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A Tangled Web

The lost 'Spider-Man' films

Last week in this space, we investigated the lost "Batman" movies: proposals for films about the Caped Crusader that never got off the ground for one reason or another, before, during and after the production of the seven films that we have now. With another iconic superhero, Spider-Man, getting a major reboot this summer in Columbia Pictures' "The Amazing Spider-Man," we thought we would take the same tack and look at the troubled cinematic history of the wall-crawling, web-slinging crime fighter known in everyday life as Peter Parker.

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Unlike Batman, Spidey has starred in just three theatrical features so far: "Spider-Man" (2002), "Spider-Man 2" (2004) and "Spider-Man 3" (2007), all directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as Peter/Spider-Man and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. The three films were enormously successful, earning $2.5 billion at the box office around the world. The first two were also critically acclaimed, with many fans and reviewers holding up "Spider-Man 2" in particular as one of the finest examples of the superhero movie.

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Spider-Man has been such a popular comic book character since his first appearance in 1962 (50 years ago!) that it seems bizarre that it actually took 40 years for the first "Spider-Man" film to come out (Spidey fared much better on television, with a TV movie, a short-lived 1978 live-action series and an incredible six animated series to his name). But Spider-Man was not only difficult to do properly on film, but was the victim of a maze of legal issues over the ownership of the property, issues which literally took decades to sort out. But here are some of the possible films that could have emerged during that time:

Cannon Fodder: "Spider-Man" was actually not optioned by a film company until 1985, when Roger Corman first nabbed it for a minute and then Marvel sold it to the famous/infamous Cannon Films, known for releasing scores of low-budget (and sometimes decently budgeted) films in various genres, most of them really just one or two steps above exploitation. The two guys who ran Cannon, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, apparently misunderstood what Spider-Man was supposed to be, hiring horror director Tobe Hooper to helm what they had written as a monster movie, which involved a scientist turning Peter into a literal eight-armed creature that battles other mutants created by the mad doctor. Sure, that sounds right ...

Cannon Fodder, Take 2: After Spider-Man creator Stan Lee expressed his outrage over the first script, Cannon had a whole new draft written and replaced Hooper with director Joseph Zito ("Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter"). This story involved a cyclotron that turned Peter Parker into Spidey and Dr. Otto Octavius into Doctor Octopus, which already strayed outside the comic book origin story. Nevertheless, a budget of $20 million and storyboards were both drawn up, and an up-and-coming actor named Tom Cruise was considered for the lead role, with Bob Hoskins a favorite for Doc Ock. The project finally fell apart, however, when Cannon ran into financial trouble -- and then James Cameron came on the scene.

The Cameron Years: The now-defunct Carolco Films and big-budget filmmaker James Cameron -- by then a huge name thanks to "The Terminator," "Aliens" and others -- got hold of Spider-Man in 1992. First Cameron rewrote the script that Cannon had (and which Golan was still trying to get produced on his own), and then wrote his own "scriptment," a combination screenplay and treatment. Cameron's scriptment drew on elements from all the previous drafts, although he jettisoned Doc Ock in favor of Electro and Sandman as the villains. His script also had Peter and Mary Jane getting busy in the sack, a lot of profanity and all sorts of strange ideas about electrical storms, blackouts, etc. Of course, the idea of James Cameron making "Spider-Man" (which was acknowledged in the series "Entourage" years later, via his non-existent "Aquaman" film) sounded like a dream, but it was ultimately not destined to come true.

The Limbo Years: We'd need a lawyer to help us sort through the labyrinth of legalities that kept Spider-Man away from a movie screen for nearly another 10 years. The complex web (ha ha) of legal issues, contract disputes and copyright claims saw several companies, including Carolco and Marvel itself, go bankrupt, and featured a dragged-out battle between two studios, MGM and Columbia, that not only engulfed Spider-Man but even ended up threatening the future of the James Bond franchise (if only 007 and Spidey could have teamed up to kick some butt in all this). Somehow it was all sorted out, with Columbia eventually winning the "Spider-Man" rights. After considering directors like Tim Burton, David Fincher and Chris Columbus, the studio gave the coveted job to Sam Raimi, and "Spider-Man" the movie was finally a reality.

"Spider-Man 4": Although all three of Raimi's "Spider-Man" movies were colossal box-office hits, "Spider-Man 3" had garnered the weakest reviews of the three and Raimi himself was not happy with the film. Nevertheless, despite creative issues with the studio, Raimi, Maguire and Dunst all agreed to return for "Spider-Man 4." John Malkovich was tentatively cast as the Vulture and Anne Hathaway as Felicia Hardy, known in the comics as the Black Cat but destined in this film to become a new villain known as the Vulturess. After four drafts of the script, however, Raimi was not pleased and concerned that he could not make the studio's summer 2011 release date. The project was subsequently canceled, with Raimi, Maguire and Dunst all walking. That paved the way for this summer's reboot, with Marc Webb directing, Andrew Garfield starring as Peter Parker and Spider-Man's complicated road to the screen taking another unexpected turn.

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