine the horror, the horror, oh the horror, I experienced upon learning that the new Spider-Man movie would have three villains: the Green Goblin, the Rhino, and Electro. Would The Amazing Spider-Man 2 learn from the egregious mistakes of Spider-Man 3, a Spider-Man film made only seven years prior that also featured an excess of villainy?
Yes. Yes it would.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 shows us what Spider-Man 3 could (and should) have been. Each villain’s storyline is told with a tight narrative and strong performances all around. While some could argue that there was room for more development for Electro—his anti-Spidey rage did seem a bit sudden and forced—the two main villains certainly make formidable foes. And oh my god—Dane Dehaan. If there’s anyone who can inherit Willem Dafoe’s green throne made of pumpkin grenades, it’s Dane Dehaan. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 works, even with its many villains, because each storyline is handled separately and independently. Yes, they eventually do come together in the end, but each villain is given room to breathe and be rightfully scary, rather than shoehorned in to fit the plot. We don’t get half-baked villains like we do in Spider-Man 3. We get fully baked, terrifying villains, like we would expect in any other superhero movie. They just get a little less screen time to accommodate each other. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the fight sequences are just gorgeous.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s main strength comes once again from its two leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and the amazing chemistry between them. Spider-Man’s comedic crime-fighting stylings only get amped up—Garfield really has a ton of fun with Spidey’s trademark quips and puns. And Garfield gets a chance to show his dramatic acting chops as Peter Parker’s struggles to balance his personal life with his superhero life are portrayed to heartbreaking effect. (Sorry, Tobey Maguire. It’s not that you’re bad, it’s just that Garfield is fantastic.) Were there some things that didn’t work? Sure: some plot lines could have benefited from a diet or been cut entirely. There were some odd pacing choices and some music decisions that really took me out of the film. But overall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a marked improvement from Spider-Man 3 (which, to be fair, isn’t exactly difficult to do) and reinforces Garfield’s strength as the web-slinger. While definitely not a perfect film, it’s entertaining, emotional, and lays the groundwork for a damn good sequel.
While some fundamental story information has been changed from the comics—Peter Parker is out of high school, Spider-Man shoots webs from his wrists (as opposed to the web-shooting mechanisms he makes in the comics and The Amaaing Spider-Man series), Mary Jane Watson is the first love interest rather than Gwen Stacey—the true origin story we all know is still there. The movie just feels fun, too. Watching Peter Parker grapple with his new powers is exhilarating and often very funny. Spider-Man is probably the most comic-book-y comic book movie ever made (except Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) with its dramatic jump cuts and downright entertaining style. And say what you will about the upside down kiss; it’s one of those movie moments that became ingrained in pop culture.
Spider-Man’s true strength lies in its villain, the Green Goblin. Hoooooooly shit. I legitimately had nightmares about Willem Dafoe for months--months!—after I saw this movie. He is everything a great supervillain should be: evil, snarky, and just downright fucking horrifying. Watching it now, with dark and gritty being the new flavor of the month, some parts of Spider-Man can come off as a tad corny and, well, comic-book-y. But Spider-Man still holds up thanks to its charm, quality, and insanely scary villain.
(Fun fact: A ton of directors were attached to direct the first Spider-Man film adaptation, including James Cameron, Tim Burton, Roland Emmerich, Chris Columbus, and—most interestingly—David Fincher, who wanted to focus not on the origin story but on a famous storyline involving Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin. Fans of the comics will know what I’m referring to. If you want to trace the very long and confusing path Spider-Man took to make it to the big screen, check out this link.
2. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Yes, I am of the opinion that the reboot is better than most of the original series, and I am of said opinion for a wide variety of reasons. I have a huge man crush on Andrew Garfield. I have a huge crush on Emma Stone. Most importantly, though, The Amazing Spider-Man is Spider-Man returning to his roots: an awkward, whiny high school student who’s kind of a dick sometimes. When Peter gets his new powers, he obviously wants to go show off and catch baddies. He knows he’s better than everyone else out there because he has super powers. Be honest with yourself: if you were suddenly imbued with the supernatural ability to climb walls and swing like Tarzan everywhere you went—not to mention the super strength and agility and spider sense—wouldn’t you just want to fuck around with them?
The main criticism of The Amazing Spider-Man was that it was too similar to Spider-Man. And while yes, it is a bit absurd to be discussing two franchises of the same hero made less than ten years apart, The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't feel frivolous or unnecessary. It separates itself from Sam Raimi’s trilogy of films on the strength of Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone’s Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey and the different take on Spider-Man as a hero and what his powers mean to himself and others. It doesn't matter if this is the same story that was told by the original trilogy because it’s better in nearly every way.
1. Spider-Man 2 (2005)
What can I say? The film strikes the perfect balance between internal and external conflict without focusing too heavily on one or the other. Doc Ock is arguably one of the least interesting villains in the Spider-Man canon—an evil scientist with four sentient robot arms as opposed to, say, Venom or the Green Goblin—and Alfred Molina is an interesting casting choice for the antagonist, but he makes Otto Octavius both a horrifying and tragic figure. We understand his path from ordinary civilian to supervillain and identify with his character arc. Peter’s loss of his powers is another storyline that could have easily been completely ruined, but it’s handled in a way that amplifies his own personal struggles and makes us really feel for him.
(Another fun fact: Peter’s college professor, the one whose class Peter was failing, is none other than Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard, aka the supervillain from The Amazing Spider-Man. Maybe Sam Raimi was setting up The Lizard as the villain for Spider-Man 4.)