Long before talk of The Avengers, conversations about the Ayer-cut and controversies surrounding the influx of superhero movies, the genre was seen as the poster-child for the burgeoning cinema of the 21st century. Aside from the X-Men, it was Spider-Man who was embraced by Hollywood studios, with Sam Raimi helping to establish the identity of the emerging genre in 2002.
Thanks to his spectacular web-swinging skillset, Spider-Man became the ideal cinematic character to take the medium into the 21st century, swinging around the New York City streets with a striking presence. Perfectly toeing the line between the spandex superheroes of old and the newfound craving for more grounded heroic tales, Rami’s film achieved great commercial success with the film making way for two sequels in 2004 and 2007 respectively.
Focusing on Peter Parker, the individual behind the Spider-Man mask, however, Sam Raimi managed to make a genre-defining classic, creating a film that was as much about coming-of-age as it was taking down the villainous Green Goblin. Achieving significant commercial success, Raimi’s Spider-Man made over $800 million worldwide and remains the 12th highest-grossing superhero film of all time.
This iconic 2002 film almost looked entirely different, however, with Titanic director James Cameron attracted to the idea of making a Spider-Man film starring none other than Leonardo DiCaprio. Development on the original film went all the way back to the 1980s where the likes of Tobe Hooper and Joseph Zito were linked to the project along with Cameron. Progress on the film stalled for 25 years, however, due to licencing and financial issues, though the Titanic director remained focused on the film and even put together a script treatment in 1993.
James Cameron’s script was far darker than Sam Raimi’s eventual take on the character, featuring more adult themes that saw heavy use of profanity and bloody violence. Starring modern variations on villains Electro and Sandman, Cameron had envisioned that Electro would be reimagined as a maniacal businessman, whilst Sandman was written as his bodyguard named Boyd. Fascinatingly, Cameron’s treatment also featured a sex scene between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson on top of the Brooklyn Bridge.
It’s a difficult film to imagine, particularly as Sam Raimi’s eventual vision was so much more family-friendly, starring Tobey Maguire in the titular role as a student and pizza-delivery boy lacking self-confidence. Whilst James Cameron’s concept certainly sounded interesting, the director eventually had to drop the project to pursue the groundbreaking box-office success, Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Bill Paxton.
Considering that Sam Raimi helped to sculpt the future of the superhero genre as we know it today, it would have been fascinating to have seen how the Marvel cinematic universe would have ended up if James Cameron’s vision for Spider-Man had come true.