When director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man successfully swung to cinemas in 2002, moviegoers by and large were still oblivious to the extent—both financially and artistically—in which comic book movies would succeed, even after coming off the hit genre breakthrough that was 2000’s X-Men. Now, eighteen years and two Wall-Crawler iterations later, it has been revealed that the film in question was originally designed to kick off a more focused multi-chapter story.
David Koepp, who wrote the screenplay to 2002’s Spider-Man, reveals in an interview with Collider that his original plans had paced the film to start a Star Wars-esque trilogy arc, and were dramatically different than the film ultimately released. Indeed, while the film turned out to be more of a self-contained Spider-Man story—with Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) battling classic comic foe Green Goblin (Willem DaFoe) and romancing classic comic love interest Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst)—Koepp reveals that he originally paired Peter with Gwen Stacy, seemingly as part of the film’s love triangle with Harry Osborn (Dave Franco), designed to depict a romance that was headed across multiple films toward the love interest’s classic tragic demise. As Koepp states of his original Spider-Man plans:
“Basically [my trilogy idea] was the telling of the Gwen Stacy/Harry Osborn story but I spaced everything out differently. I wanted Gwen to be killed in the middle of the second movie, because that follows sort of the Empire Strikes Back model, and I had different villains I wanted to use. Just a different way to tell that story.”
While Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man would eventually be followed by two sequels, which retroactively rendered it a trilogy launcher, the film itself essentially manifested as a curated collection of famous—albeit disparate—comic-inspired Spidey story concepts (including a scene with Mary Jane clearly inspired by Gwen Stacy’s fatal plunge,) amalgamated in movie form. It’s an understandable strategy on the part of Sony Pictures, which altered Koepp’s plans, since the comic book movie genre—at least as we know it today—was still very much in its infancy at the time, and releasing a film that lollygags valuable screen time by planting sequel story seeds may not have seemed prudent. Thus, Koepp’s plans reveal profound comic book movie ambitions during a time when such a concept seemed silly.
Yet, Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy would eventually introduce Gwen Stacy, as played by Bryce Dallas Howard, in 2007’s Spider-Man 3. However, the character simply served as a pseudo love interest for Peter during his infamous “emo” phase in the film, designed to sow doubt and jealousy over his primary romance with Mary Jane. Moreover, since Gwen was hastily thrown into the film by Raimi at the behest of producers, there was no time to set up any emotional investment that would have made her iconic fatal plunge worth depicting. While the film does have a scene that’s tonally evocative of said plunge, in which Gwen falls off a ledge only to be successfully rescued by Spider-Man, it really had no impact on the story. Indeed, Koepp only stayed on for the first Raimi film, and found little desire to return, not only due to the altered direction, but general franchise ennui. As Koepp explains of his exit from the Spider-Man films:
“There was a time maybe seven or eight years ago when I was gonna come back for a couple Spider-Man movies, after they’d done their first Amazing Spider-Man. On the very first Spider-Man I sort of planned out what I thought the first three movies should be, and then all the assorted personalities it didn’t work for me to keep writing the Spider-Man movies… So I was excited to come back and try to finish the story I started telling in the first one, and as we were about to agree that I was going to do that, I pulled out all the old stuff and I started outlining those two movies and I thought, ‘Boy, you can’t go home again. That moment has passed. The time when I was really feeling it was 10 years ago, and there’s no point in trying to recreate it.’ So I bailed.”
However, after years of stasis over a never-realized fourth Raimi Spider-Man film, Sony would implement something that resembled Koepp’s slow-burn strategy for the Gwen Stacy tragedy with 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man, which saw Andrew Garfield’s Wall-Crawler opposite Gwen Stacy, who was upgraded as the film’s primary love interest and played by Emma Stone. Said strategy would come to fruition resembling Koepp’s plans in 2014 sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in which Stone’s Gwen perished (in a manner resembling 1973 classic issue The Amazing Spider-Man #121,) after Peter’s misguided rescue attempt to cast down a spider-web to a plummeting Gwen—thrown by the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan)—accidentally results in a fatal whiplash. While the never-followed-up film was widely castigated for its inability to focus, Gwen’s death scene remains an emotionally powerful standout, thanks to Garfield and Stone’s performances.
Of course, Sony has embraced the kind of slow-burn storytelling that Koepp originally planned, except at unprecedentedly ambitious levels. Having relaunched the Wall-Crawler with Tom Holland’s Marvel Cinematic Universe-adherent, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame-participating version of Spider-Man, the current solo film series—thus far represented by 2016’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far from Home—has already been complemented by 2018 Tom Hardy-starring cold spinoff Venom, with 2021 release plans for the Jared Leto-headlined Morbius, sequel Venom: Let There be Carnage and an untitled third Spider-Man solo film. There’s also a sizable backlog of projects like Jackpot and a purported Madame Web movie, all while Sony maintains a sharp eye on its long-mooted villains-centric Sinister Six megamovie.