There was a dark time when the only chance of seeing your favorite superhero portrayed by an A-list actor on the big screen was likely to happen within the pages of your monthly copy of Wizard magazine (the Sports Illustrated of comic books back in the day, which always had a page dedicated to casting superstars to imaginary comic-book movies that everyone knew were never going to get made).
But every era of cinema has a beginning. So what movie qualifies as the “Big Bang” of comic-book movies as we now know them — the constant run of big summer rollouts?
Tim Burton’s first Batman film? It could have become a strong candidate if not for a later director, Joel Schumacher, killing the Bat-franchise for a time, and the comic-book movie genre in general, with “Batman Forever” (Val Kilmer’s turn as Bruce Wayne) and, especially, 1997’s “Batman and Robin” (the George Clooney outing).
The first “X-Men” movie? Close. Clearly after the success of “X-Men” in 2000, Hollywood was starting to figure out they were on to something.
But one movie truly made clear that comic-book movies weren’t just for fanboys — that they could be $100-million-dollar opening-weekend blockbusters that produce billion-dollar movie franchises. That film, of course, featured your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Long before Marvel Studios, before YouTube was the preferred method of viewing movie trailers and before you could watch a movie trailer on your smartphone, the first trailer for Sam Raimi’s 2002 “Spider-Man” hit televisions across the world.
Many fanboys can tell you what it was like seeing that trailer for the first time.
There was Tobey Maguire’s intro voice-over. Then there were quick shots from all the major characters. Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson (oblivious to the fact that everyone is in love with her, including a bespectacled Peter Parker, who asks MJ whether she’d let him take a picture for the high school paper). There’s Harry Osborn (James Franco), wanting his father’s approval despite being the cool kid. And Aunt May, telling Peter to slow down since he’s not Superman (little does she know). We got a glance at William Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Dafoe was actually scarier outside of the green high-tech suit that served as maybe the one constant gripe from fanboys regarding “Spider-Man”, other than organic web-shooters). And we had met all the major characters involved.
Then the magic happened. After getting to know the cast, Maguire’s voice-over once again asked: “Who am I?”
There were the symphonic blasts of brass as we saw Spidey swinging off a bridge, high in the air in the dark night sky. He landed. Turned. Looked. And then said it:
Cue the snazzy symphonic music from E.S. Posthumous and an upside-down kiss straight out of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and you had movie-trailer history.
Spider-Man would go on to open with a then-record $114-million for its first weekend.
Sure, Raimi’s Spidey films are starting to feel a little dated. And maybe Spidey’s mask lenses were a little to triangularly sharp-edged compared with the absolute piece of art Andrew Garfield gets to web-sling in. But at the time, it looked just great.
A comic-book movie hadn’t had such an epic introduction since Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Michael Keaton’s Batman were battling for Gotham.
With the fifth Spidey film out this weekend, it’s still thrilling to remember the trailer that started it all.
You can follow David Betancourt on Twitter at @adcfanboy.