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Why Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 Didn't Hit The Big Screen

Marvel's domination of the big screen has been a long journey — but perhaps no movie played a bigger role than Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man, in 2002.

Yes, Blade (1998) was the first successful Marvel adaptation, and it paved the way for the gritty social issues of X-Men (2000), which itself finally allowed comic book movies to take themselves seriously. Spider-Man, though, was the film that united the world around an unlikely underdog hero in red and blue spandex — less than a year after 9/11 — and arguably put forth the blueprint that superhero movies have continued coming back to, ever since. While Evil Dead filmmaker Sam Raimi may have seemed like a strange directing choice to many, his quirky sensibilities were a perfect fit for this quirky hero: Two years later, when he garnered more creative control in Spider-Man 2, he turned in a passionate, bittersweet, and heartfelt film, which easily surpassed its record-breaking predecessor, and is still often hailed as the webslinger's best cinematic outing to date. 

Spider-Man 3, sadly, didn't live up to Spider-Man 2's high standard. It's not quite the disaster that the internet often makes it out to be — the magnificent "birth of Sandman" scene, alone, proves that — but it's still a deeply flawed film, whether due to studio interference, a cluttered storyline, or some combination of factors. Spider-Man 3 was, also, not a very strong conclusion to the trilogy as a whole. Too many strings were left hanging. Peter and MJ's relationship was up in the air. There wasn't even a final swing.

As a result, once the film came out, fans across the world awaited news of a Spider-Man 4, which would hopefully redeem the series. Then ... it didn't happen. Why?

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 was, indeed, in the works

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 is, perhaps, the most famous Marvel sequel that got cancelled at the last second.  

While it might be tempting to hang one's hat on the easy narrative that the disappointing critical reception to Spider-Man 3 might've caused Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and the others to walk away, that doesn't square with reality: in fact, everyone was fully onboard for Spider-Man 4, specifically because they wanted to correct the errors of the previous entry. Looking back on the matter in 2013, Raimi told Vulture that "I was very unhappy with Spider-Man 3, and I wanted to make Spider-Man 4 to end on a very high note, the best Spider-Man of them all."

From the bits and pieces that have been released from the film's production, in the years since, it does seem like everyone involved wanted to make something phenomenal. While Spider-Man 4's overall plot remains unknown, the primary antagonist would've been the Vulture — the same bad guy who later appeared in Spider-Man: Homecoming — who, here, would have been played by John Malkovich. As seen in concept art by artist Jeffrey Henderson, via Business Insider, the battles between Spidey and the Vulture would've easily lived up to the high-wire fights from the previous films. There would've been a humorous cameo from Mysterio — played by Bruce Campbell, a popular fan-casting at the time — and Anne Hathaway was set to play Felicia Hardy, AKA the Black Cat, years before being cast as DC's feline fatale, Catwoman. 

However, while Raimi was passionate about course-correcting the series and offering a rousing finale, he also wanted the time and space to do it right, instead of rushing. That goal, unfortunately, didn't line up with the scheduling desired by Sony executives. 

Sam Raimi didn't want to rush Spider-Man 4 ... and Sony was planning to reboot, anyway

In 2010, Deadline reported that Sam Raimi had left Spider-Man 4, and that Sony planned to reboot the character, hoping to rework the franchise in a post-Batman Begins mold. 

As Raimi explained to Vulture in 2013, "It really was the most amicable and undramatic of breakups: It was simply that we had a deadline and I couldn't get the story to work on a level that I wanted it to work [...] I couldn't get the script together in time, due to my own failings, and I said to Sony, 'I don't want to make a movie that is less than great, so I think we shouldn't make this picture. Go ahead with your reboot, which you've been planning anyway.' And [Sony co-chairman] Amy Pascal said, 'Thank you. Thank you for not wasting the studio's money, and I appreciate your candor.' So we left on the best of terms, both of us trying to do the best thing for fans, the good name of Spider-Man, and Sony Studios."

The rebooted Amazing Spider-Man series, unfortunately for Sony, wasn't quite the success they hoped for. As everyone knows today, this eventually led to Sony working out a deal with Marvel Studios, which led to the creation of Tom Holland's quippy young Peter Parker, who gets to hang out with the Avengers, help save the universe, and will return as a fugitive in an upcoming third movie. So, in that sense, things have worked out for the best.

As beloved as Holland's Spidey has become, though, legions of fans who grew up watching Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man have often dreamed of a way that the old gang might get back together, one last time, to give a proper ending to the version of the character that started it all. 

Is it in the cards? 

Could Spider-Man 4 happen in the future?

Never say never, right? After all, if enough fans are hungry for a Spider-Man 4, set in the Raimi-verse, that perhaps features an older Maguire and caps off all the loose ends, ala Logan, then Sony has probably considered the notion, themselves. Whether they pursue it or not, though, is a different matter entirely.

The fact that multiverse narratives are taking off, since Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, definitely increases the possibility of this, though. Particularly since the new Doctor Strange movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, will be directed by Raimi himself. If you look into the future and imagine a world where Strange opens one of his glowing portals to another dimension, only for Maguire's Spider-Man to come swinging right in ... well, the audience reaction would be explosive, to say the least. 

Raimi has never directly answered questions about if it's something he's up for. However, in 2019, when Yahoo! News asked if he ever thought about Spider-Man 4, he answered, "I think about it all the time. 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."

Note, that doesn't rule out Spider-Man 4 happening in the future. Amid unconfirmed rumors that Holland's third Spidey flick might open the door to a "Spider-Verse" storyline, talk of Raimi and Maguire doing one last hurrah is likely to only escalate from here on, whether it happens or not. Stay tuned.