James Cameron Details ‘Gritty’ Unmade ‘Spider-Man’ Movie: ‘The Greatest Movie I Never Made’

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  • James Cameron
    James Cameron
    Canadian film director

With a new book on the horizon, James Cameron is finally sharing details about his unmade “Spider-Man” movie.

To explain: In 1993 James Cameron submitted a “script-ment” to Carolco Pictures, which had purchased the rights to the character from Cannon Films, which had recently gone under. “It’s going to be as big as the ‘Batman’ movie,” proclaimed an unnamed agent in the pages of Variety. (At the time Cameron was in production on “True Lies.”) In the sad wheel of Hollywood, Carolco went under before Cameron could mount his version of the character and the property was part of a thorny legal tug-of-war, complicated further by Marvel’s own bankruptcy. (During this time Arnold Schwarzenegger was heavily rumored to co-star as Doc Ock, although the character doesn’t appear in Cameron’s pitch.) Eventually Sony landed as the license-holder, leading to the proliferation of Spider-films we have today.

In his new book “Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron” (featuring a forward by his longtime friend/former housemate Guillermo del Toro), Cameron shares art from the project and describes his “Spider-Man” as “the greatest movie I never made.” Now, thanks to an interview with Screen Crush, Cameron is elaborating on why that is.

Cameron told Screen Rant, as part of a roundtable promoting the book, that his version was going to be “very different.” “The first thing you’ve got to get your mind around,” Cameron told Screen Crush, “is it’s not Spider-Man. He goes by Spider-Man, but he’s not Spider-Man. He’s Spider-Kid. He’s Spider-High-School-Kid. He’s kind of geeky and nobody notices him and he’s socially unpopular and all that stuff.” Cameron saw the film as “a metaphor for puberty and all the changes to your body, your anxieties about society, about society’s expectations, your relationships with your gender of choice that you’re attracted to, all those things.”

And what came out of this approach was one of the few things adopted by the eventual Sam Raimi-led version of the property – organic web-shooters. “Going with the biological web shooters as being part of his biological adaptation to the radioactive spider bite made sense to me,” Cameron said. Stan Lee also championed the idea.

As for his overall vision for the project, he shared that too. “I wanted to make something that had a kind of gritty reality to it,” he noted. “Superheroes in general always came off as kind of fanciful to me, and I wanted to do something that would have been more in the vein of ‘Terminator’ and ‘Aliens,’ that you buy into the reality right away. So you’re in a real world, you’re not in some mythical Gotham City. Or Superman and the Daily Planet and all that sort of thing, where it always felt very kind of metaphorical and fairytale-like,” Cameron told Screen Crush. “I wanted it to be: It’s New York. It’s now. A guy gets bitten by a spider. He turns into this kid with these powers and he has this fantasy of being Spider-Man, and he makes this suit and it’s terrible, and then he has to improve the suit, and his big problem is the damn suit. Things like that. I wanted to ground it in reality and ground it in universal human experience. I think it would have been a fun film to make.” That sounds awesome. It’s also very funny to hear Cameron, who fetishizes machinery in nearly every one of his films, talk about how interested he was in the suit. Because of course he was.

According to Cameron, he was still interested even after Carolco went under, telling Screen Crush: “I tried to get Fox to buy it, but apparently the rights were a little bit clouded and Sony had some very questionable attachment to the rights and Fox wouldn’t go to bat for it. [Former Fox president] Peter Chernin just wouldn’t go to bat for it. He didn’t want to get into a legal fight over it. And I’m like ‘Are you kidding? This thing could be worth, I don’t know, a billion dollars!’ $10 billion later…”

Ultimately, it was for the best, as Cameron decided not to “labor in the house of others’ IP,” which of course led to “Titanic” and the still-under-production “Avatar” franchise, with the first sequel to the 2009 film coming out next Christmas (supposedly). But still, his “Spider-Man” remains a tantalizing what-if.