If there’s a single superhero that defines Marvel, it’s Spider-Man. Before the MCU exploded in popularity, if you knew of any Marvel property, it was either the X-Men or your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. From television shows to critically acclaimed games to Clone Sagas, Spider-Man has had a long and storied career across all forms of media. And yes, he’s been in a few movies too.
When I originally wrote this piece back in 2018, it was in the lead-up to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. Since then, we’ve had two additional Spider-Man movies release theatrically and a duology of Spiderverse films are apparently in the works if this recent trailer is anything to be believed. Naturally, it’s about time this list got updated. To reflect all of those new movies and try to determine what really is the best film starring ol’ web head. And also give the character his due since when I originally wrote the piece I didn’t include any of his MCU movies because, frankly, I just wanted to keep it to the Sony related films, but given how Spider-Man: No Way Home blew all of that out of the water, guess I can’t do that anymore!
However, I’m not including every MCU movie that he appeared in. Despite featuring in Captain America: Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame, those really aren’t Spider-Man movies. Let’s not kid ourselves here, seeing Peter Parker for a single fight scene does not a Spider-Man movie make. I’m also refraining from including Spider-Man adjacent characters who get their own films because they’re just not Spider-Man movies. Venom may have two movies to his name, but that’s his own franchise and series, just like how Morbius will not be included in future updates when I inevitably have to update this list next year for more Spiderverse goodness.
Anyway, let’s get started with ranking these suckers.
9) The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
HAHA! You all thought Spider-Man 3 would be the worst in the series! At least Spider-Man 3 had moments that worked. This? Nope, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is just terrible from start to finish.
There was a lot of hope going into Amazing 2 that it would be a massive blockbuster that would light the world on fire. It was going to start a Spider-Man cinematic universe, teasing the Sinister Six and their appearance. It was going to lead to a Venom spin-off set in the same universe. It was going to go big with not one, not two, but three major villains fighting against Spidey in a battle to end all battles. Everything was going to be fantastic… and yet it wasn’t.
Rewatching Amazing 2, it’s shocking how none of the movie comes together. There’s the main plot with Electro, then we have a side story involving Peter hanging out with Harry Osborn, Peter’s ongoing drama with his parents (I totally forgot that was even a thing in the Amazing universe), Rhino pops up twice to cause mischief, and general drama with Gwen Stacey. Plus the movie is well over two hours long and moves at a snail’s pace. So many events happen here, but all of it feels pointless, especially when the sequels evaporated into thin air after this movie failed at the box office, leaving most of the plot threads unresolved.
I’m even using the term “failed” loosely since the movie made over $700 million at the box office, but that was still disappointing for Sony. The real nail in the coffin for the franchise was the Sony hacks that happened in December of 2014 killed most of their long-term plans for the franchise. And really, that’s probably for the best. When you try and stuff everything and the kitchen sink into your superhero movie, no one is ever satisfied. Remember that.
8) Spider-Man 3 (2007)
I get what Sam Raimi and Sony were trying to accomplish with Spider-Man 3. I honestly do. They wanted to adapt one of the best Spider-Man story arcs, the one where he fuses with a mysterious Symbiote, and build on a lot of threads from the previous movies. Unlike popular belief, Sam Raimi was all for making a Spider-Man 4 and didn’t want the series to be a trilogy. Still, we have to look at Spider-Man 3 for what it is, and it’s also a complete mess. Hell, it’s sloppier than Amazing Spider-Man 2 in some respects.
I don’t even need to list off the scenes that don’t work, because we’d be here for days drinking and eating milk and cookies. Topher Grace as Venom is bizarre and really weird to watch because he’s just so miscast. Emo Peter is cringe-worthy and transcends the movie to be one of the dumbest Spider-Man moments of all time. Then you have how dark and serious the movie tries to be about the inner torment that Peter goes through while connected to the Symbiote that is at odds with both the previous movies and how goofy the movie itself can get at times.
But while I was re-watching Spider-Man 3 for this look back, something weird happened. I was actually enjoying myself. The scenes where Spidey fights the Sandman are great and I enjoyed the tensions between Peter and Harry over everything that happened so far. Maybe it was because I watched the three Sam Raimi movies back to back, but it felt completely natural to watch.
But like Amazing 2, there’s way too much happening in one movie. There are three villains hogging up all of the spotlight, inner turmoil between Peter and the Symbiote and the ridiculous drama of Peter and MJ’s relationship. It’s still a long movie, though what really gives it the clear win over Amazing 2 is that I still like this world and this version of Spider-Man more than the Amazing universe. Spider-Man 3 may not be the worst in the series, and I actually think it could be a guilty pleasure for some, it’s still a heavily flawed movie.
7) Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The biggest sin that Spider-Man: Homecoming commits is that despite getting top billing, this isn’t really a movie about Spider-Man. Rather, this is an unofficial Iron Man 4. And while that’s not a terrible thing at the end of the day, Spider-Man: Homecoming is ultimately a boring movie to sit through.
We get glimpses of what Tom Holland’s interpretation of the character is like and his relationships with Ned and MJ, but they don’t feel fleshed out by the end of the film. Instead we get an extreme overdose of Marvel humor and a presentation that just feels forgettable. Besides Michael Keatons’ turn as the Vulture, one that I think is severely underrated within the larger MCU, it’s hard to really latch onto anything from the film other than Peter is in Tony’s shadow. Yes, it is a part of his arc over the course of three films, but it’s such a slow start that sucks out all of the excitement that was generated from his appearance in Civil War. No, it’s not a bad movie like the previous two films here, but it’s just boring and bland.
6) The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Outside of some truly terrible Lizard CGI that makes him look like one of the Koopas from Super Mario Bros. the Movie, I actually thought that The Amazing Spider-Man was a good time. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but for a fresh new take on Spider-Man, I thought that it did a pretty decent job.
What pushes The Amazing Spider-Man into my good graces is just how good Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey respectively. There is so much chemistry between these two actors that it’s hard for me not to like them. Hell, they got along so well that they even dated outside of the movie for a time (though I have no idea if they’re still together). This is a movie where the character moments really outshine any of the action.
I tell my friends this whenever the discussion comes to live-action Spider-Man portrayals, but Andrew Garfield is the best Spider-Man I have ever seen. He’s energetic, quips like a maniac, and has enough confidence to the point where he isn’t annoying. While I felt that Tobey Maguire was a bit too robotic as Spider-Man while Tom Holland was a bit too immature, Andrew Garfield nails the character in every way imaginable. He’s exactly what I imagine a modern Spider-Man should be without being too corny. It’s a shame that Amazing 2 jettisoned most of the relationship between Gwen and Peter in favor of more action and villains, but Amazing Spider-Man is still a fun ride.
5) Spider-Man (2002)
Spider-Man is an incredibly corny and cheesy comic book movie. You know that clip from the 90’s Spider-Man cartoon where Spider-Man says “This is starting to sound like a bad comic book?” Yeah, that’s Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. It’s hokey, features a ton of dumb moments, and has some laughable CGI worse than The Amazing Spider-Man, but hot damn is this a popcorn flick if I’ve ever seen one. Spider-Man is a simple, basic superhero movie with none of the fluff and I love it.
I know I just inadvertently put down Tobey Maguire’s take on Spider-Man, but let me just clarify a point real quick. Even though I think that Macguire is a terrible Spider-Man, he is a perfect Peter Parker. He’s awkward, kind, a bit of a dork, but generally still a good person. When I see Macguire as the character, I actually see Peter Parker. All of that falls apart when he actually has to be Spider-Man, which should kill the movie, and yet it doesn’t. Mostly because the supporting cast is phenomenal across the board.
J.K. Simmons IS J. Jonah Jameson. Bar none. End of discussion. You see him in one scene, and it’s a done deal. He’s perfect in the role. There’s a reason he keeps coming back to the role. No one else can do it. Then you have the bizarre appearances of Macho Man Randy Savage and Bruce Campbell at the beginning of the movie and the realization that James Franco as Harry Osbourne isn’t half bad. I even liked Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. Sure, by the end of the third movie she was insufferable with her and Peter’s “will they, won’t they” dynamic, but it started out on solid footing.
And then you have Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin. What else can you say besides how he’s so over-the-top that it’s brilliant? He’s both legitimately scary and oddly casual about being a psychotic man that flies around on a green hoverboard. All of his scenes are just a joy to watch at how Cage-esque he is. He alone keeps it from being any lower. I can’t hate Willem Dafoe. I love him too much. Spider-Man is exactly what you would expect out of an early 2000’s superhero movie and as long as you go into it with those expectations, you’ll be fine. If not, you’ll be in for a weird time.
4) Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Placing this movie was always going to be tricky given its overwhelming acclaim upon release. The hype for this movie was on the same level as an Avengers movie, with fans gassing themselves up to believe that it was going to have anything and everything they could have wanted. And in many respects, it delivers. This is surprisingly a much quieter movie that I think most people give it credit for, giving Peter, MJ, and Ned time to actually bond and develop as a core group of friends. Peter even spends a majority of the movie interacting with the villains from previous Spider-Man films to excellent results.
No Way Home is at its best when it allows the characters to just talk with each other and share their experiences and perspectives with one another. Even if they aren’t directly related to the MCU, just having Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborne have a scene or two to talk with Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock feels right for the characters given the similarities the two have with each other. It’s a film the rewards your knowledge of every Spider-Man film leading up to this point.
