Once upon a time, long before the Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and now Tom Holland donned the Spider-Man suit on the big screen, the character was set to get in a very different direction. That’s because the great James Cameron was planning a movie about the web-slinger and, by all accounts, had plans to make a superhero movie very different than what we’ve gotten so far in Marvel. The plan for the film, which was pretty gigantic, ultimately fell through, but recently James Cameron gave some more details on his Spider-Man movie and how it would have been different from what we’ve seen since.
In his book Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron (via ScreenCrush), the iconic director lays out a number of different sketches and artwork he’s done over the years from various movie concepts he’d worked on. One of those was Spider-Man and Cameron dished on some of the details in his struggle to get a Peter Parker movie made in the early 90s. He wanted to take the character in a different direction from what we’ve seen these days. Among other things, James Cameron said the plan for Peter was to make him a very geeky high school kid, with the director saying this version would have been “socially awkward” and “unpopular”. It seems that Cameron’s plan was to lean much more heavily into this aspect than other films we’ve seen around the character.
Additionally, James Cameron had some different plans for the Spider-Man abilities as well. His version of the character was going to have web shooters that were part of his biological makeup rather than something Peter Parker manufactured and created on his own. For James Cameron, this felt more a more natural approach though he says his version of this change would have been different than the Tobey Maguire/ Sam Raimi version.
James Cameron says he was going for a “gritty” approach to the film and story, something that bore out a more realistic adaptation of a kid crimefighter coming to grips with his powers. While the Raimi movies were great, no one would call them gritty. Along these lines, James Cameron says:
“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…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…”
Considering this James Cameron Spider-Man movie was after he had done Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but before Titanic, the director had some familiar faces in mind for the role. Apparently, the plan was to cast Leonardo DiCaprio as Peter Parker, a move that would have still been at the very early stages of the superstar actor’s career. And Cameron was also going to reunite with the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doctor Octopus. It would have been a blockbuster through and through. And given Cameron’s track record, I think it’s safe to say it would have been pretty awesome.
But this was long before superhero movies had become fully part of the mainstream, and James Cameron struggled to get this made for a number of different reasons. As with most things in the industry, the issue was money. He was working with Carolco Pictures who had produced Judgment Day. But they were going belly up. He tried to sell his movie to a few other studios but folks just couldn’t see the comic book writing on the wall just yet. No one was interested, plus the rights to the character weren’t exactly crystal clear at this point. The movie died on the proverbial vine. It’s a shame because we know James Cameron is about the best to ever do it, and he clearly had a spectacular vision for what a Spider-Man movie could be.