Spider-Man had a very long, tortuous path to the big screen before director Sam Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp finally brought the Marvel icon to cinematic life in 2002. After Cannon Films failed to make a Spidey movie in the 1980s, James Cameron became attached to write and direct it for Carolco Pictures. Cameron’s project eventually fell apart and years of legal battles over the screen rights ensued.
The legal battle over Spidey finally ended when Columbia Pictures won the screen rights. But the studio’s 2002 Spider-Man film shares a lot of influences and elements from Cameron’s unproduced version, which screenwriter Koepp readily admitted to in a new interview with IGN.
“I never saw any previous versions from development because it had just come out of litigation as I recall,” Koepp explained over a Zoom interview this week. “And so if there were other versions, they were like Cannon in the ’80s or early ’90s, but (Cameron’s) treatment was very influential.”
James Cameron’s Spider-Man scriptment — which has made the rounds online for years (check out our full breakdown of it from way back in 2000!) — left Koepp moved by how much the Aliens and Terminator filmmaker treated its protagonist seriously, something many superhero movies of that era hadn’t done.
“I had a lot of my own specific thoughts about what the movie ought to be, because I had been a Spider-Man fan as a kid and young adult,” Koepp said. “But his treatment, it just took it seriously. It took Peter seriously as a character and it took a superhero movie seriously as a genre. And you hadn’t seen that before.”
Koepp continued, “This was 2000 and 2001 when I was writing (Spider-Man) and there hadn’t been a good superhero movie since probably the second Batman. X-Men was still yet to come. That came out, I think, while we were shooting.”
That Cameron’s scriptment demanded a studio take Spider-Man seriously –and to commit large scale resources to such an endeavor — was bold and new at the time, Koepp argued. “The fact that he had written this 85 or whatever it was pages treatment, that in itself was really meaningful and said, no, no, take this seriously. This is a real movie with real people in it.”
Cameron’s version included one particularly dramatic alteration to the wall-crawler that Koepp retained for his own screenplay: “He had some very good ideas in it. I like the organic web-shooters, which some people liked and some people didn’t, but that was his idea and I was happy to use it.”
The organic web-shooters of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker were indeed hugely divisive at the time, with both subsequent screen versions of the character — Andrew Garfield’s in The Amazing Spider-Man films and Tom Holland’s in the MCU — jettisoning them in favor of the more comics-accurate mechanical web-shooters.
For more on Sam Raimi’s Spidey, watch Tobey Maguire’s R-rated Peter Parker screen test, find out why Raimi is still haunted by his unmade Spider-Man 4, and discover how Raimi could bring Tobey Maguire’s Spidey into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
David Koepp’s latest film, the supernatural thriller You Should Have Left, premieres On Demand on June 19.