Long before Sam Raimi would bring Spider-Man to the big screen in 2002, James Cameron was interested in securing the rights for a film based on the iconic Marvel superhero.
During a recent roundtable discussion about his upcoming book Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron, the blockbuster director opened up about his version of Spider-Man. Per ScreenCrush, the three-time Oscar-winner was in the process of writing a Spidey project in the years between 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 1997’s Titanic, and now considers it “the greatest movie I never made.”
“The first thing you’ve got to get your mind around is, it’s not Spider-Man,” he said. “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 continued, “I wanted to make something that had a kind of gritty reality to it. 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. … 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.”
Unfortunately, Cameron was unable to secure the rights, despite working with with “Stan Lee’s blessing” and advisement. The filmmaker attempted to save his Spider-Man by going to 20th Century Fox and telling them to pick it up, but they didn’t want to get into a fight with Sony, which had a “very questionable” grip on the material.
“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,” Cameron explained. “Peter Chernin [chairman/CEO of the Fox Group] 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!’” The Avatar director pointed out that about “$10 billion later,” his thinking has been proven right.