Will there ever be another live-action Spider-Man movie? Oh, almost certainly. But it’s also safe to say that the cinematic adventures of the wall-crawler have come to a certain pause. A nice button. An exhaled breath.
And in that exhale, there’s room for evaluation. And while it may be only because of one studio’s absolute reluctance to give up the film rights to a multibillion dollar character, it’s still remarkable to have had 11 entire theatrically released films featuring a single comic book character over a mere two decades.
And, yeah, Spider-Man: No Way Home put every live-action franchise’s Spider-Man in the same room to bounce off each other — it’s practically begging the comparison.
So, what is the best theatrically released movie with Spider-Man in it? Polygon’s staff writers sat down to figure it out.
11. Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame
Early in the process, a strong push was made to include Captain America: Civil War as a movie with its own take on Spider-Man. And if you’re going to include a movie that had Spider-Man but wasn’t really about him, you have to include all the movies that had Spider-Man but weren’t really about him. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are at the bottom of this list.
Civil War might boast a fun and fresh introduction to Spider-Man, but Infinity War and Endgame’s packed runtimes barely have the time for Peter to do anything but blip into dust, traumatize Tony Stark, and serve as a football in a contrived girl power moment.
On the other hand, Infinity War does let Peter do this unforgettable drag of Doctor Strange. —Susana Polo
10. The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Let’s start with what this movie does well. For one, it is beautiful. The film is brimming with light and color, supercharged with a digital effects team that really knows how to make Spidey look, well, amazing. Paired with a costume that is even closer to the classic comics look than the one Tobey Maguire sported, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 serves up one of the best rendered big-screen Spideys to this day.
Which is a shame, because everything else is … not amazing. Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker and Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey remain an inspired pairing trapped in a movie that never really feels like it’s about them. The same applies to Dane Dehaan’s unsettling and edgy take on Harry Osborn, back from some time away. It’s even not that hard to imagine how the three of them, up against Jamie Foxx’s unstable take on Electro, still could have resulted in a fun throwback to ’90s blockbuster ridiculousness, a modern successor to Joel Schumacher’s campy Batman films.
But the movie doesn’t stop layering things, giving mysterious backstories to everyone it shows off, mourning characters before they actually die, always gesturing slightly offscreen, trading a Spider-Man story for a Spider-Man RPG sourcebook. In retrospect, this makes it a curious artifact of blockbuster maximalism, a movie full of movies. But don’t mistake curiosity for unheralded greatness: This movie was a mistake. —Joshua Rivera
9. The Amazing Spider-Man
Amazing Spider-Man also gets a bad rap. Sure, it’s not a great Spider-Man movie. And it’s one of the ugliest, most poorly shot superhero movies ever. But the Peter Parker material almost makes up for it all.
Sally Field, Martin Sheen, and Emma Stone make for a fantastic supporting cast, and Andrew Garfield is far and away the most talented person to ever play Peter Parker. These human bits make for some great at-home drama and a rooftop confession that’s probably the most charming romantic scene in any of the Spider-Man movies. Unfortunately, it’s all the Spider-Man parts that let this movie down the most.
But despite the awful action, and the ugliest bad guy in any superhero movie for the last 20 years, there is one redeeming Spider-Man-related scene of Amazing Spider-Man. Garfield’s Peter crawls down to save a kid in a car that’s dangling off a bridge and both of them are clearly terrified. But when Peter gives the kid the Spider-Man mask and tells him it’s the source of his power, the kid finds the courage to climb up and save himself from the car. It’s one of the best single scenes in any Spider-Man movie. It nails the sweetness that makes Peter unique, the idea that the mask is a metaphor for covering up insecurities and weaknesses, and that it’s a symbol that can give anyone strength. It’s too bad the rest of the movie can’t measure up. —Austen Goslin
8. Captain America: Civil War
It seems appropriate that Civil War is a divisive movie, given the title and the theme. But love or hate the rest of the story, it’s a memorable debut for the MCU version of Spider-Man.
