Along with X-Men, 2002's Spider-Man revolutionized the comic-book-movie genre. Director Sam Raimi — a longtime fan of the Wall-Crawler — and co. delivered a story that meshed realism and fiction in an impressive manner, crafting a relatable protagonist, while also embracing the awe-inspiring action that's come to be expected from superhero adaptations.
The filmmaker went on to helm two more Spider-Man films (released in 2004 and 2007), and while the last entry did not fare well critically, his trilogy is often hailed as one of the best live-action comic-book franchises out there.
It's difficult to imagine what the Spider-Man trilogy would have been in the hands of a different director, but when the first film was starting to take shape, Sony was not at all interested in giving Raimi the job. In honor of Spider-Man's 20th anniversary, Variety published a profile talking to the main creatives of the movie. In the piece, Raimi stated that Sony did not want him to helm Spider-Man:
"My agent, Josh Donen, said, 'They want to be honest with you. There's about 18 directors they'd rather have than you on a list.' [...] And I said, 'OK, well, tell them I’m number 19.'"
The list of directors considered was as impressive as it was eclectic. It included David Fincher, Chris Columbus and Tim Burton. None of them seemed to be the right fit for Spidey, though. As producer Avi Arad explained: "Some of them were immensely excited, but they took it from the point of view that they know what to do. 'Just give me all the money, leave me alone and I'll make a great movie.'"
Despite Sony's hesitation to hire him, Raimi had a different approach to the directors the studio had met with. He went into a meeting with Sony executives, in which he discussed his love for Peter Parker and the hero's noble nature.
Suddenly, though — as explained by at-the-time Sony executive and longtime Spider-Man-franchise producer Matt Tolmach — Raimi looked at his watch and ended the meeting. Tolmach was surprised by that, since he felt things were going well. Raimi, however, had been told he only had one hour to pitch his vision for the film, and simply wanted to make sure he wasn't going overtime. As he explained to Variety: "I was very aware of how they didn’t want me. [...] So I really didn’t want to also overstay my welcome."
Raimi previously revealed what pushed him to make the film during a Reddit AMA for 2021's The Unholy, a film he produced (via Heroic Hollywood): “I directed the first Spider-Man film because I was such a huge fan of Stan Lee’s brilliant character. [Peter Parker was] an important part of my teenage years. I thought it was very moving how much he sacrificed for others. How hard he worked to protect innocent people. And all the while had to take care of his Aunt May and do his homework to boot. His self-sacrifice resonated with me. He was truly a good person. We can identify with characters in a comprehensible story. Stories of heroes, like Peter Parker, remind us of what we are capable of. Maybe you’re one of those people that like to be reminded of the good you are capable of.”
Speaking of facing challenges while making the film a reality, during his chat with Variety, Raimi also discussed the backlash he received for ditching Peter Parker's signature web-shooters from the comics in favor of organic webbing. Curiously, this was not a change made by the director. It was actually James Cameron (who crafted the initial iteration of the film alongside screenwriter David Koepp) who came up with the idea — Raimi simply chose to keep it.
That, however, proved costly for the director and crew. Online fan communities were burgeoning, and they were not kind once reports of the change made their way onto the web. As Raimi explained: "I was aware of it, and it wasn’t a good thing for me. I didn't have a great experience of the fans. [...] I don't think that the fans thought I was the right person to direct Spider-Man in general. And then the organic web shooters — when the fans found out I was going that way, they tried to have me removed from the picture."
Ironically enough, the change was ultimately not a major problem for fans, and some young viewers likely grew up with the idea that Spider-Man had organic webbing. Another upside of the change is that it allowed for arguably one of the most amusing sequences in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which saw Tom Holland and Andrew Garfield's Spider-Men marveling at Tobey Maguire's ability to produce his own webbing.
Sam Raimi's next superhero adventure, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, arrives in theaters on May 6, 2022.