The Lost 'Spider-Man' Fan Film Endorsed By Marvel
One of the most acclaimed Marvel movies ever is only 30 minutes long and was made by a bunch of film students for less money than Sony probably spent on a single Tobey Maguire on-set lunch. It also had something No Way Home (or any future Spidey film) can sadly never have: the enthusiastic approval of a living Stan Lee. We're talking about 1974's Spider-Man Versus Kraven the Hunter, and if you're already highlighting that title to copy it into YouTube, don't bother because the film isn't there. In fact, it isn't anywhere on the internet -- all we have are a few screenshots and the descriptions of those lucky enough to see it.
The project started with NYU student Bruce Cardozo's frustration at the meme-tastic '60s Spider-Man cartoon, which Cardozo felt didn't accurately portray the gritty realism of the comic books. It also sounds like Cardozo didn't particularly care for the Adam West Batman show and its nutty (piss-)take on the character. Cardozo thought it was possible to make a Spider-Man film that made the character believable to an adult audience, so, in 1972, he wrote Stan Lee a letter detailing how he'd do it. Lee replied with a "very enthusiastic letter of approval" ... as long as Cardozo didn't make any money from this thing, of course.
Cardozo shared the idea with his experimental film class, but not even the dense fog of pot smoke that likely filled that '70s film school classroom could convince them that the special effects he had in mind could be pulled off. Fortunately, their teacher must have been on something stronger because he approved the project anyway. Cardozo and his crew went all in and spent over a year making the movie, which involved talking to hundreds of actors, creating comics-accurate costumes, and designing visual effects like the classic "spider-signal" that Spidey used to let criminals know they should get ready for an ass whoopin'.
The crew built a whole section of a building for Spider-Man to climb, and instead of using blank backgrounds, they created realistic matte paintings that would move on camera to create the illusion of the character swinging through New York at night. As for the story, it was mostly based on Amazing Spider-Man #15, which recounts Spidey's first encounter with Kraven the Hunter. The identity of the actor who played Kraven is lost to time, but he looks way more like the character than the guy who'll play him in Sony's actual Kraven movie. Also, unlike the supposedly "faithful" big-budget Spider-Man adaptations, it's been reported that everyone in this one spoke with a thick New York accent for added realism.
When the film was about 3/4s done, Cardozo screened it to Lee and other Marvel staffers, who were reportedly very impressed. The film got glowing coverage in Marvel's official fan magazine and, once finished, it was shown at Marvel's 1976 convention. At the time, Cardozo was hopeful that his masterpiece would be distributed in some way, but that never happened. According to people who corresponded with him, Marvel made him promise he'd never let any copies of the film get out, and even decades later, he honored that promise. He never posted it online and refused to send it to anyone, even other filmmakers. Once he stopped showing it at cons (the last time was in 2005), the only way to see it was to come down to his house and sit down for a personal screening, which he was always happy to do.
Part of the reason why Cardozo protected the movie so zealously might be that he went on to work in the film industry as a visual effects artist, so it's possible he was trying to avoid pissing off Marvel in case they ever got around to making movies. If so, his plan worked, because his IMDb page claims that the last three films he worked on before his death in 2016 were Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers. We sincerely hope they impressed him more than the '60s Spidey cartoon.
Top image: Bruce Cardozo