Movies That Never Were – Spider-Man Part 3

Welcome to the third, and final, part of the murky history of Spider-Man on film. Here is where we find out James Cameron’s involvement and where things get REALLY messy.

We left our story at the 1989 Cannes film festival where Menahem Golan was seeking money for his Spider-Man film. What he did was to pre-sell the TV rights to Viacom and the home video rights to Columbia Pictures despite the film having not been made yet. This does sound absurd but was actually common practice at the time and is still pretty much the norm today. Columbia pictures actually had a somewhat vested interested in so much as they wanted a franchise for their company. Franchises, then as now, equal the big bucks.

Golan submitted his “new” screenplay to Columbia, whose home video writes also gave them a say on script, which was the original 1985 script with only the date changed. Columbia requested several rewrites, one done by Frank LaLoggia, and one by Neil Ruttenberg, but Columbia’s script analysts considered all three versions to be “essentially the same story.”

Stan “The Man” Lee said in early 1990: “21st Century [is] supposed to do Spider-Man and now they’re talking to Columbia and the way it looks now, Columbia may end up buying Spider-Man from 21st Century.”

Golan still saw this Spider-Man film as his and in 1990 contacted a specical effects company, Light & Motion Corporation, about doing the Visual Effects. They offered the job to stop-motion expert Steven Archer who did the original Charlton Heston Clash of the Titans.

It was around this time that Hollywood trade magazine Variety announced that Carolco Pictures had recieved a completed screenplay from Terminator writer and director James Cameron. It was, however, that original 1985 screenplay with Cameron’s name added to it. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also rumoured to be cast as Doctor Octopus.

Months later James Cameron submitted a 47 page scriptment. A scriptment is a part script and part prose story outline. This version has a take on the Spider-Man origin but featured Electro and Sandman as the villains. This version of Electro was a corrupt capitalist business man rather than a mutant thief with electricity powers called Carlton Strand. Comics Electro was Max Dillon. Sandman in comics was a man who could turn to sand called Flint Marko. The Sandman in this script was called Boyd who was mutated in -drumroll please- a bilocation experiement gone wrong. Seriously what was it with late 1980s and early 1990s proposed scripts and bilocation? I can’t be the only one to find this weird can I?

This story had a final battle on top of the World Train Center that had Peter Parker revealing his secret identiy to Mary Jane Watson.

This treatment also had a BIG change from the comics – Peter Parker was so foul mouthed he made Deadpool appear tame in comparison plus it featured several graphic sex scenes between Spidey and MJ. Of interest though it was the first place where organic web-shooters were mentioned and it did feature a lot of elements from the earlier scripts.

With time running out on Golan’s deal with Marvel, Carolco and 21st Century Films, extended their agreement deal with Marvel through to May 1996. However, despite this extension, active production on Spider-Man ended in April 1992. There were two main reasons for this. The first was quite simply money- the budget wasn’t there to make a film of this scale and funding was proving nearly impossible to secure. The 2nd reason however? Serious legal problems which really is the mess that’s been hinted at through this series.

When James Cameron agreed to make Spider-Man Carolco’s lawyers, to save money, simply used his Terminator 2 contract by changing the words “Terminator 2” to “Spider-Man.” A clause in this contract gave Cameron the right to decide on movie credits. Essentially he had final say in whose names were publicly attached to the film. In 1993 trade articles and adverts for James Cameron’s Spider-Man were starting to appear but none of them made any mention of Golan. Golan, who was still the guy trying to get the film made and had been since 1985, took this personally and sued as his original contract had guaranteed him a producer credit.

Whilst all this was going on Carolco sued both Viacom and Columbia as they were seeking to regain the broadcast and home video rights. Viacom and Columbia, rather understandably, counter sued. 20th Century Fox then got in on the legal action this timing contesting James Cameron’s involvement in the film as they believed him to be under an exclusive contract with them.

By 1996 Carolco, 21st Century, and Marvel themselves had gone bankrupt but by then the Spider-Man rights had become a moot point as in 1995 MGM had acquired all of 21st Century’s films and received “…all rights in and to all drafts and versions of the screenplay(s) for Spider-Man written by James Cameron, Ted Newsom & John Brancato, Menahem Golan, Jon [sic] Michael Paul, Ethan Wiley, Leslie Stevens, Frank Laloggia, Neil Ruttenberg, Barney Cohen, Shepard Goldman and any and all other writers.” MGM also sued 21st Century, Viacon, and Marvel Comics but this time alleging fraud in that original 1985 deal between Marvel and Cannon.

I told you things got messy didn’t I? Fear not though for the end is in sight.

In 1998 Marvel merged with Toy Biz, an action that saved them for bankruptcy, and ultimately saved the company. The courts also decided in 1998 that the deal with Golan had expired and all film rights to Spidey were now back under Marvel control. In early 1999 Marvel licensed Spider-Man to Columbia aka Sony Pictures. MGM however decided to sue (again) this time claiming that they had the Spider-Man rights from when they purchased 21st Century and Cannon’s catelogue.

It’s here where our beloved wallcrawler meets his saviour. That man, or rather character, goes by the name of Bond. James Bond.

MGM, through Eon Productions, had owned the Bond rights since Dr No way back in 1962. However Thunderball, having it’s story by Kevin McClory rather than Ian Fleming, and the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale by Columbia had actually left the rights to Bond more than a little murky.

The Bond films were a massive franchise for MGM and arguably had saved the studio on many occasions due to the sheer amount of money that they made. Columbia had managed to secure enough rights to mount a rival Bond film and MGM were understandably very worried about this as it had the potential to destroy their one big money franchise.

In Marvel of 1999 the two studios made a deal. Columbia would give up it’s legal right to create a new James Bond series of films to rival MGMs if MGM gave up it’s legal action over Spider-Man. That way, the thinking was, MGM would keep the Bond franchise and Columbia (Sony) would get a shiny new Spider-Man franchise. Everybody wins.

In 2000, after 15 years of production hell, Spider-Man finally started on his way to the silver screen and in 2002 Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man was released in no small part thanks to the assistance of James Bond.

We made it didn’t we? This one has definitely been a slog to get through but hopefully it’s been fun and informative. And as I’m sure you all know by now Sony Pictures are now working with Marvel Studios on an upcoming movie called Spider-Man: Homecoming. It’s taken over 30 years from when the first rights deal was signed but the cinematic Spidey is now finally under Marvel’s creative control.

As for the Bond rights mess? That’s a story for another time.