Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 4: What We Learned About The Vulture’s Origins, The Fight Scenes, And Other Villains Considered For The Sequel

Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man
(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

It’s one of the most popular, and therefore most heartbreaking, “What if?” projects in superhero movie history. Having helmed three hugely successful Spider-Man movies for Sony Pictures, Sam Raimi wanted to exit the franchise on top. Maybe he would have topped the list of the greatest Spider-Man movies? The director notoriously regretted having to use Venom (Topher Grace) as a villain in the blockbuster Spider-Man 3. So he started noodling away on a possible Spider-Man 4 that would return to the tone and texture of Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies… considered by many to be two of the best comic-book movies ever made.

The anticipated Spider-Man sequel never came to pass, for numerous reasons. The studio admitted that it was difficult to maintain the momentum of the first three films. The script wasn’t coming together. And the act of keeping the creative core together got more expensive – from a contractual perspective – with each passing film. Eventually, Raimi stepped away from Spider-Man 4, and Sony rebooted the franchise with Andrew Garfield in the lead role. But that meant, for years, fans wondered what might have been if Raimi actually got the chance to make his Spider-Man 4, and continue the series that helped put Spider-Man on Hollywood’s map.

Storyboard artist Jeffrey Henderson worked on Sam Raimi’s team for Spider-Man 4 for weeks before the studio pulled the plug. As such, he has tremendous insight into the director’s plans for this never-made sequel. Henderson sat down for an exclusive interview for my new book With Great Power: How Spider-Man Conquered Hollywood During The Golden Age of Blockbusters (available to order now (opens in new tab)), and shared several of the tantalizing details he picked up while sketching scenes for Raimi. 

For starters, Henderson confirmed that The Vulture would have been the main villain of the story, and that John Malkovich was the actor Sam Raimi planned to cast as Adrian Toomes. Henderson said:

He was essentially a guy that did a lot of ugly stuff for the government, did a lot of ugly stuff as a private contractor. I thought a clever thing to do would be to say that part of the reason they called him The Vulture was because when he was done, he didn’t leave anything but bones behind.

Henderson’s concept art for The Vulture splits very evenly between the feathery Toomes that we know from the comic books, and the mechanized, tech-heavy suit that Michael Keaton ended up wearing in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Some of the earliest story beats that Jeffrey Henderson worked on were action set pieces, because of the amount of time they require to plan out and stage. The movie was going to include one long set piece where mercenaries tried to get the jump on Toomes, finally learning how powerful he really was. Henderson and his colleagues also helped Raimi mock up a battle between The Vulture and Spider-Man that would have started in the subways before exploding out of the street and into the skies above Manhattan. 

The Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

Henderson said:

They were going to have a big brawl–for–it–all, where Vulture almost kills Spider-Man. And then Spider-Man at the last minute—he’s really wounded, he’s bleeding really badly, he’s in real trouble—Peter finally, almost as a reaction, forces The Vulture off. When he does, it snaps some of the stuff from the wings, so he ends up just tumbling into the ether, off the top of the Citicorp building. That’s what does him in.

There were rumors that the second half of the movie would have shifted gears to Toomes’s daughter. She’d have become the Vultress, and Raimi and the studio eyed Angelina Jolie for the part. The movie never got that far so as to realize any of that, but Henderson does confirm, in the book, the idea that would have launched Spider-Man 4, and it sounds incredibly cool. He told me:

We were going to open the movie with this montage of all the villains we knew that Sam would never be able to use in Spider-Man movies. Because Peter, now that MJ has gone, he has finally made peace, and he loves being Spider-Man. He’s actually enjoying it. So we were going to try to do The Shocker, Mysterio, The Stilt Man, and that kind of stuff.

And yes, Bruce Campbell probably would have played Mysterio in this montage sequence. 

As mentioned, none of this came to pass. Spider-Man 4 dried up. Sam Raimi moved back to horror for Drag Me to Hell. And Spidey’s journey continued until he eventually ended up in the MCU. I’d say it mostly worked out for everyone. 

The next Spider-Man 4 we speak about likely will be Tom Holland’s fourth Spider-Man movie which could kick off a fresh trilogy of films shared between Sony, Disney, and Marvel. Or, Holland’s Spider-Man could swing back to Sony’s growing universe of Spidey characters, including Venom (Tom Hardy), Kraven the Hunter (Aaron Taylor Johnson), and Madame Web (Dakota Johnson).

But for more stories like the one above, from the rich history of Spider-Man in Hollywood, pick up a copy of With Great Power, on bookshelves as we speak.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.