20 years later, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man is one of the greatest films of all time

For better or worse, superhero cinema is everywhere these days. Spider-Man: Far From Home was still in theaters in January, and we’ve seen The Batman, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the mighty mighty Morbius already in 2022. Firestarter is also loosely marketed as a super movie. -heroes, despite being emphatically not one, as Thor: Love and Thunder will soon be here, followed by Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and the DCEU’s Super Pets, Batgirl and Black Adam. Not to mention all the TV shows that are indelibly tied to the MCU to watch as well. Superhero cinema is the current king, as a glance at just about any box office record will show, and it’s all thanks to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.

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Raimi’s first adventure in comic book movies turns 20 this month, which means he’s old enough to go to war and die for America and almost old enough to buy a Miller Lite. In many ways, it’s the most impactful movie of the 21st century, and it’s worth thinking about.

Related: Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness Doesn’t Cancel WandaVision

I’ve seen all of the above superhero movies released this year in theaters during their opening weekends. God help me, I even went to the special preview of Morbius before its general release. Time does not wait for Morb. I love superhero movies. I’m enjoying it the most and the fun ride it is, but I feel like the fabric of the cinematic experience has been changed forever. It used to be that audiences were less aware of how much money a movie made, we never used to cheer on franchises like they were sports teams. There’s been a period of whining recently that the Oscars are obsolete because they’re out of touch with audiences, but audiences haven’t always watched just one type of film.


Star Wars: A New Hope was nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. Star Wars as a series won eight, although one was a special honorary award in a competitive category. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King swept the awards. Forrest Gump, The Sting, Titanic, The Godfather and Ben-Hur were all blockbusters of their time. All won Best Picture. Even this year, Dune and West Side Story were popcorn movies and, in a landscape without superheroes, might have been the biggest movies of the year. Three of the Best Picture nominees were streaming exclusives. Nightmare Alley had a stacked cast of everyone’s favorite actors (as did Don’t Look Up, though admittedly it looked like a dud), but no, the Oscars are offline because Spider-Man and his incredible adventures of green screen and cameos didn’t get a nod.


Spider-Man wasn’t the first superhero movie, and I wouldn’t even say it was the first good superhero movie. The Michael Keaton Batman movies and the Christopher Reeve Superman movies still hold up, while X-Men came out two years before Spider-Man. The argument could be made that X-Men was the first modern superhero film, and while it established that superhero films could exist in a grounded reality – the DVD commentary for X-Men has Hugh Jackman tell a story from when Nolan complained X-Men had “beaten me at my own idea” after seeing it while writing Batman Begins – X-Men doesn’t have the overall feel of Spiderman.

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That Nolan saw his own idea in X-Men is telling. It’s a lot grittier than Raimi’s Spider-Man, which has a lot more banter, comedic moments, and better sells the idea that being a superhero is fun, even in the real world. It has loving references, character nods, long-range teasing (those Bruce Campbell cameos), and playful nods to well-established conventions, like Spider-Man learning to pull webs from his wrist. Both sequels got grittier (and 2 is probably a better movie for that), but it was the first movie that established the tropes that Iron Man relied on and ultimately became the foundation of the MCU.


Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to superhero movies, it’s clear that they are the dominant force in modern cinema. Raimi’s Spider-Man helped set the train in motion, though it’s impossible to predict exactly where it would lead. 20 years later, superhero movies are very different from Raimi’s (his own Doctor Strange movie is much more visually spectacular), but without Spider-Man, we might never have reached this point. Meet Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, the most impactful film of the 21st century. Without it, we wouldn’t have Morbius.

Next: Doctor Strange 2 Sets The Stage For Standalone Marvel Movies


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