With the newest Spider-Man movie now available at home, it’s as good a time as any to look back at all of the web-crawler’s previous films, ranked from worst to best!
Spider-Man is a character who needs no introduction. Whether you’re an avid fan of his comics or are like me and have only been exposed to him through other mediums, chances are you have some sort of connection with the heroics and struggles of Peter Parker. For many, that connection has come through Spider-Man’s adaptations to film. This character has been a constant staple of the big screen ever since his theater debut in 2002, and every film of his since, no matter how good or bad, has left many interesting conversations in its wake. This is a huge testament to the character’s staying power and mass appeal. Spider-Man: No Way Home was a gargantuan hit in theaters and was recently released on home media and streaming. So, it’s the perfect time to look back on the web-slinger’s cinematic career, from its lowest lows to its highest highs, and get all of the Spider-Man films ranked from worst to best!
9. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is widely regarded as a contender for the worst Spider-Man film ever made, and with good reason. This sequel to the 2012 Andrew Garfield flick throws in a lot of different subplots, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But in execution, these storylines have such loose connections that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like four different movies interrupting each other. Peter Parker’s (Garfield) search for the truth about his parents has nothing to do with anything else, and his romance with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone), while exceptionally done, feels really out of place in both style and pacing compared to the rest of what’s happening. But the film’s biggest problem is its tonal inconsistency. Silly moments like Max Dillon playing Itsy-Bitsy Spider and basically anything to do with the Rhino, don’t mix with the far more grounded scenes and motifs trying to carry over from the previous film.
Yet The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still does more right than wrong. Every actor, especially Garfield and Emma Stone, gives it their all, with Garfield having plenty of standout moments to stretch his abilities. Hans Zimmer’s score is one of the best in any Spider-Manfilm. The shots are beautifully composed, and director Marc Webb clearly knows how to helm an intimate sequence and give his characters chemistry. I even like Electro (Jamie Foxx) as a villain, a psychotic mind who’s been tossed away and attacks anyone who doesn’t fit his warped, attention-seeking narrative. The tension of the Times Square scene especially doesn’t get enough love. Tying all this together are palpable themes of hope and loneliness, and a powerful climax (which, as a non-comics reader, I really didn’t see coming). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is worth watching. It’s just a shame it doesn’t have a more solid identity or a cleaner screenplay.
8. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING
The web-slinger’s first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was much-anticipated, and most agree that it lived up to that anticipation. However, Spider-Man: Homecoming has gotten worse and worse for me as time has passed. Tom Holland’s performance is ridiculously likeable when he’s out of the suit. The film is very consistently funny and charming, and it succeeds most in the high school environment where it knows how to capture the more lighthearted side of Peter’s life. This is also a gorgeous film, filled with lush colors that pop in a way that’s not often seen in the MCU or even other Spider-Man movies. There’s just enough emotion and a sense of stakes to make you root for Peter and feel for when he’s in distress or down on his luck.
Unfortunately, there’s never a proper understanding of Peter’s motivations. He fluctuates between being driven by a sense of honor and how cool it would be to join the Avengers. Homecoming has little weight, even though Peter’s age and relatively average life should make the danger feel that much more real. The lesson he learns makes no sense: he’s told to stay close to the ground, yet is rewarded by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) when he does the exact opposite in the climax, only to then say he’s fine with staying where he is. The villain has a good backstory and is played really well by Michael Keaton, but he makes threats more often than he actually follows through on them. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a really good high school comedy, but a shallow and slightly confused superhero film.
7. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
While it was sad to hear that Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4 would never happen, many were open to 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man. While it initially underwhelmed me, I like it moderately more now than before. While Andrew Garfield doesn’t work as the high school outcast he’s presented as, he nonetheless brings a lot of charm and even gravitas to the role of Peter Parker. His relationship with Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone) is one of the most likeable romances in any comic book movie, and Stacey herself is a fun, strong character. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) makes for a sympathetic yet imposing villain, and the fights between him and Peter are slick and fun to watch. I like the realistic look and tone in general, and the shots of Spidey swinging through the city are visually stunning.
But The Amazing Spider-Man remains slavishly devoted to the previous Spidey origin story from 2002, retreading a lot of the same beats and losing a lot of its identity as a result. This version of Parker would never be picked on, for instance, and the city helping Spider-Man in the climax was not built up well. Not helping is some questionable editing that seems to leave out crucial story beats, making it obvious that a lot was left on the cutting room floor (some deleted scenes definitely confirm this). But despite its faults, this reboot shakes things up just enough to feel somewhat distinguished, and it does well enough in plenty of other areas to make for a Spidey flick that’s not amazing, but certainly adequate.
6. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
Spider-Man: No Way Home is the biggest, most narratively ambitious Spider-Man film yet, with a fanservice-heavy premise that I was outwardly against for a while. But while I still can’t say it was the right direction to take, a lot of it is handled not only really well, but with a disarming amount of humanity. No Way Home brings in characters from every prior live-action Spider-Man film continuity and, rather than just flaunting them for cheap applause moments, actually progresses what made them so fascinating to begin with, letting their pasts influence the growth of our current Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and exploring the universal themes of responsibility and heroism that all of these continuities have at their cores. The screenplay is great at juggling all of these elements and smoothly transitioning us from the more lighthearted, quick nature of the previous MCU Spidey films into something much slower, heavier, and even bittersweet. Holland is the best he’s ever been as this character, and the character himself is the strongest he’s ever been in the MCU. The film rarely feels gimmicky like I believed it would, and I really respect the effort made to take it relatively seriously. I couldn’t believe how much I was buying into something that I initially wrote off as purely ridiculous fanfiction, especially the interactions of all three live-action Spider-Men (including Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield).
But that doesn’t change the problem I had before No Way Home even came out: the follow-up to Far From Home should have been focused solely on the fallout of Peter’s identity reveal. The early stretch of No Way Home, while rushed, was getting me interested as it portrays what his life is like now, so to have that just be the lead-in to something so much bigger does still bother me. Especially when the film buckles so considerably in its efforts to make that bigger story happen. A few characters are forced into certain forms and locations because their original actors clearly couldn’t return, they sometimes have completely different personalities from before, and reused footage of them from past films sticks out blatantly. The nature of the spell used to get everyone in the same universe, as well as the way it’s undone, doesn’t make much sense. It’s painfully apparent that No Way Home was shot during COVID-19 due to the many awkward shots used to conceal actors not being in the same space together. The visuals waver between really pretty and really underwhelming, the effects aren’t that good, the humor and banter are hit-and-miss, and a few callbacks are groan-worthy.
Spider-Man: No Way Home brings some of the most unexpectedly poignant material in any Spider-Man movie, but also some of the flimsiest and most forced. Overall, the film works and has a ton to love, but the gigantic cracks at the seams stop it from holistically being anything more than acceptable.
5. SPIDER-MAN 3
Comparing Spider-Man 3 to its two predecessors, it’s painfully apparent that this is the weakest of Sam Raimi’s trilogy. But it’s far from being outright bad, and it gets treated way too harshly. It juggles a lot of stories, but unlike The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the plotlines are woven together relatively well. The main thrust of the film is Parker (Tobey Maguire) struggling with the darker impulses within himself and the fallout of his personal mistakes, which branch out to every storyline of the film. A lot of events are handled extremely goofily, but that’s par for the course with a Raimi Spider-Man movie. You still dread Peter’s downfall and want him to snap out of it before it’s too late. Spider-Man 3, while featuring some effects that don’t hold up at all, also contains some of the best CGI I’ve ever seen with the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and the symbiote, with the latter being genuinely scary at times.
But even though all the story beats do come together, there’s no denying that the last two films thrived better with their greater simplicity. Spider-Man 2 built up a great war between Peter and Harry (James Franco), so for that to be just one of the many events of Spider-Man 3 – even taking a backseat in the first half – is disappointing. I’m fine with the more comedic nature of scenes like Peter’s infamous strut on the streets, but there’s no denying that we lost out on some really dark sequences alongside those, something that Raimi’s other Spidey flicks balanced out better. Forced threads like MJ (Kirsten Dunst) breaking up with Peter and being held captive again are tired as well. But for all its unevenness, Spider-Man 3 still comes out as a very enjoyable film, and a good, if disappointing, conclusion to Sam Raimi’s classic trilogy.
4. SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Spider-Man: Far from Home was easily Spider-Man at his best in the MCU when it came out. In the wake of Avengers: Endgame and the loss of Tony Stark, you feel the pressure and even guilt that Peter (Tom Holland) now deals with as he’s asked to step up as “the new Iron Man”. What makes Far from Home so interesting, though, is that it’s not really about Peter replacing Iron Man. It’s about him learning how to come into his own as Spider-Man. The film deals with themes of the mythos we place around superheroes and the damage it can do, which can be seen through the actions of my favorite villain in any Spider-Man film, Mysterio, played by the perfection that is Jake Gyllenhaal). What Peter wants and why he dons the costume are so much clearer than in Homecoming, and you see his visible transformation and growth in confidence by the end of the film. His chemistry with Zendaya’s MJ is also adorable, and she herself is a favorite of mine. Although the effects can be very weak in places, the action is also creative and fulfilling.
