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James Cameron Failed to Get Fox to Buy Him ‘Spider-Man’ Rights: ‘This Could Be Worth $1 Billion!’

Cameron says his unmade "Spider-Man" movie is "more in the vein of 'Terminator' and 'Aliens,' you buy into the reality right away."


James Cameron, “Spider-Man”

AP Images/Everett Collection

Long before Sam Raimi redefined comic book movies with his 2002 “Spider-Man” movie, it was James Cameron who wanted to bring the web-slinger to the big screen. In his new book “Tech Noir: The Art of James Cameron,” the “Titanic” and “Avatar” filmmaker calls his version of “Spider-Man” the “greatest movie I never made.” The director tried and failed to mount his own “Spider-Man” movie in the years between “Terminator 2: Judgment Da” and “Titanic.” Cameron reflected on the project during a recent roundtable interview attended by ScreenCrush, noting his vision for the comic book film is “very different” than what Sam Raimi came up with.

“The first thing you’ve got to get your mind around is, it’s not Spider-Man,” Cameron 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.”

In Cameron’s “Spider-Man,” the superhero’s powers are “a great metaphor” for “that untapped reservoir of potential that people have that they don’t recognize in themselves. And it was also in my mind a metaphor for puberty and all the changes to your body, your anxieties about society, about society’s expectations, your relationships with your gender of choice that you’re attracted to, all those things.”

“I wanted to make something that had a kind of gritty reality to it,” Cameron continued. “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. So you’re in a real world, you’re not in some mythical Gotham City or Superman and the Daily Planet and all that sort of thing, where it always felt very kind of metaphorical and fairytale-like. 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. I think it would have been a fun film to make.”

“Spider-Man” rights stopped Cameron from getting to make his comic book movie. At some point the film rights to the superhero were up for grabs, but Cameron couldn’t get Fox to nab them.

“All of a sudden it was a free ball,” Cameron said. “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. [Former Fox President] Peter Chernin just wouldn’t go to bat for it. He didn’t want to get into a legal fight. And I’m like ‘Are you kidding? This thing could be worth, I don’t know, a billion dollars!’ $10 billion later…”

Once his “Spider-Man” movie fell through, Cameron made the following vow: “I made a decision after ‘Titanic’ to just kind of move on and do my own things and not labor in the house of others’ IP. So I think [‘Spider-Man’ not coming together] was probably the kick in the ass that I needed to just go make my own stuff.”

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