Spider-Man’s forgotten film and TV history

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 8 2014 3:15 p.m. MDT

Tobey Maguire stars as Spider-Man in Columbia Pictures' "Spider-Man 3." The follow-up film "Spider-Man 4" was never made and the franchise was instead rebooted with "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Columbia Pictures

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Say what you will about “The Amazing Spider-Man” and its sequel, which opens this weekend, but superhero movies have come a long way in the last few decades. Part of that has involved filmmakers embracing the characters as they appear in the comics.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is, in some ways, a more faithful adaptation of the character than most fans could have ever hoped for.

Just like some other iconic comic book heroes, though, Spider-Man has had a long and bumpy journey to the big screen, including numerous attempted versions that, thankfully, never quite came together — as well as a couple that did, but only in the loosest of senses.

Here’s an overview of the strange, mostly forgotten history of some of the more out-there attempts at adapting Spider-Man for film and TV.

Steve Krantz’s Spider-Man (mid-’70s) — The first in a long line of unproduced Spider-Man movies, this one kind of sets the tone for some of the oddball ideas that would follow in later years.

Krantz, who produced a couple animated series based on Marvel characters in the late ’60s, including the Ralph Bakshi-directed “Amazing Spider-Man” that ran from 1967-1970, acquired the rights for a live-action movie in the mid-1970s. His initial plan? A big-budget fantasy musical.

He later rethought that and instead opted to just adapt Gerry Conway’s seminal “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” (from “The Amazing Spider-Man” No. 121-122), but with a 100-foot-tall robot and Nazis. The rights lapsed before he got around to filming either version.

“Spider-Man” (1977) — People still like to talk about how great the original Spider-Man trilogy was, referring to the Sam Raimi movies of the 2000s with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. What they don’t always realize, though, is that those films weren’t actually the original Spider-Man trilogy — not by a long shot.

That distinction belongs to a trio of made-for-TV titles starring Nicholas Hammond, an actor who’s still probably better known for playing one of the Von Trapp kids in “The Sound of Music.” The first movie, 1977’s “Spider-Man,” spawned a TV series on CBS (“The Amazing Spider-Man”) that ran for two seasons. Those episodes were later cannibalized to make two sequel movies that were released theatrically overseas, “Spider-Man Strikes Back” and “Spider Man: The Dragon’s Challenge.”

While hardly comparable to any of the Sony movies, the 1977 “Spider-Man” did pioneer a few elements that some argue might have directly influenced the 2012 version of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” including POV shots as Spidey swings around Los Angeles — er, I mean, New York.

Japanese “Spider-Man”/”Supaidāman” (1978-1979) — The 1970s were a busy decade for ol’ webhead. As part of a licensing agreement with Toei (the company behind the “Super Sentai” series, which became “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” in the U.S.), Spider-Man also had his very own TV series in Japan.

Lasting for a total of 41 episodes, it saw him battle a panoply of building-sized monsters with the help of his giant robot Leopardon (what is it with Spider-Man and robots?) that could also transform into a spaceship. Oh, and in this version, Spidey, who spent his non-superhero time as a professional motorcycle racer named Takuya Yamashiro, gained his powers after being injected with the blood of an alien named Garia from the planet Spider.

Tobe Hooper’s Spider-Man (mid-1980s) — No less bizarre than the Japanese Spider-Man was this unrealized concept for a live-action movie from the heads of Cannon Films, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus (cousins who were responsible for such gems as “Superman IV: Quest for Peace” and the 1987 He-Man movie “Masters of the Universe”).

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