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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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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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