Why Spider-Man 4 was cancelled by Sony

Despite its massive popularity and amazing box-office reception, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise was canceled after its third movie. So what exactly happened?
"Spider-Man" Premiere
"Spider-Man" Premiere / Albert L. Ortega/GettyImages

There was a time when superhero movies weren't the guaranteed success they are nowadays (or, at least, used to be before Avengers: Endgame). However, that would all change thanks to the release of a few different films and franchises, including Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.

Ever since audiences watched Peter Parker swing across the New York skyline for the first time on the big screen, it became evident that superhero movies could be more than just "popcorn flicks". Instead, they could be deep projects featuring complex arcs for their characters and thoughtful stories. It isn't an exaggeration to say Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire completely changed the game, and there has been no return ever since.

To this date, Spider-Man 2 is regarded by many as one of the best superhero movies ever made. And while the third installment in the franchise wasn't the critical hit that anyone would've hoped, it was a huge box-office success that left the door open for a follow-up to right its wrongs. On that same page, Sony planned for Spider-Man 4 to be released on May 6, 2011. But that date came and went, and audiences didn't see Tobey reprise his role as Peter Parker for one last swing. So after all the praise the franchise received, the question has to be asked: Why was Spider-Man 4 never made?

Spider-Man 4 was canceled due to script issues and deadlines

In an interview with Moviepilot on YouTube, Sam Raimi was asked whether he had any initial plans for Spider-Man 4. After revealing that he did work on the script for a time and even started pre-production on the movie, he also talked about why everything got scrapped.

In the end, it all came down to Raimi wanting more time to polish the script and missing the deadline that would've allowed for a May 6, 2011 release date:

"It became a thing where there was a deadline and I did not want to make something that was less than great. I thought I had compromised a bit on Spider-Man 3 and I wanted to really pay the audience back on Spider-Man 4 (...) and I could not get the script together in that amount of time. So I told Sony: I think it is best if you go ahead with your planned alternate Spider-Man."

Sam Raimi, director

Collider also reports Sony pushed for the canceled movie to be in 3D to follow the success of James Cameron's Avatar. However, Sam Raimi went against this idea since he claimed 3D shots needed to be planned before pre-production began, and it was already too late for that. So perhaps all of the friction between Raimi and the studio - which started with Spider-Man 3 - played a factor in the movie's cancellation too.

It's unclear why Sony didn't simply push back the release date for Spider-Man 4 instead of axing it altogether. However, it seems they were already considering a reboot after the critical backlash of Sam Raimi's third movie in the wall-crawler's saga. Maybe they were trying to replicate the success of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight by making a gritty superhero movie featuring Peter Parker. After all, that's kind of what The Amazing Spider-Man strived to be. So not moving forward with Spider-Man 4 instead of delaying it must have been their way of successfully trying something new with the beloved superhero.

In the end, Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man came out in 2012 and it was a major success, with the Andrew Garfield-led film rebooting the Spider-Man franchise. The sequel would then underperform, setting the stage for another reboot when the character was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What we know about the canceled project

So much time has passed since the planned release date for Spider-Man 4, that we know quite a bit of what could've happened in the movie. Storyboard artist Jeffrey Henderson revealed it would've started with a montage of Spider-Man fighting many classic comic book villains. Mysterio would've been included in that sequence, and would've been played by none other than Bruce Campbell.

The idea behind this casting is that audiences had already seen him many times before in the franchise, but always as a different character. So him being Quentin Beck would've made total sense. Shocker and The Stilt-Man would've also been included in the list of rogues our friendly neighborhood would've faced at the very beginning of the movie.

"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 is actually enjoying it. So we were going to try to do The Shocker, Mysterio, The Stilt-Man, and that kind of stuff."

Jeffrey Henderson, storyboard artist

Interestingly enough, Jeffery mentioned Mary Jane would've been out of Peter's life by the point Spider-Man 4 started. It's also worth noting that when Sony Pictures officially announced the fourth entry in their first Spider-Man franchise, Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire were confirmed to return but Kirsten Dunst wasn't. However, in an interview with MTV, Raimi clarified he couldn't imagine doing the movie without her, so maybe there were different versions of the script just in case she wasn't able to make a return.

Going back to the movie's story; audiences would've seen Spidey face off against John Malkovich's Vulture, who would've acted as the main antagonist. There's even a behind-the-scenes image revealing how part of the villain's costume would've looked like:

Finally, Anne Hathaway revealed she would've played the role of Felicia Hardy - better known as Black Cat - who would've been the Vulture's daughter. But if all of these details aren't enough to paint a clear picture as to what Sam Raimi strived to create, then maybe all the leaked concept art of the movie will. You can watch most of it here, but - to give you a quick glimpse - you can see an amazing illustration of Spidey fighting Vulture here.

There were plans for Spider-Man 5 and Spider-Man 6

Deep down, it'll always hurt how we never got to watch Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4. But did you know we also lost the opportunity to see a fifth and sixth entry in the saga? Back in 2009, it was announced that writer James Vanderbilt was hired to write the scripts for Spider-Man 5 and Spider-Man 6 after making Sony happy with his script for the fourth movie.

While none of those projects came to be, the American writer did get his chance at working on two feature films featuring the wall-crawler. He was among the ones to write the story of the two titles in The Amazing Spider-Man franchise with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. So at the very least, we get an idea of what he could've done in Tobey Maguire's saga.

Can the movie ever be released?

While at some point it seemed impossible for Spider-Man 4 to be released with Tobey Maguire in the lead, now thanks to the multiverse we might get a shot at finally watching that movie. In the same interview with Moviepilot, Sam Raimi revealed he'd be "completely open" to directing the long-awaited project. Besides, now that Tobey made his return as the friendly neighborhood hero in Spider-Man: No Way Home, that scenario seems more likely than ever.

Rumor has it that Sony is interested in bringing back both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's Spider-Men for projects outside of Marvel Studios' MCU franchise (where Tom Holland would remain the Spidey there), so it will be very interesting to see if any project(s) starring one or both of those former Peter Parker actors could come to fruition at some point.

Only time will tell if Spider-Man 4 can ever see the light of day. But if Sony Picture listens to its fans, then maybe that can be the case. And if that isn't enough, we can also hope to see Tobey return to the role in the upcoming Avengers: Secret Wars movie. Fingers crossed he makes an appearance!

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