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Then there is Spider-Man, who hasn’t quite reached Batman levels of exposure, but certainly has seen his share of adaptations over the years (with heavy doses in recent years). And why not? Spider-Man is a relatable character and a household name, so it makes sense why Marvel and Sony – who owns the cinematic rights to the character – would want to keep him swinging through adventures.
These films also provide Spider-Man fans with ample fodder to debate who played Spider-Man the best. Because with a Spider-Man portrayal also comes a Peter Parker portrayal, and sometimes an actor is better suited for one side of the coin than they are for the other. This got me thinking, long and hard, about the best portrayals of Peter Parker and Spider-Man from the various Spidey movies. I’m a Spider-Man junkie. He’s my favorite superhero, and I have found plenty to appreciate in the three actors who have brought Peter Parker to the screen.
This is not a ranking of the Spider-Man films. That’s a different angle. What I’m discussing here are the best portrayals of Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) in those individual films. Let the arguing commence!
12. Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man 3
The bottom of the barrel. Emo Peter Parker? The dancing? The fact that the alien symbiote turns Peter into a selfish misogynist? Nothing in Sam Raimi’s final Spider-Man film feels authentic or earned. This misstep is the reason Sony had to reboot the franchise and go in a new direction.
11. Andrew Garfield, Amazing Spider-Man 2
Andrew Garfield was a better Peter Parker than he was Spider-Man. His Spidey, especially in this sequel, was an exaggerated, tough-talking New Yorker, with an affected Brooklyn accent and too much swagger. Garfield shines when playing Parker’s emotional toil. The way the actor handled the death of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) remains a highlight of any Spidey film.
10. Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man 2
I’m going to get a lot of heat for this one, but again, I’m not judging the movie. Spider-Man 2 is a very good Spider-Man film, and largely gets its points for Alfred Molina’s expert portrayal of Otto Octavius. It’s so good, no one has tried Doc Ock since. But Maguire was getting too old to play young Peter (26 at the time of release), and this portrayal gets dinged for the awful way it handled Spidey “losing” his powers. Maguire’s decent in this. The choices above this are better.
9. Tom Holland, Avengers: Endgame
Despite some incredibly cool moments – like when Steve Rogers barks “Hey Queens, heads up” and then throws Mjolnir so that Spider-Man, while holding the Infinity Gauntlet, can fly through the air – Holland’s Avengers: Endgame portrayal lands here because he’s absent from most of the movie. His hug with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and eventual breakdown during “we won, Mr. Stark” make the best use of Holland’s talents.
8. Tom Holland, Captain America: Civil War
“Hey, everyone.” The rest of the list must be incredible for Spidey’s MCU debut to be this low. Tom Holland nails Peter Parker. The awkward teenager who’s afraid Tony Stark will put his aunt (Marisa Tomei) in danger. The overwhelmed science nerd whose impressed by Captain America’s shield, and Bucky’s metal arm. In Holland, Spidey became the true “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” who’d scream “Holy shit!” when he first saw Giant Man. We yelled it, too.
7. Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man
Tobey Maguire is my least-favorite Peter Parker. He’s bland. He’s milquetoast. Peter can be a wallflower, as lifted from the comics. But Maguire (who always struck me as too old for the role) never felt like Peter Parker to me, though I know many will disagree. Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man covers important beats in the hero’s origin, and Maguire does OK with Uncle Ben’s death, as well as the wrestling match against Bonesaw. But I never believed him as Peter, and I’d take Garfield and Holland over him any day.
6. Jake Johnson, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Ah, you didn’t think I’d include the animated Peter Parkers, did you? Well, he’s an integral part of the outstanding Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, even though that’s more of a Miles Morales movie. This is an alternate version of Peter, and one who is wracked with grief because he lost his true love, Mary Jane. But Johnson grows into a mentor role that fits Peter’s emotional-leader traits, and he also specializes in the sarcastic quips that are this hero’s signature.
5. Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man
I wish Andrew Garfield got more opportunities to play Spider-Man. He’s arguably the best pure actor to tackle the role. And his interpretation of Peter evolved from the comics. He’s more of a contemporary (dare I say, a Millennial), and it leads to incredibly sweet moments of Parker on a skateboard testing out his powers, or playing games on a phone while he waits for The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) to appear. The Amazing movies raced too fast to build a universe, but their best move was casting this vulnerable kid as the lead.
4. Tom Holland, Avengers: Infinity War
There’s a moment in Infinity War that, to me, nails Spider-Man fully. Peter clings to a spaceship as it leaves our stratosphere. Iron Man warns him to let go, and Peter honestly replies, “But you told me to save the wizard.” It’s so honest, so heroic, that Peter would fight to complete a mission no matter the cost. He doesn’t even realize he’s heading into space! Building on Civil War, the Russo Brothers give Spider-Man his funniest MCU lines (“Magic with a kick!”) while Holland captures the tragedy that comes with being a young hero when he tells Mr. Stark he doesn’t feel so good. Where are my tissues?
3. Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Far From Home
The MCU Spider-Man works for me. Yes, it bothers me that Tony Stark has replaced Uncle Ben as Peter’s mentor and guiding light. But Tom Holland deftly conveys the “figuring this out as I go” mentality that often slows Spider-Man down. He’s frequently outmatched by his adversaries, but succeeds because he simply won’t quit. His chemistry with the teenage co-stars, and his romance with Zendaya, grounds this on-screen version of Peter in ways that Garfield and Maguire couldn’t (or didn’t). The finale, which finally puts Spidey in Manhattan, made my Spidey geek heart soar.
2. Chris Pine, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
A wild-card selection! You might not even know that Chris Pine was the voice of Spider-Man in the early going of the animated Oscar winner. But Pine gets so much about Peter Parker and Spider-Man right in his brief screen time. He breaks off some of Spidey’s funniest on-screen lines. He conveys how exhausted Peter often is by his need to be heroic. And his ultimate sacrifice inspires so many, including Miles, to prove that anyone can wear the mask. Pine nails the character. I thought he was just perfect.
1. Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Tom Holland is our best Spider-Man. Homecoming is the best portrayal of Spider-Man. It gets it all correct. It seamlessly projects the John Hughes vibe of a high-school Peter Parker. It repeatedly shows Peter having to rise above his fears to be a hero (his Washington Monument leap of faith is a brilliant moment). It’s very funny. It’s menacing (the Keaton/Holland scene outside the prom is outstanding). And it has the single best tribute to a defining moment for Peter Parker… the nod to The Final Chapter comic book cover. I’m not saying future Spider-Man portrayals can’t be better than this. But at the moment, Spider-Man: Homecoming sets the bar.