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The Best Character Portrayals in the Spider-Man Franchise

Warning: Spoilers

The recent release of Spider-Man: No Way Home sent me into a frenzy that resulted in a weekend binge of all of the Spider-Man movies Marvel has produced over the years. As I relived the nostalgia of the older movies and experienced some of the newer ones for the first time, I started to notice key differences between portrayals of the characters in each movie. As to be expected, I ended up having my favorites. So, I decided to rank my favorite character portrayals from the Spider-Man movies. For clarity, I am including the original Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire, the Amazing Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield, and finally the Spider-Man movies starring Tom Holland (up to No Way Home). 

Before we continue, it needs to be made clear that this is all for fun and you may disagree with me. As a 2001 baby, I grew up watching Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy, so there is undoubtedly a bias towards his version of the beloved superhero. Each of these movie groups has its strengths and weaknesses with character portrayals (largely to scripting!). People are VERY serious when it comes to these movies!

The Best…

Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire (The Spider-Man Trilogy)

Tobey Maguire played the best Peter Parker because he was able to capture the essence of a nerdy teenage boy whose life changes drastically. The opening scene of Spider-Man shows Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) nervously taking pictures on the school field trip where he later gets bit by the radioactive spider. Of course, his fixation during this scene is on his crush, Mary Jane Watson, also known as MJ. Tobey Maguire perfectly depicts the awkwardness of Peter Parker. Additionally, one of my favorite scenes in the Spider-Man trilogy is in Spider-Man 3. After Peter has been exposed to the symbiote suit, he changes and is much more aggressive and confident. However, his awkward charm is still present which can be observed during his dance montage and any conversation he has with a passing woman. 

Spider-Man: Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man)

Two words: Spidey sense. Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man is unique compared to the other two actors’ portrayals because he behaves much more how one would imagine the hero to be after being mutated by a radioactive spider. His version of Spider-Man actually moves around like a spider! For reference, during the first Amazing Spider-Man, he is hunting down Dr. Connors in the sewers to learn more about what he is up to. In order to track down the giant lizard, he builds a web and uses the vibrations to find his target! Later on, Spider-Man encounters and fights Dr. Connors in the school and wraps around him multiple times while webbing him rather than simply shooting the webs at him. Garfield’s Spider-Man undoubtedly lives up to what Spider-Man should be. 

Uncle Ben: Cliff Robertson (The Spider-Man Trilogy)
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies do not include Uncle Ben, so this competition was purely between the Spider-Man trilogy and the Amazing Spider-Man movies. I do not have much to say here since Ben is not on screen for long in either movie before his tragic death. Cliff Robertson’s portrayal of Spider-Man is extremely impactful as we are able to learn about the loving dynamics between Peter and his uncle. Even during the rocky conversation the two have before Ben’s death, you can tell how much Ben loves and cares for his nephew as the conversation stems from Ben noticing that something is going on with Peter. The simplicity of the argument seems to make Ben’s death even more upsetting, but his iconic words of “With great power comes great responsibility” are a guiding principle for Parker throughout the remainder of the movies. 

Aunt May: Sally Field (The Amazing Spider-Man)

My love for Sally Field’s depiction of Aunt May began following Uncle Ben’s death in the Amazing Spider-Man. May’s range of emotions and her ability to convey them to Peter hit home and adds to the theme of loss and grief throughout the movie. While everyone responds to a traumatic event differently, Aunt May is unapologetically open and honest about the hurt she is experiencing. This ties into the hurt that Peter is experiencing himself after the loss of his uncle and his current endeavor to learn more about his parents and why they left him. All around, the storyline mixed with the acting of Sally Field creates emotion that was much needed in the movie that we did not get in the original trilogy. 

Girlfriend: Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man)

While no relationship is perfect, the relationship between Peter and Gwen (Emma Stone) consists of meaning, respect, and genuine love for one another. Unlike Peter and MJ in the trilogy, there is also no cheating going on! Emma Stone’s portrayal of Gwen Stacy is packed full of events for a dynamic character. In the two movies we get with her, we are able to see her grow as a character as she embarks on her relationship with Peter, loses her dad, and finds herself and sets realistic boundaries with Peter. That is my favorite part about this on-screen relationship-even though the two are on-again, off-again at some points, they are upfront about their conflicts and emotions. Overall, I think that her character contributed more than just being Peter’s girlfriend. Her own story was told throughout the two movies, and her brutal death was even more heartbreaking due to watching her character progress along with Peter. 

Best Friend: Jacob Batalon 

Although we have yet to see where this friendship goes, Jacob Batalon’s portrayal of Ned in Tom Holland’s Spider-Man movies is by far my favorite compared to the other movies. Ned is the only character in the “best friend of Peter Parker” role that is positive and supportive. Ned is always there for his best friend, Peter Parker, and helps him out in any way possible. Additionally, he is always thrilled to do it! The movies convey the friendship between the two in a humorous and loving way. Ultimately, what’s a best friend good for if they’re always trying to steal your girlfriend from you or kill you (like the other movies…)? Exactly, Ned wins here by a landslide. 

Character-wise, no one in particular in Tom Holland’s movies awes me. However, the newer Spider-Man movies are fantastic and wildly entertaining, hands down. I think a reason why no one in his movies stands out to me is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is tied into the movies heavily, incorporating far more characters. The bubble that the older movies are in does not exist in the newer ones, which adds a new layer to the story. Regardless, his movies are the best production-wise, and he contributes a valuable new perspective on the character of Spider-Man. 

Hello! I am a Forensic Psychology Major with Minors in Criminal Justice and Sociology. I am the secretary for Sexual Assault Awareness Team and am involved in STEP and Psychology Club at St. Ambrose University. In my free time I enjoy painting and embroidering, being a dog mom, and spending time with my friends!
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