×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Raimi well-suited for fantastic feats

Comic-Con's most anticipated presenter honors the source while bringing Spider-Man to screen

Sam Raimi does right by the Spider-Man comics, which makes him a superhero among fans. And as for the gallant costume he wears while directing, Raimi is quick to explain its humble roots.

“I wear a coat and tie because my father told me, ‘A man should dress proportionate to the amount of respect he wants to convey to the people he works with,’ ” Raimi says.

Given the worldwide success of “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man 2,” which earned $822 million and $783 million respectively, Raimi gets plenty of respect these days. But it wasn’t always that way.

“I’ve been humbled by 22 years of making movies that were not that successful,” the director admits. “I always made movies that never got positive critical response, in fact a lot of negative response generally, and never made any money. But, you’ve got to find satisfaction in the storytelling itself and from the grassroot fans.”

Decades ago, comics began invading Raimi’s DNA during habitual trips with his older brothers, Sander and Ivan, to Market Kayes drugstore and soda shop in Detroit. There, armed with a shiny quarter from their grandmother, Raimi’s brothers would buy two comics and three pieces of Bazooka Joe gum to split between them.

Popular on Variety

In 1980, after shooting debut feature “The Evil Dead,” Raimi took a break to work as a counselor at Camp Tamakwa in Algonquin Park, Canada. Knowing that he had to leave camp briefly to check the film’s cut, the ardent Spidey fan volunteered to ask Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee, who created the character with Steve Ditko, to sign posters for campers.

The naive Raimi didn’t realize how tough meeting a comicbook legend could be until a Marvel secretary turned him away. “That’s how I first met Stan Lee,” Raimi recalls, “by being rejected by him and not wanting to let those kids down. I became a forger of his autograph. Ya know, ‘All the best, Excelsior! To all the kids at Tamakwa — Stan Lee.’ ”

Raimi finally met Lee years later after directing “Darkman” and convinced the legend to co-pitch Marvel’s Thor comic to Fox. “It was thrilling to be with Stan Lee and hysterical the way that we had to explain who Thor was to executives,” Raimi laughs, “walking out of there going, ‘We didn’t get it! They think it’s gonna be some Hercules movie or something!’ ”

Times have changed, and Raimi first sensed studio execs warming to superheroes in early summer 2000. “With ‘X-Men,’ Bryan Singer really opened a lot of doors for comicbooks in general,” he says.

When it came time to meet with Sony about “Spider-Man,” Raimi considered himself the underdog choice.

“I was meeting with Amy Pascal and Avi Arad, and I knew they had gone through other directors,” he says. “I told themhow much I loved the character and how rich the character was in my mind, but for me the movie wouldn’t really be about Spider-Man, but about Peter Parker, and that he was my hero. The thing that Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and all these great Marvel writers and artists have expanded on so beautifully over the years with Peter Parker is that we identify with him. He was an average kid looking to do the right thing and was insecure like any of us.”

For Raimi, it wasn’t about creating a new character so much as recognizing onscreen what made that character so great on the page.

“I didn’t know if I got that one because it’s always such a long shot to hire me,” Raimi says. “I was a low-budget hackmeister, so to direct one of these big-budget studio films, and certainly one as important as ‘Spider-Man’ — before Amy hired me, it simply wasn’t done, period.”

Raimi was shocked when Sony chose him and remembers hanging up thinking, “Oh my God! What have they done?! Those poor fools don’t know I can’t do it!”

But Raimi has proved just the opposite. Like the heroes he admires, Raimi overcame his fears and now basks in the comics-friendly atmosphere that has allowed him to oversee film adaptations of smaller titles, such as “30 Days of Night” and “Priest.”

As for the highly anticipated “Spider-Man 3,” Raimi continues to freshen the franchise. “We have dealt with two external enemies in ‘Spider-Man’ 1 and 2,” Raimi says, “and it was time now to have Peter Parker, who is often addressing his own problems as part of the conflict, to find a darkness within.”

The trailer, which Sony released opposite “Superman Returns,” features a black-suited Spider-Man, and fans are hoping Raimi will use Comic-Con to confirm their hopes that the popular Venom character will be a villain in the pic, set to open May 4, 2007.

As the trilogy nears completion, fans also wonder whether Raimi and the web slinger will join forces again. “At this point, I’m absolutely open,” he says. “But it would be the studio’s choice, and the film would have to be profitable, and who knows any of those things — or if the studio even wants me.”

Peter Parker-styled modesty aside, Raimi is swinging at the top of his game.

More Film

  • Participant, Magnolia Pictures Buy 'John Lewis:

    Participant, Magnolia Pictures Buy 'John Lewis: Good Trouble' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Participant and Magnolia Pictures have acquired North American rights to “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a look at the life and career of the civil rights activist and congressional leader. The film was executive produced and financed by CNN Films, AGC Studios and Time Studios. Magnolia is planning to release the film in the spring of [...]

  • Star Wars Maryann Brandon JJ Abrams

    How Could J.J. Abrams Follow 'Star Wars'? 'I'd Love to Direct a Play'

    When “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” debuts on Dec. 20, it will, of course, mark the official close to the nine-film Skywalker Saga, one of the most successful franchises in movie history, grossing more than $7.7 billion worldwide to date (not including spinoff films “Rogue One” and “Solo”). “The Rise of Skywalker” also marks [...]

  • Tim Bevan Eric Fellner Working Title

    How Working Title Heads Are Enabling the Next Generation of U.K. Filmmakers

    Eric Fellner bounds through London Screen Academy, saying hearty hellos to students, waving to faculty and showing off the state-of-the-art facilities at the newly opened school to a Variety reporter. The brainchild of Fellner’s Working Title co-chairman, Tim Bevan, the school is intended to teach teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 the skills [...]

  • In the Heights Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jon M. Chu Debut 'In the Heights' Trailer

    In the first trailer for “In the Heights,” Warner Bros. and Lin-Manuel Miranda are giving a look at a couple of days in the life of what it’s like in Washington Heights. “It’s a story of a block that was disappearing,” Anthony Ramos, who stars as bodega owner Usnavi, tells young kids in the neighborhood. [...]

  • Tim Bevan Eric Fellner Working Title

    'Cats' Is Working Title's Next Bid to Turn British Pop Culture Into Box Office Gold

    From “Bridget Jones’s Diary” to “Mr. Bean,” Working Title has for the past three and a half decades helped ensure that the sun never sets on British pop culture. The leaders of the London-based film and television production company, Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, have been important emissaries from across the pond, backing stories that [...]

  • Hugh GrantVariety Studio: Actors on Actors,

    Hugh Grant Says Iconic 'Love Actually' Dancing Scene Was 'Absolute Hell' (EXCLUSIVE)

    It may be more than 15 years since “Love Actually” was released, but Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Richard Curtis have finally opened up about one of the the film’s defining moments even as the movie made surprise election-related headlines in the U.K. this week. Grant, Firth and Curtis all feature in the career retrospective [...]

  • Jenna Coleman The Cry

    Great Point Media Teams With MC Credit Partners on New Film and TV Finance Initiative

    Britain’s Great Point Media is partnering with U.S.-based institutional investor MC Credit Partners on a finance initiative to fund new film and TV projects. London-based Great Point has committed $80 million to the initiative, and MCCP will invest up to $100 million from the funds under its management. The first films and TV shows to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content