Spider-Man, Spider-Man almost did a movie with James Cameron(we swear it rhymes if you sing it)! That’s right, true believers, before Avatar, before even Titanic, James Cameron attempted to kick off the MCU over a decade and a half early. According to a Polygon article released around the time of Cameron’s book Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, the famed director even completed a script for the would-be blockbuster in 1993.
So what squashed James Cameron’s Spider-Man flatter than Tim Burton’s Superman Lives? Well, like any Hollywood story, it’s complicated.
Leonardo DiCaprio Almost Played Spider-Man
Cameron once called his unmade ’90s Spider-Man film “the greatest movie I never made.” Indeed, a 30-year-old Variety article quoted an anonymous Hollywood source as saying that Cameron’s Spidey flick was “going to be as big as the Batman movie!” Leonardo DiCaprio said in an interview a few years ago that he recalled having “a couple of chats” with James Cameron about playing Spider-Man in the director’s unmade movie.
While DiCaprio’s involvement with the unmade Spider-Man film didn’t progress nearly as far as Nicolas Cage’s involvement in Superman Lives—no pictures of Leo in a Spider-Man outfit exist as far as anyone knows—the fact that he had conversations with Cameron at all implies that the project was more than just a “What if?” pipedream.
James Cameron Was Hired To Write A Spider-Man Script
If that’s not enough proof that the film made it past just the idea phase, there’s also the fact that James Cameron actually asked production company Carolco whom he had worked on T2 with to purchase the film rights to Spider-Man from infamous studio Canon—the rights holder at the time.
From there, James Cameron was officially “hired” by Carolco to write and direct a Spider-Man film, a contract that Cameron ultimately only completed half of. There does, in fact, exist a Cameron-penned Spider-Man script, and it’s wild. While Peter Parker is still the awkward high-schooler we know and love, everything else is kind of…off.
Cameron’s Vision Of Peter Parker Was Much Different
Described in the script as “your basic sexually pent-up adolescent,” James Cameron’s Peter Parker is a little more risque than the relatively chaste dork fans are used to. One scene from Cameron’s script had Spider-Man spying on Mary Jane while she was getting dressed. Another had him convincing MJ to have sex with him on top of the Brooklyn Bridge by—we’re not kidding—discussing the mating rituals of spiders.
Further shenanigans have Spider-Man dropping F-bombs, threatening to kill his foes, and fighting Electro and Sandman on top of the World Trade Center. This fits with James Cameron’s desire at the time to “make something that had a gritty reality to it.” Cameron has gone into great detail about how he wanted his Spider-Man movie to eschew the fantastic trappings of comic book superheroes and root itself in the real New York of the time.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Was Rumored To Play Doctor Octopus
So, just to recap: you’ve got a director hot off the insanely successful Terminator 2 trying to make the ’90s equivalent of The Dark Knight with Leonardo DiCaprio as Spider-Man, oh and just for thwips and giggles, the biggest action star in the world, Arnold Schwarzenegger was rumored to be playing Doctor Octopus. How did this guaranteed moneymaker not get made? Oh, right, everyone sued the hell out of each other.
Film Rights Are To Blame For The Movie Never Being Made
In 1993, previous film rights owners, Canon, sued Carolco for the rights to the movie back. Carolco, in turn, sued Viacom and Columbia to unite the TV and video rights because Canon sold the rights to Spider-Man in pieces to different companies. Columbia and Viacom turned around and countersued Carolco, only for all of them to be sued by MGM for reasons that are too complicated to get into.
Sony Won The Battle In The End
All of this legal red tape kept Spider-Man off the big screen for the entirety of the ’90s. It wasn’t until 1998 when Marvel regained the rights they had originally sold to Canon in 1985, that they turned around and sold them to Sony for a cool $7 million. Four years later, Sam Raimi—and not James Cameron—would finally bring Spider-Man to the big screen, portrayed by fan-favorite Spidey actor Toby Maguire.
Sadly, A Leo DiCaprio-led grimdark Spider-Man is destined to remain one of Hollywood’s most fascinating “What if?” scenarios. At least until someone inevitably makes it using AI.