“No studio was interested in Spider-Man. No studio! They all refused”,
On May 3, 2002, a weaver wandering the streets of New York landed in American theaters. Spiderman didn’t know yet that he was going to revolutionize the industry. The movie theater. And the 7th art as a whole. Because without him, without Sam Raimi, without Sony Pictures, there probably wouldn’t have been a Marvel Universe today. There would have been no trilogy Dark Knight. Or even of Justice League.
Obviously, Spiderman did not invent the genre. Before him, superheroes had already enjoyed success in the cinema, whether with the franchise Superman of the 1980s or that of the Batman of the 1990s, stopped short by the legendary batman & robin from 1997… So much so that at the end of the 90’s, no major studio was taking seriously the idea of remaking films with sticky avengers. Never before had a Marvel comics been brought to the screen. Incredibly complicated rights issues largely hampered this. But the genre, in any case, no longer interested many people:
“None of the studios were interested in Spiderman. No studios! They all refused“, recalls Avi Arad, the boss of Marvel Studios at the time.It was an old brand for them. Of course, I disagreed. For me, it was huge. So we kept knocking on doors, making sure Spiderman was a billion dollar idea! I didn’t know how right I was..”
During an extensive story published in Variety these days, those who contributed to the development of the film thus remember the galley that was the project Spiderman. David Koeppscreenwriter, confirms that “superhero movies had fallen on hard times. They didn’t establish any cultural connection with the public and most of them were cheap films, not to say considered crap!“Former Columbia Pictures boss Matt Tolmach confirms he had to”get over that perception that comics was a kid thing. We saw it like that at the time. We knew it was going to cost an arm and a leg to produce, but for what audience on arrival?“
The success of Blade in 1998, at New Line Cinema, opened a first door, proving that a Marvel property could work. While Fox was working on his side on the X-MenSony Pictures decided to jump in and buy the film rights for just $7 million, with Marvel keeping 5% of the profits and 50% of the merchandising.
David Koeppwho had written the screenplays for Jurassic Park and Impossible missionwas hired to write the screenplay, partly because he saw the story as a great love story between Peter and Mary-Jane:
“My big argument was to say that Peter Parker had to be given a lot of time before becoming Spiderman. No, we won’t see him in costume for the first 45 minutes, and that’s fine. Because the character has such a powerful Origin Story that you had to dare to tell it, rely on it. And the other thing was that her relationship with MJ wasn’t supposed to end up together at the end of the movie. They had to be separated, because it was romantic. Sony agreed. They were ready to embrace these ideas. It took guts, because usually, on page 10, he becomes a superhero and then everything works out at the end… There, we wanted to try something different.”
To put Koepp’s ideas into images, Sony and Marvel therefore went on a mission to find the right real. “I remember Amy Pascal (producer) telling me that they had met with Tim Burton, who replied that he felt closer to DC comics..” Sam Raimi wasn’t even on the shortlist. Far from it. But the director ofevil Dead knew how to defend his cause, explaining that he had been, since childhood, a fan of the weaver, a kid on the margins who always identified with Peter Parker. “Sam was unique“, continues Avi Arad in this long paper from Variety. “Sam wasn’t coming for money. He needed to.”
And not just anyhow! No question of taking all this superhero story over the top. You had to stay first degree: “I wanted to make sure that we weren’t going to do a sketch for the public. For me, there was no joke“, insists Sam Raimi. “I never wanted to have any distance with the original source. I wanted it to be fully believed and to share real drama with the public.” A vision of adaptation that joined that of David Koepp : “I never wanted to write anything that was a nod to the fans or too self-aware of what it is. It’s a real high school drama, Spiderman. These characters have really powerful feelings, as realistic as they come.”
By keeping his hero rooted in the real world and tackling the story without the slightest cynicism, the producers, screenwriter and director have thus set up a Spiderman in connection with the public. Huge audiences, as the film broke box office records, becoming the first to break the $100 million mark in its opening weekend. It accumulated $825 million on arrival worldwide and more than 6.4 million admissions in France.
And irony of the calendar, while Spiderman blow out 20 candles today, Sam Raimi will return to Marvel tomorrow, in Doctor Strange 2.