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3. Spider-Man (2002)
The importance of Spider-Man to modern day superhero cinema cannot be understated. Ask anyone who was a child, coming of age or simply an excited adult at the turn of the century and they’ll tell you how huge it was to finally see arguably the most famous of all Marvel superheroes swing onto the big screen for the first time. Along with X-Men, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man ushered in the age of superheroes in Hollywood, new CG capabilities matching with traditional storytelling methods to offer superhero cinema without condescension and aimed firmly at the mainstream for the first time.
This Columbia Pictures release was fostered from its earliest stages to become a juggernaut of the genre, the studio hiring horror film icon and reliable gun-for-hire Sam Raimi to head up its creative, with man-of-the-moment and Oscar nominee Tobey Maguire leading the charge on screen. Also thrown into the mix were the up-and-coming talents of Kirsten Dunst and James Franco, as well as the legendary and always terrific Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin). Come release, with the world’s eye already firmly set on the film for upwards of a year in advance, the bar for superhero cinema was raised and the limits of the CG-reliant genre pushed further than ever before.
Striking the perfect note between respect for the material and its intentions to create a moving, smooth-flowing narrative, Spider-Man’s screenplay was a large force behind its success (and likely the reason that talent boarded the project ahead of production) and was widely praised by critics who tagged the picture as the ultimate summer fun-show. Spider-Man was not only a remarkable superhero film but a truly enjoyable summer blockbuster.
The movie sits at number 3 on our list largely due to the very nature of Spider-Man being an origin story (and therefore having to tick a number of boxes through tropes and other less unique methods). Nevertheless, it remains one of the most important and timeless offerings from superhero cinema, and features some of the key iconography we’d come to associate with the genre in the near two decades that have followed. Who could ever forget that upside-down kiss?
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2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
If Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was one of the most important superhero films ever, then his follow up Spider-Man 2 was one of the very best.
This web-slinging entry into this quite remarkable franchise was, until very recently at least, a top 5 superhero film of all time and a shoe-in for the top spot on this list. Its quite remarkable mixture of awe-inspiring moments, clever mix of CG-action and personal connection have made it one of the most discussed movies in superhero film history. Covering trauma, loss, courage, heartbreak and (of course) love, Spider-Man 2 offers an incredibly deep take on your average superhero, resisting the urge to simply remake the first movie only bigger and instead presenting a more refined character study with arguably the franchise’s greatest ever villain.
Raimi’s trilogy was never one to pass up on raising the personal stakes for its central most protagonists, but it always acted intelligently in how it did so, merging action set pieces with important personal decisions, ensuring that everything about Spider-Man would inevitably effect the Peter Parker underneath the mask. In Spider-Man 2, there is simply no better evidence of this than the moment in which he saves a train full of people from ruin, passing up on the opportunity to stop his rival Doctor Octopus in the process. Here, he sacrifices himself, his catch and ultimately his cover to save people, his consequential unmasking and the response of the New York public to their discovery of who he is being one of the most spine-tingling moments in the entire franchise, and one that importantly gifted Raimi’s universe with a feeling that people are ultimately good; one that his Peter Parker certainly needed reminding of at this point in the series having been beaten down by personal issues, professional issues and Spider-Man issues over and over again.
Even to this day Spider-Man 2 remains an important lesson on how to achieve correlation between superherodom and something entirely more identifiable, the movie’s presence in the current zeitgeist no doubt lessened by time and the countless releases between then and now, but its existence as one of the most complete superhero films (start to finish) ever put to screen remains undeniable nonetheless.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was something so special, so unique, so absolutely scintillating, that it became arguably the superhero film of the year in 2018 (a year that also featured the release of Avengers: Infinity War), the Phil Lord and Christopher Miller produced picture taking everything we knew and loved about superhero cinema and turning it up to 11 in one of the most spectacular visual feasts we’ve ever seen within the genre, matching that up to a moving, identifiable and at times outright spectacular plot that gave us our first populous taste of a different Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Featuring all of the stakes, death, betrayal and love (of one kind or another) that had been so central to the Spider-Man franchise until this point, Into the Spider-Verse was a heartfelt journey through different dimensions that never lost its grounding within Morales’ character arc from innocent youth to traumatised, responsible adult.
Loyal to the source of what makes Spider-Man such a compelling character and intent on making the most visually unique and awe-inspiring of any Spidey movie in history, this franchise entry stretched between grounded identifiability and out-there cross-dimensional plot devices (and the visuals that came with that) to create something so unique and incredible that it is simply the greatest animated superhero film of all time and, according to us, the very best Spider-Man movie in history.
So there’s our list. What do you make of our choices? Let us know in the comments below!