What holds Far from Home back is the general fluffier tone it goes for despite coming off the monumentally heavy events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. The high school comedy approach of Homecoming still remains when it should have been stripped back. Had that happened, and had the effects been polished, this may have been the best Spider-Man film ever made. As is, Spider-Man: Far from Home still manages to come out with its head held high as one of the better movies in the franchise.
3. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of the rare films where my opinion has drastically changed. While I simply liked it at first, I now find myself loving Spider-Verse for how different, audacious, and even powerful it is compared to many other superhero movies. This is a crazy premise with a crazy execution, yet every character arc feels so real. The goofier comedy doesn’t restrain or interrupt the heavier scenes. Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) breathes fresh, new life into yet another Spider-Man origin with his perfectly realized background, insecurities, and dynamics with his family. Peter Parker’s (Jake Johnson) struggles in figuring out how to fix himself brilliantly parallels Miles figuring out how to be Spider-Man. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage) make for fun additions, and while Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) design is too distractingly silly, he’s still a very interesting villain. The animation style is vivid, flashy, and jaw-dropping, but knows when to settle down for a quieter moment. Into the Spider-Verse can get away with so much that couldn’t be done in any of the other Spider-Man movies, and that’s taken full advantage of without losing sight of the rich story at the center.
The issues with Into the Spider-Verse revolve around its more gimmicky choices. Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) and Penny Parker (Kimiko Glenn) are very out-of-place and unneeded characters, and choices like a few fourth-wall breaks and speech bubble appearances aren’t organically woven into the film’s style. But as I let the film sit, these problems become less severe while the many, many strengths eclipse them even more. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse should have been dead on arrival. But instead, it’s a bold, refreshing, and undeniably loving cinematic take on a hero’s story we’ve all come to know by now.
The very first cinematic adaptation of the famous wall-crawler, and one that remains among his best to this day. Tobey Maguire may not be the best actor to ever play Peter Parker, but he’s given easily the best, most complete script for the character’s origins. I knew basically nothing about Spider-Man before my first viewing of this film, but I immediately understood what made him special afterwards. His humble origins, his critical mistakes that push him to do good, and his relationships with his friends and foes, are all richly established and moved forward about as seamlessly as possible. Sam Raimi and writer David Koepp drench Spider-Man in old-school campiness and miraculously make it work. There’s no cynicism, no sense that the filmmakers are making decisions out of anything other than pure passion.
Despite all that camp, the film still manages to be highly emotionally resonant, and even brutal in scenes like the final battle. The effects and action haven’t aged the best in every regard, but a lot of them are still very impressive. In an age where so much is done through CGI, it’s a delight to marvel (no pun intended) at how much was done in-camera and how much work went into everything, especially considering there was no prior template for how to do a Spider-Man movie. The eccentricities only occasionally work against the film, but even then, they’re still entertaining in their own way. Spider-Man is simply a classic. Not quite perfect, but an excellent and engaging film that’s held up very well in its own bizarre way.
1. SPIDER-MAN 2
Everything that Spider-Man did, Spider-Man 2 did just as well if not better. The action and effects are near-flawless, with the train sequence being one of the best in cinematic history. Every character is furthered and faces even tougher dilemmas than before. If Spider-Man establishes Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) drive to be the hero, its sequel establishes what makes that so difficult and draining, relentlessly beating down on Peter until he has nothing left to keep him going. The burden, and ultimately acceptance, of just how much you give up to uphold great responsibility is explored with both our hero and our villain, the latter of whom is brought to life by a great Alfred Molina performance as well as remarkable digital effects and puppetry. Better yet, where the first Spider-Man occasionally struggles in juggling its wacky and serious tones, Spider-Man 2 finds the perfect sweet spot for both of them to mesh.
The pacing is the slowest of any film in the franchise, which is very risky when such a large portion has Parker out of the suit and powerless. But that just goes to show how character-driven this sequel is and how much it trusts the script it has. Raimi knows just what to focus on and how to evenly distribute the time spent on each character, the comedy, the hardships, the action, and even a bit of horror in the hospital scene with Doc Ock’s attacking arms. Everything you could ask for in an action movie is nailed, and you’re left with immense satisfaction as well as anticipation for what’s to come. Whatever lies in the future for the iconic Marvel hero’s life on screen, Spider-Man 2 remains, after all these years, his best, most well-rounded film ever, and an extremely difficult one to top.
Spider-Man: No Way Home will be released theatrically on December 17, 2021. Read our review of Spider-Man: No Way Home.