How Spider-Man Has Evolved On Screen

From Saturday Morning Cartoon to a place in the MCU, this is Spider-Man’s on-screen journey.
By  · Published on July 12th, 2017

From Saturday Morning Cartoon to a place in the MCU, this is Spider-Man’s on-screen journey.

With the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming this past Friday, it is easy to think of the new movie as just another installment in an already overdone franchise (assuming you haven’t seen the new film). So far though, the film seems to be critically acclaimed widely as one of the best Spider-Man films, and possibly one of the best Marvel films, yet. The charm of Peter Parker in his high school sophomore days with his goofy friend, boyish crush, and desire to save the world and keep his youth intact is appealing. But how does it line up with what we have previously seen from the Spider-Man’s former on-screen portrayals?

1967: ABC’s Spider-Man, The Animated Series

Spider-Man’s first appearance on screen was through the ABC animated TV series Spider-Man. In this show, Spider-Man was voiced by Paul Soles. Though it only aired new episodes from 1967-1970, it is perhaps most clearly remembered for its creation of the Spider-Man theme song that we know today. Premiering nearly 5 years after the release of the first Spider-Man comics, the series stayed mostly true to the original story. Teenage Peter Parker is bitten by a spider and attains spider-like abilities.

After discovering this, Peter decides to use his powers to fight crime. Meanwhile, he deals with the death of his uncle, working for the Daily Bugle, and being a teenager. However, according to a book of critical essays on Spider-Man called Web-Spinning Heroics by Robert Weiner and Robert Peaslee, they write that though the origins are the same and the adventures similar, much of the characteristics of the Spider-Man character from the original comics were not apparent in this animated series. Spider-Man took on the same aesthetics and tone of most any other Saturday morning action cartoon during that time.

Here it should be noted that in 1974 Spider-Man appeared in an educational children’s television program called Spidey Super Stories. These were short live-action skits that appeared in The Electric Company series in which Spider-Man defeated bad guys and encouraged reading by speaking through word bubbles rather than verbal speech.

Also around this time was the release of Spider-Man, the live action movie. Thought Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was the first live-action Spider-Man film? Not exactly. In 1977 a made for TV movie called Spider-Man which spawned a TV series called The Amazing Spider-Man along with 2 sequels: Spider-Man Strikes Back (1978) and Spider-Man The Dragon’s Challenge (1981), premiered. The original film aired on CBS and starred Nicholas Hammond. Though its effects appear ancient in comparison to the Spider-Man films we see today, it was still a type of cinematic step forward for the franchise overall, in that it was the first hour long, live-action, Spider-Man program.

1981: NBC’s Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends

This animated series premiered on September 12th, 1981 and ran through 1986. Though this series resembled the first in that it portrayed Spider-Man’s crime fighting adventures, it added two new characters who acted as companions for Spider-Man, called Iceman and Firestar. Other Marvel characters also appeared in various episodes throughout the show. While the first series focused mostly on the origins and adventures of Spider-Man without much of the wittiness and sarcasm that accompanies the Spider-Man from the comics, this program created a more jesting Spider-Man, albeit a little overly goofy sometimes. However, the addition of two companion-like friends still lessened the impact of Spider-Man’s more vulnerable and lonely characteristics. Spider-Man in this series was voiced by Dan Gilvezan and episodes were narrated by Stan Lee.

1994: Fox’s Spider-Man Animated Series

Fox created this series in 1994, with Chris Barnes voicing Spider-Man. The show ran for 5 seasons total and focused on more nuanced and character driven stories than its predecessors had done. This was important to fans who had enjoyed the previous animated series but were hoping to see more from Peter Parker/Spider-Man as a person, who struggles with human issues, like in the comics. In Web-Spinning Heroics the authors write that,

The appeal of Spider-Man is that he is both a regular person and a superhero, and it is in this second season that this becomes explicit within the confines of an animated series for the first time (213).

The show placed a focus on personal depth and journey for Spider-Man, something which the previous animated series had only skirted around, especially considering they were strictly aimed at the children/young adult Saturday morning cartoon audience. It ultimately took a chance to craft more from what had been previously seen.

1999: Fox’s Spider-Man Unlimited

Only airing for 1 season, this series took place on “Counter-Earth” enhancing the show’s science fiction aspect. Spider-Man was voiced by Rino Romano in this version.

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