Long before Sam Raimi brought our favorite neighborhood Spider-Man to the big screen, James Cameron was very interested in creating his own version of the hero. The director known for his celebrated films like Terminator 2, Avatar, and Titanicrevealed that his “greatest movie never made” was Spider-Man.
In a recent Zoom roundtable with SceenCrush, James Cameron revealed that he had spent several years trying to get his Spider-Man movie off the ground. Many studios wouldn’t support his web-slinger since Marvel, at the time, had only made one film—Howard the Duck.
Superhero movies weren’t respectable, and making a film based on a Marvel character was an uphill battle in Hollywood.
The director talks about his struggles to make his Spider-Man film in his new book, Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, a massive volume containing sketches, paintings, and concept art done by Cameron throughout his career. Cameron also wrote a commentary about his inspirations and techniques for each piece. Among all of his gorgeous sketches, two illustrations displayed what Cameron envisioned for his Spider-Man film.
One of the sketches from James Cameron's new novel, 'Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron'Credit: Insight Editions
With the late-Stan Lee’s blessing and advice, Cameron created a treatment that saw a Spider-Man that was still a kid learning how to survive as a teen while dealing with his newfound powers. One of the most notable changes in the web-slinger was giving Peter Parker biological web-shooters instead of ones Parker invented.
This new take on Spider-Man would be a “great metaphor for that untapped reservoir of potential that people have that they don’t recognize in themselves,” says Cameron. Cameron goes on to state that the metaphor extends to the challenges of puberty, social anxieties, social expectations, relationship with gender, and any other mental or physical struggles many teens face in their everyday lives.
While many of Cameron’s changes to Spider-Man would later pop up in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, one thing was left out. Cameron’s Spider-Man film would have had a “gritty reality to it.” Instead of taking the light-hearted route, Cameron wanted to ground the character in a reality that the audience could buy into.
The plot was heavy on profanity and highly sexual. One scene involved Mary-Jane and Peter Parker having sex on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Check out the full script treatmentfor more of the dark and gritty Spider-Man that Cameron envisioned.
Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man in 'Spider-Man 2'Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
Unfortunately for Cameron and us, his version of Spider-Man would never be.
The complicated mess of studios going bankrupt and low budgets made the treatment fall into oblivion. Cameron did try to save his beloved hero by going to 20th Century Fox and telling them to pick it up, but they didn’t want to get into a fight with Sony who had “some very questionable attachment to the rights [of Spider-Man].”
Cameron saw the potential in Spidey, but this failed attempt to bring him to the silver screen pushed Cameron further into his creative work rather than attempting to adapt others’ creations.
Tech Noir is full of Cameron’s creative projects, including an exclusive look at Xenogenesis, a project Cameron has been trying to get off the ground since the late 70s, and new creatures and creations for Avatar which will continue with four more sequels.
While we may never get a chance to see the amazing project that could have been, we can catch another version of Spider-Man in Spider-Man: No Way Homein theaters on Dec. 17th.