The Spider-Man 3 Scene That Tobey Maguire Originally Refused to Do

Love or hate the dance scenes in Spider-Man 3, they could have been even wilder.

Tobey Maguire dancing in Spider-Man 3
Photo: Sony Pictures

There is a lot that can be and has been said about the dance scenes in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3. Little of it has been positive in the 17(!) years since the movie’s release. Undeniably leaning into the director’s goofier comic sensibility, the film twice detours from its dour tone—which begins when Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) dons the bad juju vibes of an alien symbiote—in order to have a laugh-out-loud dance break. In one sequence near the end of the second act, and after Peter has permanently scarred and attempted to kill his BFF (James Franco), Maguire’s protagonist struts down the streets of New York City to James Brown. The strut then becomes a full on disco-like routine after he upgrades to an all-black suit.

Several minutes later, Spider-Man 3 further ups the camp factor by seeing symbiote-influenced Peter attempt to make Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) jealous by committing hard to some obviously dorky jazz moves at a nightclub. The sheer absurdity of the sequence is by design, but for years it has made many fans squeamish if not outright enraged.

Personally, it makes for a curious pop culture inkblot test from the late 2000s. Unto themselves, the sequences achieve their desired effect—they’re so bafflingly silly and so oblivious that you can’t help but feel secondhand embarrassment for Peter Parker and to then laugh at him. And if Raimi had asked Bruce Campbell to do the same thing in Army of Darkness or a fourth Evil Dead movie 20 years ago, many of the same viewers who bemoaned the Spider-Man 3 scenes ad nauseam in 2007 would have been applauding as Ash Williams combed his hair down in an emo style.

However, Raimi and presumably many of the executives at Sony Pictures at the time came from a different era where you could treat comic book material as a source of amusement and humor; and fan culture in the 21st century was only beginning to emerge as a dominant orthodoxy that treated their favorite intellectual properties with the gravity of scripture. (And I write this as someone who in 2007 wanted a “serious” Spider-Man movie.) They wanted to believe in superheroes, not have a laugh at them—a thin distinction Marvel Studios has walked with their house formula inundated with self-effacing humor, but never (directly) at the IP’s expense.

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All of which is interesting to consider when you realize the makers of Spider-Man 3 once had something even more outrageous in mind for those sequences: Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker doing some super-powered breakdancing, including by spinning on his head!

The intriguing morsel was confirmed in passing by Marguerite Pomerhn Derricks, a former ballerina and widely revered dance choreographer in the film industry. Over the years, Pomerhn Derricks has helped design iconic dance sequences in various classics, from the Austin Powers flicks to Little Miss Sunshine. It was in fact while reminiscing about one such film, the now 25-year-old 10 Things I Hate About You, that Pomerhn Derricks inadvertently revealed they wanted Spider-Man busting a move before Maguire put his foot down on the matter.

“When I got Spider-Man 3 with Tobey Maguire, I remember meeting with him and Sam Raimi, and Tobey did not want to dance,” Pomerhn Derricks told Huffington Post. “There was this whole breakdancing scene that turned him off. I was developing this number and bringing in all these head-spinners to be his body doubles, and Tobey was negative, negative, negative.”

Maguire was so adamantly against the idea of his superhero breakdancing that what ended up in the film appears to be a toned down compromise.

Said Pomerhn Derricks, “So one day I went to his house, and I started showing him Fred Astaire stuff, and that’s what we ended up doing for Spider-Man 3. But it was because of Heath [Ledger that] I told Tobey, ‘You doing it is not going to age you. You’re just going to make these classic moves fresh and hip and new.’ Watching Heath do that in the stands, that’s exactly what he did. In his youth and his fearlessness, he made them look so cool.”

The funny thing is she is right about Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, a teenage rom-com no one had any preconceived notions about going in. So seeing Ledger in slick leather pants dancing to an even then ancient Four Seasons ballad seemed retro cool—whereas Maguire turned out to be right about his own film. No one could take Peter Parker dancing like that.

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Still, we’d argue head-spinning could be no more preposterous than the way he wore his bangs for half the picture.