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Tim Grierson on the 10th anniversary of “Spider-Man,” the superhero movie that made superhero movies cool again

Spider-Man

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As expected, “The Avengers” was a colossal hit this past weekend, cementing the fact that we’ve long lived in an era of comic-book movies. And it’s not going to end any time soon, not when you’ve got “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Man of Steel,” “The Wolverine” and several others coming our way in the next few years. (And that’s not even counting films like “Men in Black 3” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which are based on comic books but don’t feature superheroes.) It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always like this. In fact, 10 years ago, superhero films weren’t nearly the studio staple they are now. But in May 2002, that changed for good thanks to a little film called “Spider-Man.”

Not that long ago, it seemed unlikely that we would ever get a Spider-Man movie in our lifetime. Complicated rights issues over the property and a series of different treatments and scripts — including one written by James Cameron after the success of “Terminator 2” — had kept the project mired in endless pre-production since about 1985. But in the early 21st century, those legal woes got worked out and Sam Raimi (the man behind the “Evil Dead” films and “Darkman”) was brought on board to direct the film.

If the choice of Raimi, a beloved cult-film favorite, seemed risky, than so too was Sony’s pick for Spidey. Before “Spider-Man,” Tobey Maguire was mostly known as an indie actor from films like “The Cider House Rules,” “Wonder Boys” and “The Ice Storm.” By comparison, his co-star, Kirsten Dunst, had enjoyed some major hits in “Interview With the Vampire” and “Jumanji,” but that was back before she was even a teenager. Ultimately, though, the studio probably decided that it had found a respected filmmaker and two seasoned, acclaimed actors, which in the long run would hopefully mean more than their meager box office track record. After all, people were going to go to a Spider-Man movie because it had Spider-Man in it, not because it starred the kid from “Pleasantville.”

The gamble paid off handsomely. Boosted by good reviews, “Spider-Man” opened on May 3, 2002, grossing almost $115 million in the U.S. in its first weekend, crushing the previous record-holder, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” which had pulled in a measly $90 million. The film went on to be the year’s top U.S. grosser, behind only “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” worldwide. But more than that, it helped make comic-book movies a priority in Hollywood. “Spider-Man” didn’t do this alone, of course — “X-Men” had been one of 2000’s biggest hits — but at a time when Batman and Superman had fallen out of favor with moviegoers, the webslinger argued convincingly that audiences would still flock to a top-shelf superhero franchise.

We’re still feeling the effects of “Spider-Man.” Between 1996 and 2001, we only had one movie starring costumed superheroes end up as one of the year’s top 10 grossing films. From 2002 to the present, there’s only been one year where that hasn’t happened — and even in that case, in 2009, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was still the year’s 13th-highest grosser. There had been early-May releases before “Spider-Man” that had been successful, including “The Mummy Returns,” but after “Spider-Man,” summer movie season officially started on that first weekend, often being the launching pad for other Marvel comic-book movies: “X2: X-Men United,” “Spider-Man 3,” “Iron Man,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Iron Man 2,” and, this year, “The Avengers.”

Ten years after the success of “Spider-Man,” Peter Parker is coming back to theaters in a rebooted form, “The Amazing Spider-Man,” although it’s funny that Sony seems to be recycling somewhat the strategy of how they put the first version together. Once again, the studio has brought on a director not known for blockbusters — Marc Webb, who previously directed “(500) Days of Summer” — and found a star known for artier fare in the form of Andrew Garfield. But unlike in 2002, “The Amazing Spider-Man” comes into a market where superhero movies are the norm, not the exception. Ten years ago, Sony had to prove that people would come out for a comic-book movie; now, they have to prove that people will come out for a new Spider-Man franchise.

“Spider-Man” provided the template for many future Marvel films, melding light comedy with action. The underlying idea was that, hey, comic books are a blast, and so this movie should be, too. You can feel that blueprint in “Iron Man,” “X-Men” and most certainly “The Avengers.” By comparison, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have adopted a much more serious, brooding tone, creating the other template of the modern-day superhero flick. Interestingly, it looks like “The Amazing Spider-Man” is Sony’s way of making their own “Dark Knight” version of Spidey. How things have changed — and that’s not the only way. When it opened in May 2002, “Spider-Man” broke the record for best first-weekend opening ever. After “The Avengers,” it’s now merely the 13th best.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.