It's officially May 1st and you know what that means: Variations of the same tired Justin Timberlake meme with the words "It's Gonna Be May" are about to flood social media. There will be no place to hide from the onslaught, that much I can promise you. But instead of fighting off the online horde, why not embrace it? Let's use one of the Internet's most obnoxious puns for the forces of good, and shine a spotlight on the only May that really matters.
I'm talking about Aunt May, the bright and beautiful guiding light in the ongoing story of Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. When you talk about Spider-Man characters, it's quite literally impossible to not bring up May, the woman who was tasked with raising Peter after the death of his parents and Uncle Ben. Time and again, both in the comics and on the screen, Aunt May has risen to the occasion and proves that she's one of the purest and most wonderful characters in all of Marvel anything.
That said, there are quite a lot of iterations of Aunt May out there, since every Peter has a May and there have been no less than 427 versions of Spider-Man in the last 10 years. When Aunt May is brought up, just about everyone will think about a different take on the character that they've seen on-screen. But which one is the best? That's what we're here to discuss.
While there are a lot of options to choose from, I'm going to rank the five best and most well-known iterations of Aunt May. In other words: The five on-screen Aunt Mays from the last two decades. Shall we begin?
5. Sally Field - The Amazing Spider-Man (2012-2014)
When Sally Field was cast as Aunt May in the second live-action take on Spider-Man, it was met with overwhelming support. How could you not love this decision? Sally Field embodies all of the wonderful qualities of the iconic character, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone as thoroughly likable to play the part. Being ranked at #5 is in now way a fault of Field's, it's just that these Amazing Spider-Man movies weren't all that great, and they didn't give her much to do.
4. Nancy Linari - Marvel's Spider-Man (2018)
Every other Spider-Man property on this list is a movie, but it felt impossible not to include the impeccable performance from Nancy Linari in last year's hit Spider-Man game on PS4. The game was celebrated for its honest portrayals of many beloved Spider-Man characters, including Aunt May, who was given one of her best arcs in any medium. Period. I still haven't recovered from losing this Aunt May, and I'm not sure I ever will.
3. Marisa Tomei - Marvel Cinematic Universe (2016-Present)
We finally got a truly young on-screen Spider-Man when Marvel Studios cast Tom Holland in the role, what he didn't realize at first was that this decision would also give us the first young Aunt May. It was a choice that not everyone was on board with initially, but come on, it's Marisa Tomei. Aunt May has always been awesome, but making her young and genuinely pretty cool is a fresh take on the character that we've never had the chance to really explore. With Tomei in the role, the youthful exuberance of Holland's mini-franchise is taken to a new level. Also, any time Marisa Tomei is on screen is already perfect, no matter which role she's playing, so seeing her as Aunt May is simply an added bonus.
2. Rosemary Harris - Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy (2002-2007)
I understand that not putting Rosemary Harris at the top of this list is going to be controversial. To be honest, I just don't care. I don't have Harris as the best Aunt May in history, but she's pretty damn close, and she deserves every ounce of respect there is to give. It was Harris who helped non-comic book readers fall in love with Aunt May, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more heartfelt supporting performance in any superhero movie throughout the genre's history. We always talk about J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson when it comes to the best casting decision in that trilogy, but Rosemary Harris as Aunt May should be a part of that conversation every single time. I also don't believe there is a person on the planet Earth who can say "Peter" better than she can.
1. Lily Tomlin - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018-Present)
You have your arguments, I have mine, and this is a hill I'm willing to die on. Marisa Tomei's Aunt May is super cool and Rosemary Harris is as caring as can be. Lily Tomlin's take on Aunt May is both of those rolled into one, with an added side of Alfred Pennyworth. We've never seen this kind of evolved Aunt May before and, let's be honest here, she kicks SO. MUCH. ASS. This is like the Super Saiyan Aunt May, capable of not only making and repairing Spidey's gadgets, but also jumping in and fighting alongside him. At the same time, May still manages to show off her ability to be the one Spider-Man can lean on when needed, regardless of whether or not it's her nephew wearing the suit. And to further validate this point, Tomlin's ultra-cold delivery of "Oh great, it's Liv" when coming face to face with Doc Ock is peak Auny May Energy and it gives me life.
Lily Tomlin's Aunt May is definitively the best Aunt May there ever has been (I'll happily argue this point on Twitter until my fingers fall off - @charlieridgely), but that doesn't mean any of the other Aunt Mays aren't amazing. From top to bottom, every Aunt May on this list is worthy of our celebration, because they've given us all hope and advice when we've needed it most.
Anyone can wear the mask, but only the best can be Aunt May.
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