In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man arrived in cinemas, with Tobey Maguire in the lead role. The film was a success with both critics and audiences alike and became a smash hit at the box office, earning more than $821 million worldwide.
The popularity of Spider-Man quickly led to a sequel in 2004, called Spider-Man 2. In turn, this also resulted in a follow-up, Spider-Man 3, which opened in 2007.
All three films were directed by Sam Raimi, and all were big earners for Sony Pictures, with Spider-Man 3 taking the most amount of money at the box office. As such, work began on a fourth entry in the series, with Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair.
But Spider-Man 4 never came to pass. The project was cancelled and Sony Picture moved in a new direction, bringing in a new director and a new lead actor to reboot the series.
So, what happened?
Why was Spider-Man 4 cancelled?
In 2007, shortly after Spider-Man 3 opened in cinemas, Sam Raimi’s fourth Spider-Man movie entered development. Rumours circulated about who the villains of the film would be – from The Lizard to the Vulture – but what was clear was the principle cast from the previous three movies would return.
The project continued in development, working towards a planned release date of summer 2011. However, in early 2010 news broke that Spider-Man 4 was cancelled.
During the various stages of development on the project, a number of scripts were produced, yet they did not meet with Raimi’s expectations. With a release date looming, the director didn’t feel he could make the project work and he and the studio parted ways over ‘creative differences’.
With Raimi out, Sony Pictures abandoned Spider-Man 4 in favour of The Amazing Spider-Man. The movie opened during summer 2012, a year after Spider-Man 4 was set to make its debut.
Why didn’t Sony push back the release date of Spider-Man 4?
A number of fans have often questioned why Sony Pictures didn’t give Sam Raimi more time to work on Spider-Man 4. The film’s release date was locked in for summer 2011, but when the movie was cancelled, The Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t released until summer 2012.
If Raimi was concerned about meeting a release date, and Sony ultimately pushed its Spider-Man reboot back another year, why not just give Raimi an extension?
Time. Time is a big factor with the Spider-Man movies and this is the reason.
Sony Pictures produces Spider-Man movies – and distributes them via Columbia Pictures – as part of an agreement with Marvel. Back during the late ‘90s, the studio acquired the rights to make Spider-Man movies and as part of that agreement it has to produce new films within a set timeframe.
The details of that timeframe have never been made public, but there is a finite amount of time in which Sony can produce Spidey movies. If the studio allows that time to lapse, the rights to make Spider-Man movies revert back to Marvel.
The Spider-Man movies are very profitable for Sony and as such the studio does not want to give up a lucrative source of income. Giving Spider-Man back to Marvel would mean handing over a great deal of money – something the studio does not want to do.
With Spider-Man 4’s development process beginning in 2007 and ending in 2010 when the project was cancelled, the studio had already used up three years of its allotted time. It could have given Raimi an extension, but it would have been a risky move.
If the director continued with the project and still couldn’t make it work, then it would have cut further into Sony’s production window. If Spider-Man 4 continued, then stalled again, the studio would need enough time to get an alternative movie into production before time ran out.
Sony didn’t have to reboot the film series; it could have chosen to continue Spider-Man 4 without Raimi. However, Raimi’s films had built up an ensemble cast and without the director it was likely that the cast would not have continued – or at the very least, the film would not have felt the same.
The studio believed the best option was to press ahead with a reboot. The alternative project was given a new release date in order for a new director and cast to be appointed, and it quickly went before cameras.
Who would have featured in Spider-Man 4?
Earlier in this post I mentioned that a number of villains were rumoured for inclusion in Spider-Man 4. One of these was the Vulture.
Had Spider-Man 4 become a reality, the film’s lead villain would have been the Vulture. How do I know this? Well, it is all thanks to the work of illustrator, Jeffrey Henderson.
Henderson is an award-winning artist who has worked on various projects, from comics and games to movies. On Spider-Man 3, Henderson was employed as a concept artist and before the project was abandoned, he was also contracted as the concept artist on Spider-Man 4.
One of the characters that Henderson drew for the movie was the Vulture.
Ultimately the Vulture didn’t enter the Spider-Man movie series until 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, where Michael Keaton took on the role. If the character had appeared in Spider-Man 4, news reports suggested John Malkovich would have played the part.
But if Spider-Man 4 had gone ahead, the Vulture wouldn’t have been the only villain in the film. Henderson’s drawings point to Mysterio being in the movie too.
What is interesting about Mysterio’s inclusion is who is under the mask. The concept drawings for Spider-Man 4 show the man behind the Mysterio disguise and he looks suspiciously like Bruce Campbell, actor and friend to director Sam Raimi.
Campbell appeared in all three films in the original Spider-Man trilogy and it was rumoured that he was to reappear in Spider-Man 4. According to Campbell, he was never asked to play the role of Mysterio and if you want more details about this, then please check out my post: ‘Who is Bruce Campbell in the Spider-Man movies?’
As for whether Campbell *would* have played Mysterio in Spider-Man 4 (given the opportunity), well that’s up to you to decide.
The concept art provides a window into what could have been. Speaking about the movie via his blog, Henderson said:
“It would’ve been one absolutely kick ass movie. Seriously. We were working on some crazy-cool stuff, because everyone, from top to bottom, felt that Spidey 3 was a bit of a ‘missed opportunity’, and we all really wanted to help Sam take SM4 to another level so he could end the series on a high note.”
Does Sam Raimi regret not making Spider-Man 4?
In an interview via The Nerdist in 2014, Raimi reflected on Spider-Man 3 – a movie which was a huge financial hit, but received a lukewarm reception from fans. He said: “I messed up with that third Spider-Man. People hated me for years. They still hate me for it.”
He added: “I tried to make it work, but I didn’t really believe in all the characters. So that couldn’t be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man. If the director doesn’t love something, it’s wrong of them to make it when so many other people love it. I think (raising the stakes) was the thinking going into it, and I think that’s what doomed us. I should’ve just stuck with the characters and the relationships and progressed them to the next step and not tried to top the bar. I think that was my mistake.”
His experiences on Spider-Man 3 appear to have played a large part in why he believed he had to get Spider-Man 4 right. It appears to be a case of either make Spider-Man 4 work 100% or simply don’t do it at all.
Does Raimi regret not continuing with the project? Well, he certainly thinks about it a lot.
Speaking to Yahoo! in July 2019, Raimi said: “I think about it all the time,” he added: “It’s hard not to, because each summer another Spider-Man film comes out! So when you have an unborn one, you can’t help but think what might have been. But I try to focus on what will be, and not look into the past.”
Since cancelling Spider-Man 4, Sony Pictures continued the Spider-Man movie series with The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). For these movies, Andrew Garfield took on the role of Spider-Man.
These films didn’t quite work out in the way the studio planned, and a third Amazing movie was cancelled, leading the studio to reboot the Spider-Man movie series once again, with Tom Holland taking on the lead role. Holland’s first appearance as Spider-Man was in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.