The Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man swung into theaters 18 years ago today on May 3, 2002, webbing up the first-ever $100 million-plus opening weekend before going on to become the highest-grossing superhero blockbuster at the time of its release. Starring Tobey Maguire as the guilt-ridden Peter Parker — who after being endowed with amazing abilities from the bite of a genetically-engineered spider comes to understand that with great power comes great responsibility, using his newfound powers to become a costumed crime-fighter after failing his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) — Sony Pictures' production of Spider-Man helped kickstart the superhero movie boom that continues nearly two decades later.
"I think that the audience will like the fact that the actors and the writers and the whole production team tried to stay true to the spirit of what made Spider-Man of the comic book great," Raimi said of the Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created wall-crawler in an early interview. "That Spider-Man had real personality, he had real problems. The character of Peter Parker was a real kid in high school, and the Spider-Man comic books were more about how these super powers affected his real life. So I could really relate to those stories in the early Spider-Man comic books in the '60s and '70s, and he became one of my favorites."
In Spider-Man, Peter is the doting nephew of Ben and May Parker (Rosemary Harris) and an overlooked high school student pining for the affections of dream girl Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). After he's bitten by a "super spider" on a class trip, the mild-mannered Peter Parker is transformed into a human spider later dubbed "the amazing Spider-Man" by a flashy ring announcer (Bruce Campbell) during a short-lived wrestling career.
Following Uncle Ben's death at the hands of a criminal he allowed to escape, Spider-Man vows to use his great power responsibly, protecting New York against the threat of the maniacal Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), not knowing the supervillain is the father of longtime best friend Harry Osborn (James Franco). Labelled a menace by Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) despite his heroic deeds, the masked man fights on with a promise: "Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: 'With great power comes great responsibility.' This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-Man."
Spider-Man went on to earn a record-setting $403 million domestically and a total of $821 million globally, at the time the biggest box office haul of any superhero movie. Two sequels followed in 2004 and 2007, both directed by Raimi, who was developing a fourth film before Sony rebooted the franchise in 2012.
"It's a story of a young boy who is slightly irresponsible, and how he learns to become a slightly responsible young man. So it's a coming-of-age story, but we tried to make it a positive story about a good character who learns an important lesson," Raimi said before Spider-Man opened, adding he wanted moviegoers to "feel exhilarated, and uplifted, and like any story of a hero, I hope it shows us in some small way of the good we're capable of."
Spider-Man is now streaming on Hulu and is available to own on 4K Ultra HD and other formats.