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‘Spider-Man’ at 20: How Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures Rescued the Superhero Genre and Changed Hollywood Forever

In the fall of 1999 Sam Raimi stepped into the offices of Sony Pictures in an impeccable black suit to pitch himself to direct SpiderMan. He had no reason to expect he would get the job. My agent Josh Donen said They want to be honest with you. Theres about 18 directors theyd rather have than you on a list Raimi recalls. And I said OK well tell them Im number 19. When Raimi finally did get a meeting he found himself in a room that included Sony Pictures CEO John Calley Columbia Pictures chair Amy Pascal Marvel Studios chief Avi Arad Sony film executive Matt Tolmach and the films producer Laura Ziskin. Calley and Ziskin died in 2011. To break the ice Raimi started talking about why he loves SpiderMan so much. He talked about the painting of the webslinger that hung on his childhood bedroom wall.

He talked about how Spideys alter ego Peter Parker was the first time a nerdy kid like Raimi could actually see himself as a superhero and not some goofy sidekick. He talked about how SpiderMans cocreator Stan Lee gave life to a character whose foibles and failures were just as important if not more so than his astonishing powers and deathdefying feats of bravery. And then abruptly Raimi stopped talking. The meeting was going very very well recalls Tolmach. And all of a sudden Sam looked at his watch stood up and said Well thank you very much for your time. I appreciate your having me in.

Raimi it turned out had been told he had an hour for the meeting and he was determined not to goover. I was very aware of how they didnt want me the director says now. So I really didnt want to also overstay my welcome. Suffice it to say he didnt. Raimi got the job and the recordshattering success of SpiderMan — with $825 million worldwide it was at that point the highestgrossing superhero movie of all time by a considerable margin — catalyzed the rise of the genre as the most dominant force in studio filmmaking over the past two decades. Without it there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe no Avengers Endgame no The Dark Knight and certainly no SpiderMan No Way Home.

To commemorate the movies 20th anniversary Variety spoke with the key behindthescenes players about how and why SpiderMan was able to swing to such unparalleled heights. There was little about a SpiderMan movie that was foreordained. An army of lawyers had to spend the better part of the 1990s untangling the movie rights to the character but it wasnt exactly a hot commodity either. No Marvel Comics hero had broken through in feature films the Superman movies had long since fizzled out in the 1980s and 1997s disastrous Batman & Robin put the Caped Crusader in movie jail for eight years. By the late 1990s it was punishingly difficult just finding a studio to take the idea of superhero movies seriously.
Avi Arad former Marvel Studios president and CEO None of the studios had any interest in SpiderMan. You name a studio they turned it down. They thought Thats an old property. Obviously I felt this is the biggest property out there. So we kicked the door down. I told them SpiderMan alone is worth a billion dollars. Little did I know whoa I was low.

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