The Long, Convoluted, Weird History Of 'Spider-Man 4'
A few days ago, the Internet lit up with news that director Sam Raimi, famous for things like the Evil Dead trilogy, the Spider-Man trilogy, and Billy Bob Thornton's haircut in A Simple Plan, was in talks to take the helm of Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. This would not only be Raimi's return to directing (He's spent most of the 2010s producing cheap horror films that garner good reviews and a lot of money), but his superhero comeback tour.
And like with most comeback tours, people still want him to play the classics. Thus, (admittedly dubious) articles have been devoted to talking about how, since the word "Multiverse" is in the title, Raimi could potentially bring his version of Spider-Man, the one that once had Chad Kroeger's "Hero" set over its end credits, into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If I saw that in a theater, I know that I, personally, would shit all over myself in excitement. Just so much poop, guys.
And I don't think I'd be alone, because the prospect of a Tobey Maguire Spider-Man cameo or a Spider-Man 4 has been popping up a lot lately. The directors of Into The Spiderverse considered having him voice Peter B. Parker (the one that mentors Miles Morales) and when Marvel cryptically posted a big "4" on Twitter (which ended up promoting a comic book arc,) the response was primarily "DON'T PLAY WITH MY HEART LIKE THIS, MARVEL."
So if people seem to want a Spider-Man 4, why didn't we get one back in the day? Why was the Spider-Man saga suddenly restarted for two "Amazing" movies, and then kicked into the MCU? Well, the answer to that is kinda weird and sad, but it deserves to be told. So here is the long, sad history of Spider-Man 4.
The date is January 7, 2010. Columbia Pictures and Marvel still seem pretty pumped to work with Raimi and Tobey on a Spider-Man 4. And why wouldn't they be? Spider-Man was the first film to make over $100 million in its opening weekend, the second is still regarded to this day as one of the best comic book movies ever made, and the third was the highest grossing film of 2007. In fact, here is Tobey talking about how excited he is to play Peter Parker for a fourth time:
Now it's January 11, 2010. Columbia Pictures and Marvel announce that sike, nerds, we're rebooting this whole thing. Wait, what? What disaster prompted this? Because, again, Spider-Man 3 made more money than literally every other film in the entire world that came out in 2007 and is actually not that bad aside from having a messy third act (which, honestly, is a flaw that 95% of comic book movies have). Superhero franchises have continued under far worse circumstances. Hell, one-third of the X-Men films are stunningly, angrily terrible, and the response to them has typically been, "Well, how about another Wolverine solo film?"
The problems seem to start with behind-the-scenes issues on the third film. Despite only coming behind goddamn Shrek 2 in the box office and garnering more praise than every other superhero film before it, Spider-Man 2 was not a launch into pure creative freedom for Raimi. Instead, the studio and producer Avi Arad wanted Raimi to flip the table on all of his plans and shove Venom into the third movie, despite the movie being stuffed as it was and Raimi not really caring for the character.
See, Raimi already wanted three villains for the third film: New Goblin, to complete Harry Osborn's story arc, Sandman, to fulfill the movie's themes of redemption since he was gonna end up being the guy that actually killed Peter's Uncle, and the Vulture, who was gonna be a dick. Arad was apparently cool with the first two, but wanted to replace Vulture with Venom.
But anyone that's ever even sniffed near a Spider-Man comic in their lives knows that for Venom to be effective, they have to go through the whole symbiote story with Peter, where Peter gets the rad black suit, turns into a jerk, and then realizes that he hasn't been holding enough doors open for people so he sheds it. Then it goes to Eddie Brock, who fucking LOVES shutting doors in people's faces.
That's a whole lot to add to a story, and could be a movie all by itself! But Raimi went with the changes and the results, for him, were less than satisfactory. So when he set out to get a story for Spider-Man 4, he wanted it to be good. And it just wasn't coming out that way. Some of the ideas that have been leaked since sound rad, like Bruce Campbell possibly playing Mysterio (after showing up in the first three movies in cameos that only MIGHT have been Mysterio) and a helicopter chase.
But the other stuff, like John Malkovich's Vulture being accompanied by Anne Hathaway's Vulturess who would long for Peter's affection (presumably while Kirsten Dunst hung from a high place, screaming), doesn't sound that solid. And Sam even admitted that he couldn't get the story going before the production start date and keep "creative integrity," so executives at Sony thanked Raimi for his three movies and moved on.
That all sounds pretty agreeable and nice, until you read a Raimi interview from 2013 in which, while mostly staying polite, drops that he told Sony to "Go ahead with your reboot, which you've been planning anyway..." Look, I know that we're dealing with Hollywood here and that studios pressing the reset button on superhero franchises has been a thing since 1949, but that doesn't seem like a very productive environment. Being disappointed with your last Spider-Man film after you had control ripped from you and wanting to improve with your next one, all the while knowing that they're likely just gonna change the locks on you regardless is a bummer.
So, aside from Raimi, the cast, and the crew, who else got the boot? Well, since it's 2010, obviously the video game company working on the tie-in game. If you haven't played the first Spider-Man game, give it a chance if you want to hear Tobey Maguire recite his lines like he's struggling to read shampoo ingredients. And if you haven't played the third, find a copy at a local video game store and burn it before it can infect all of your other games. But the second game is dope, and should be played by anyone that appreciates fun superhero experiences, top tier web-swinging mechanics, and a song that plays during pizza delivery missions that should be illegal.
And that one stellar game is enough to get someone potentially excited for a fourth one, especially if it was intended, like the fourth movie, to fix some of the mistakes of the third. But it was shut down, too, leaving behind a really rough prototype that you can play on an emulator yourself if you have the right software. So that's neat.
So what has happened with Spider-Man 4 since then, aside from Kirsten Dunst inviting the ire of the internet when she, an inspiration to us all, said "I don't care," when asked about the reboots? Well, in the infamous Sony email leak back in 2014, it was revealed that Sony had approached Sam Raimi to step back into the series as a producer or director in order to right the ship after the relative failure of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But Sam wouldn't have done it, right? Right?
Well, in 2019, he revealed that when it comes to Spider-Man 4, "I think about it all the time." Me, too. Sam. Me, too. He also referred to it as an "unborn child" and stated that it would've been "one absolutely kick ass movie." That's a far cry from the dissatisfaction he seemed to have with it all back in 2010, but hey. Maybe after spending a decade making Spider-Man films, he was kinda burnt out and any idea would've sounded like a bad one. But a decade later? Fuck yeah. John Malkovich as Vulture? I'd buy a whole theater just so people couldn't kick me out for cheering over all two hours of the movie.
Anyway, I doubt that Disney would be eager to let Sam Raimi use Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness as a backdoor pilot for Spider-Man 4, but who knows? From The Incredibles 2 to Bad Boys For Life, making long-awaited sequels to blockbuster series that seemingly ended in the mid 2000s seems to be pretty popular right now, and with Venom and Into the Spiderverse, Sony seems pretty willing to experiment with new Spider-Man stuff. So maybe we will get it. Or maybe not. I'll keep singing "Vindicated" at karaoke regardless.
Daniel Dockery is a writer and editor for Cracked. Follow him on Twitter to hear him talk about Spider-Man 4 more than any healthy person should.