It’s hard to think back at a time, when the United States needed a hero more than ever following the fateful day on September 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 lives were extinguished in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania by four hijacked airliners in the deadliest attack on American soil. A mere eight months later, Spider-Man answered the call.
Some of the promotional footage including the trailers involved the Twin Towers, which the terrorists took down on 9/11. Sony deleted any references to the landmark prior to releasing the film. When the film was released in May 2002, it provided a relief for American audiences and some claimed ushered a new wave of escapism giving birth the modern superhero movie as we know it.
Directed by Sam Raimi, whose greatest acclaim at the time was the Evil Dead trilogy, already had prior experience directing another superhero film, the cult classic 1990 Darkman with Liam Neeson. Spider-Man starred Tobey Maguire in the title role and alter-ego Peter Parker alongside Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson and James Franco as Harry Osborn.
Facing Spider-Man is his greatest rival, the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), who also is Harry’s father Norman.
Despite changing any reference to the towers following the attacks, the film still treaded a thin line given sensitivity of the action. Most of the fights between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin took place across buildings in New York. Goblin’s weapon of choice is bombs and he flies on a glider. You can see where people can be sensitive about those who are falling off of buildings or having to avoid collapsing debris.
The concerns weren’t so far-fetched because the FCC worked with TV and radio broadcasters to avoid as many references to terror and explosions in the short term, which I imagine was quite difficult.
Ultimately, the film became a resounding success, not because of how close Raimi captured the essence of Spider-Man, rather the film allowed Americans to confront adversity at its greatest peak and have hope again.
How much did the film fulfill the need for Americans to hope again? As of the 15th anniversary of the tragedy, it still remains the highest grossing superhero origin film at $403.7 million, which currently beats no. 2 in Deadpool by over $40 million.
Spider-Man resonated with audiences not just because of how many can empathize with Peter Parker and trying to uphold responsibility with his newfound powers, but in the effort to do what right for his community, he served as a beacon of inspiration for everyone around him. People took up courage because he stood for them. Spidey became far more than just a symbol for New Yorkers to embrace, he represented the need for Americans to hope and dream again.