With the release of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” we decided to weigh the web-slinger’s films against each other. While there are more Spidey movies than those on this list — the character had a slew of TV films in the late ’70s and early ’80s, including “Spider-Man,” “Spider-Man Strikes Back,” and “Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge” — we’ve limited our ranking to the big screen: Tobey Maguire’s trilogy, Andrew Garfield’s duology, and Tom Holland’s first solo outing.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The longest and least of the Spidey movies is a ponderously overstuffed misfire only partially redeemed by the chemistry generated between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Having learned nothing from the debacle of “Batman and Robin” (1997), the filmmakers cram no fewer than three classic comic book villains — Electro, a reimagined Green Goblin and, fleetingly, Rhino — into a padded narrative, demonstrating once again that, yes, more can be less. Originally intended as the gateway to an extended universe of Spidey sagas, complete with Venom and Sinister Six spin-offs, “Amazing 2” instead led to a second franchise reboot.
5. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
If you watch all three of director Sam Raimi’s Spidey movies back-to-back, it’s impressive to see how smoothly each flows into the next. Alas, the flow was stemmed fairly early in this disappointing threequel, as Tobey Maguire’s moody web-slinger wobbled between smug swagger and vengeful wrath while battling an indifferently conceived supervillain (Thomas Haden Church’s underwhelming Sandman) and his own Venom-fueled dark side. Even some diehard Spider-fans couldn’t help guffawing while the “Bad” Peter Parker tried to strut and smooth-move like someone suffering from “Saturday Night Fever.” Others could only wonder: Does being bitten by a radioactive spider really turn you into a grandstanding jazz pianist?
4. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Fairly or not, Andrew Garfield likely will be recalled as the George Lazenby of the Spider-Man movies, given his relatively short stint as the second star of the franchise. But give him due credit: Garfield strikes the right balance of callowness and cockiness throughout the “origin story” of this reboot, and he’s downright charming as director Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) dramatizes the first blush of romance between nerdy Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s equally brainy and intimidatingly attractive Gwen Stacy. (A nice touch: Gwen is the slightly better science student.) On the debit side: The conspiratorial subplot involving Peter’s deceased scientist father is a great deal less than fully baked, and the villain of the piece (The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans while in human form) is too obviously a CGI construct.
3. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
The creative folks behind the second franchise reboot score points for eschewing a conventional “origin story” — obviously, they figured everyone who buys a ticket to a Spider-Man movie already knows how the dude got his super powers. (And those who didn’t surely were brought up to speed when Spidey cameoed in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War.”) Better still, they audaciously jumpstart the running-on-fumes movie mythos by re-imagining the man behind the mask as a boy — specifically, an eager-but-awkward 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who has a lot to learn from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) when it comes to doing derring-do. (One caveat: Comic book purists might complain, and not without reason, that this Spidey has been equipped with an Iron Man-style Spidey suit.) But wait, there’s more: Michael Keaton earns a place of honor in the pantheon of Spidey villains by effectively playing The Vulture as a fortuitously empowered blue-collar type raging with class resentment directed at one-percenters like, well, Stark.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Director Sam Raimi and Original Gangsta Spidey Tobey Maguire made lightning strike a second time in their first sequel to the groundbreaking 2002 franchise kickoff. Although it may be difficult to appreciate now, after the massive expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this film’s canny mix of super-heroics, human drama, and (by then-contemporary standards) cutting-edge special effects still had novelty value going for it when “Spider-Man 2” first hit theaters. And the passing of time has done nothing to diminish the entertainment value of Maguire’s engaging portrait of the superhero as a fallible young man. (Even more fallible here after a temporary, psychosomatic power loss.) Co-star Kirsten Dunst (Mary Jane Watson), James Franco (Harry Osborn), and Rosemary Harris (Aunt May), along with comic-reliever J.K. Simmons (J. Jonah Jameson), remind us just how perfectly cast they were in the previous movie. And Alfred Molina triumphantly upstages the CGI trickery employed to enhance his character as the demented Doctor Octopus. (Trivia note: “Spider-Man 2” is the only Spidey movie to win an Oscar — for visual effects — so far.)
1. Spider-Man (2002)
Much like a first kiss (or, in this case, an upside-down smooch) always seems the sweetest, the first “Spider-Man” movie remains the most purely enjoyable movie in the franchise. Indeed, there’s something not entirely unlike an air of innocence wafting about the entire enterprise as Tobey Maguire miraculously obtains, initially misuses, and ultimately focuses his superpowers, all the while pining for (and, briefly, winning) the seemingly impossible object of his desire, Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson. A few diehard Marvel Comics fans quibbled about some evocations of artistic license — in the world according to director Sam Raimi and scripter David Koepp, Spidey’s web is natural fiber, not synthetic additive — but “Spider-Man” as whole proved largely faithful to its source material, particularly in its repeated questioning of whether the hero might ever catch a break. And that contributed generously to its huge success. The only unanswered question: Did Willem Dafoe actually intend to sound so much like Gilbert Gottfried while playing the villainous Green Goblin?