It’s also the area that prevents me from really putting it any higher. It’s too reliant on nostalgia at times, making a large portion of those conversations just nudges and winks to other Spider-Man films instead of building its own unique identity. It had the chance to do that, by starting the film off on the cliffhanger from Far From Home where Peter’s identity is revealed to the world, but it’s quickly dropped as soon as the multiverse shenanigans appear. Why have such a great premise if the film is only going to throw it away shortly after establishing it? I think that repeat viewings will only hurt this movie, but the emotional moments that are here definitely eclipse most of the movies on this list below it.
3) Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
I’m fairly certain this will be an unpopular opinion, but Far From Home is the best MCU Spider-Man movie. Why? It has the complete package. We have excellent action scenes taking place in a variety of locales. We have humor that feels natural with good pacing that isn’t just self-deprecation of the source material or incessant bantering. There’s an excellent villain that offers some great sequences and even when they lose, still manage to eck out a victory. It’s an exciting movie that is able to stand on its own and deliver the kind of thrills I want from a modern superhero movie.
Is it a perfect movie? Not by any means. But it does enough good where the flaws that I have with it feel like nitpicks. The middle of the film drags a bit while everyone’s on their world tour. Also while I do like Tom Holland’s take on the character, he neither excels at being Peter Parke or Spider-Man. Think of him as the perfect mid-point between Macguire’s and Garfield’s take on the character. Middle of the road, but efficient. Normally the middle film of a trilogy is regarded as being the weakest part, but I would argue the exact opposite for Marvel’s Home trilogy. There’s just too much good here to deny its place.
2) Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It may be blindingly obvious, but Spider-Man 2 is a wonderful movie. Looking back on it almost two decades later, it’s so interesting to see that a lot of the movie holds up today and even surpasses a lot of modern interpretations of the character. First and foremost, Spider-Man 2 perfectly balances what it means for Peter to be Spider-Man and how much of a toll it is on him both mentally and physically. Everyone likes to remember the train scene as the biggest example of the stress that he’s placed under being Spider-Man, but I was much more interested in seeing Peter’s powers short-circuit for most of the movie.
I completely forgot that Peter was constantly losing and regaining his powers was a big deal as I was watching it. Peter would lose them whenever he was under heavy stress, usually while acting as Spider-Man, but they only resurfaced in when he was determined and focused enough to get the job done, like saving MJ from Doc Ock, as well as finally accepting the responsibility of being a hero. Speaking of, holy crap Alfred Molina is good as Doc Ock. I don’t think I’m making a big claim when I say that Spider-Man 2’s portrayal as Doc Ock is one of the best interpretations of the character ever, even moreso than Dan Slott making him into Spider-Man (long story).
But really, Spider-Man 2 is more a movie about Peter Parker than about Spider-Man. Peter has to deal with the responsibilities of being Spider-Man and he does so in a variety of ways. He quits being Spider-Man for a time because it’s interfering with his normal life. He saves a train full of people at the cost of his own body. He even reveals his secret identity to both Harry and MJ and tells Aunt May that he feels responsible for Uncle Ben’s death. Peter matures as a character and with it, both his character and Spider-Man’s character have more depth and layers to them. There’s a reason people still look fondly at Spider-Man 2 all these years later.
1) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
We live in a truly terrible world if Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the lowest-grossing Spider-Man movie. I wouldn’t call this movie revolutionary since I think that, ultimately, it didn’t fundamentally change the landscape of animation or cinema, but goddamn is this just an excellent superhero movie from start to finish. The artistry that went into this movie alone is deserving of praise, but to go ahead and make the finished product a delightful look into the importance of Spider-Man as a symbol and what it means to truly be a hero is equally worthy of praise.
Every frame of this movie is drop-dead gorgeous. From simply going to school to swinging across an autumn forest, to experiencing classic comic-book eccentricities in Kingpin’s collider, many critics have compared the film to pop art and it’s hard to disagree. Then you have just how accessible the film is for anyone coming in. Without wasting any time, Spider-Verse introduces us to Miles Morales, Peter Parker, and all of the various Peter Parker’s from the multiverse that were thrust into Miles’ universe. It’s lean and efficient and I would argue handles the concept of the multiverse better than No Way Home.
The comparisons between this film and No Way Home are inevitable given the similarities in their execution, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Feige directly drew from Lord and Miller’s work here because of how effective it was. Unlike that movie though, you don’t need to watch seven other movies to truly appreciate the intricacies on display here. All that Spider-Verse asks of you is to know who Spider-Man is, and even if you don’t, the film is able to impart just how important he is.
There’s an argument to be made that we live in a world now where franchises can no longer have isolated entries that stand on their own. Everything needs to be connected and inform some larger story, whether it be a cinematic universe or a simple sequel that builds on plot points from its predecessor. But it’s also good sometimes to see just s stand-alone movie show audiences how anyone can be like Spider-Man and how universal that theme can be.