Tony Stark’s attempt to recruit Peter Parker for his war against Captain America turns into a pocket introduction to this incarnation of Peter — a fumbling, achingly sincere genius high-schooler played by Tom Holland. But the actual fight sequence gives fans the other side of Spider-Man, the one who’s emboldened enough by his mask and the chance to use his powers that he keeps up a steady stream of banter to disorient his foes and keep himself entertained.
The airport battle is the movie’s central showcase for a reason — the stakes are high, but Spider-Man in particular keeps things moving by trying to chat with all the veteran heroes he’s fighting, and often outclassing. He’s every fanboy called up to the big leagues, excited just to be hanging out with his heroes — but also helping kick their asses. —Tasha Robinson
7. Spider-Man 3
Half of Spider-Man 3 is an excellent movie about a nerd who believes that just because he can do things no one else can, that he’s better than everyone. That part includes the initially lambasted, but now correctly reevaluated, scene in which Tobey Mcquire’s Peter Parker dances down the street with his new clothes and lame haircut as everyone around him glares at him like he’s a moron — and the movie’s on their side.
This is a movie mostly about teaching you that you can’t always root for the hero, because sometimes they’re just a bad person. And for that moral it’s one of the most interesting superhero movies ever. At least … until it stops being about that.
Sadly, the second half of Spider-Man 3 is an overstuffed mess with a Venom that makes no sense and a pretty boring Sandman. It’s a shame that Sam Raimi’s mostly excellent Spider-Man trilogy — whose other movies often end with quiet, human confrontations of good and evil — ends with a messy CGI battle, but in some ways it also presages the worst parts of the long two decades of superhero movies that would follow. —AG
6. Spider-Man: Far From Home
Though it’s ranked the lowest on this list of any main MCU Spider-Man film, Far From Home is every bit the breezy blockbuster it needs to be. Of the three MCU entries, it probably best shoulders the weight of enmeshing itself in the grander MCU plan, letting Peter genuinely forge a new identity for himself as both a hero and a teen.
If Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been defined by one thing, it’s the way he’s absolutely teeming with well-intentioned teenaged energy, and Far From Home lets that shine. The movie sees him juggling his spider-obligations and grief post-Endgame (including the death of his mentor, Tony Stark), with his more YA concerns (asking MJ out). The film shrewdly balances these impulses as part of the grander story of Peter Parker. He is just as endearing as he is hopeless, with all his thoughts rising to the surface (to alternatingly vulnerable and humorous effect). It might lose marks for doubling down on the Iron-Man Spider-Man, but Far From Home is far from a failure. —Zosha Millman
5. Spider-Man: No Way Home
You want Spider-Mans? Well you got ’em; No Way Home is a veritable cornucopia of Spider-angst. If we were ranking movies based on number of Spider-Mans alone, Far From Home — well, it’d still be second to our current reigning champ, but it’d be up there.
With three generations of webslingers (Tobey McGuire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland) sharing their own perspective on what it costs to be everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, No Way Home can certainly get a bit muddy at times. But within all the spectacle and hubbub, there’s a charm to the whole affair; Holland’s Spidey has always been resolute if a little knuckleheaded about exactly how to help, but he really does hope to do good. Within the web of consequences and villains he inadvertently sets up for himself, it’s fun to watch him play off the other Spideys, and help heal the wounds of the oft-rebooted franchise. —ZM
4. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Tom Holland’s Peter Parker arrived fully formed, and full of awkward teen emotion. In welcome contrast to the history of superhero movies to that point, Homecoming imagines Spider-Man as an appropriately aged high schooler juggling the most dangerous after-school gig imaginable. The result is a classic high-pressure Spider-Man story where the threats aren’t only coming from the villains, but Peter’s capacity for doing it all as the clock ticks down. At times, Holland’s delivering Robin-Williams-being-in-two-places-at-once-in-Mrs.-Doubtfire-level mania. And even when Iron Man shows up to save his ass, the world feels contained. New York is a collection of neighborhoods in Homecoming, and they’re Peter’s to save.
Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal reached across the aisle to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but perhaps more importantly, they hired director Jon Watts to do the job. Watts’ previous film Cop Car was a grungy indie that matched the danger of two kids off-roading it with a stolen police vehicle with the hilarity of two kids off-roading it with a stolen police vehicle. Watts brings the same energy to Homecoming, blending the comedy of Spidey’s quips into bigger set pieces, and relying heavily on Peter’s classmates — the dry-witted Zendaya as MJ, Jacob Batalon’s overjoyed geek Ned, Angourie Rice’s broadcaster-in-the-making Betty, Tony Revolori’s Extremely Online egotist Flash — for splashes of genuine comedy. It’s matched the seething, almost-justified anger of Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, who’s easily among the best MCU villains. The action in Homecoming might rank lower than some of the other movies on this list, but Keaton’s swagger elevates every scene in which Vulture and Spider-Man face off. Like the best comics, Watts takes advantage of Marvel lore, character chemistry, and fan-fluffing tropes to give weight to these encounters, and what could easily be a paint-by-numbers trilogy-starter. Everyone is on the same splash page. —Matt Patches
3. Spider-Man (2002)
The deep charm of Spider-Man is that he is self-made, scrappy, and just trying his damn best. Spider-Man (2002) exemplifies this more than any installment of a spider-franchise. Played by Tobey Maguire, this version of Peter Parker has a distinct dorkiness that his counterparts don’t quite capture — this is a kid who realistically has a hard time getting the girl he likes to notice him and becomes the butt of jokes by school bullies. He does the right thing not because he reaps anything from it, but because he should, as he learns after Uncle Ben’s tragic death.
Willem DeFoe’s Norman Osburne is also incredibly chilling. The villains of Raimi’s spider-movies are on another level, compared to other Spider-bad guys in film. They lean into the cartoonish, comic appeal, while still being fully compelling characters with close relationships to Peter Parker — and Defoe’s Green Goblin is their indisputable king. The action scenes are fun, but also tight and tense, never lasting any longer than they need to. And yeah, maybe some of the scene transitions look like they came from iMovie, but that just adds to the visual charm of it all.
This movie made such an impact on me as a kid, that I named one of my first OCs after Peter Parker and gave him a romantic interest named Mary Jane, because I didn’t know what fanfiction was yet. —Petrana Radulovic
2. Spider-Man 2
Did Marconi sleep before he turned on the radio? Did Beethoven sleep before he wrote the Fifth? Did Sam Raimi sleep before he said “Yes, I will make Spider-Man 2”?
The thrill of discovery motivates Alfred Molina’s Otto Octavius, a genius who dreams of science guiding us to a better world fueled by renewable energy. It also suffuses the film that he’s in, a movie that, free of the need to explain how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man, can now explore what it’s like to be him. And the truth is it kind of sucks!
Peter Parker is yelled at by his bosses, his teacher, his clients, his landlord, his crush. Spider-Man is blamed for New York’s problems and for the death of his best friend’s father. And then Peter’s idol, Otto Octavius, goes mad at a moment that should have been brilliant.
This is the pile of rubble piled on Peter’s back. This is the heavy weight that he casts off as he leaps to his feet, because yeah, all that shitty stuff is worth it. It is worth it to make a movie this goofy and earnest and ultimately small, about a guy who discovers the burden of responsibility he’s taken on might be more than he bargained for, and almost gives it up — but chooses not to, because there is value in being steady. In doing what’s right for the sake of others, in recognizing when a dream is selfish.
This is Spider-Man 2: one young man’s small and powerful realization played out across the skyscraper and elevated trains of a colorful city, changing his life, and ours. —JR
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Some of the entries on this list were more contentious than others, but our number one pick was unanimous across the board. We’re all completely sold on the fast-moving multiverse story that introduced Miles Morales to a theatrical audience, and reminded us that American animation can still be visually distinctive and experimental.
Into the Spider-Verse upholds all the traditional Spider-Man values, with a young hero learning about the grim sacrifices and heavy responsibilities that come with power. It’s visually and emotionally intense, with high stakes and big drama. But it’s also a blast, with quick-moving banter, lively visual gags out the wazoo, and a ridiculously ambitious design that blends street-graffiti visual language, the rules of sequential storytelling, and widescreen-filling compositions into an energetic wave designed to wash over viewers in one long, glorious sweep. It isn’t just an exceptional Spider-Man movie, or an exceptional animated movie. It’s an exceptional movie, period. —TR