From J.K. Simmons to Emma Stone, Bill Nunn to Marisa Tomei, the Spider-Man film franchise has been blessed with extraordinary talents in front of the camera since its inception in 2002. Starring and supporting characters alike are filled with some of the most talented actors in Hollywood, bringing believable human performances to the amazing world created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
In addition to the exceptional supporting cast, the three actors to portray the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in live-action, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland, have each brought their own unique traits to the web-slinging hero. But which one would fans say is the best? While they all provided memorable performances, some parts in the movies helped them stand out and succeed more than others.
Updated on January 17th, 2022 by Kayleigh Banks: With Tom Holland’s No Way Home having the second-biggest opening weekend and earning more than $1 billion worldwide, it’s pretty obvious that he ended his trilogy on a high note. However, just because it is the most successful movie out of all the live-action Spider-Men does not mean that Holland is the best one.
With Golden Globe nominee, Tobey Maguire, and recent Golden Globe winner, Andrew Garfield, also putting in amazing performances in Sam Raimi’s and Marc Webb’s movies separately, it’s not surprising that fans have been struggling to choose between them. Nevertheless, while they have all provided iconic performances, there are certainly great elements in each movie that have helped all three actors portray the web-slinger differently.
Maguire Was Able To Portray Peter’s Struggles Effectively
One of the underlying, fundamental aspects of Spider-Man is that he simply can’t have things go his way, and Maguire shines when portraying the frustration and acceptance Peter feels.
Spider-Man 2‘s “Pizza Time” opening remains one of the most entertaining superhero movie intros ever. Peter desperately tries to beat the clock on delivering a stack of pizzas so he can keep his job, swinging across the city while still heroically saving a couple of kids in the street. He sneaks into his destination through a janitor’s closet, but despite his best efforts, he’s a few minutes late. The pained look on Maguire’s face says everything as he quietly accepts his fate. The audience knows Peter is always trying to do the right thing, which makes it that much harder when he can’t catch a break.
Maguire’s Portrayal Had The Best Comic Book Feel
Regardless of where Holland takes the character, Maguire’s Spider-Man will forever be remembered for the exciting, comic book fun that it is. Maguire and Raimi managed to craft Peter as a relatable human being who just happens to be put in extraordinary circumstances, and Maguire plays to that element perfectly.
One of the best decisions Raimi made was allowing Maguire’s face to be shown during each film’s climax. Each villain – Norman Osborne, Otto Octavius, Harry Osborne, Flint Marko, and Eddie Brock – has a personal connection to Peter, and having them see Peter (and not just Spider-Man) attempting to save their lives allows the humanity of the comics to come through the screen.
Maguire Was The Best Peter Parker
While all three actors provide a refreshing take on how Peter Parker should behave, it is Maguire’s version that is fondly remembered the most. When it comes to his portrayal, Maguire’s clumsy and awkward mannerisms are perfect as it means that his Peter can blend into his surroundings a lot easier.
Similar to a bumbling Clark Kent, no one would really suspect Maguire’s Peter of being Spider-Man considering that he often trips up over his feet, isn’t confident, and can be unreliable. However, this is exactly what he wants. Not only does it allow him to find a perfect balance between his two lives, but it ensures his loved ones were safe too (something that was most important to him).
Maguire Captured Peter’s Innate Darkness
While it had been briefly touched upon in both Holland’s and Garfield’s, their portrayal of Peter’s innate darkness was not as memorable or developed as Maguire’s. Whether it was him chasing after his uncle’s ‘killer,’ viciously attacking Sandman and Harry, or humiliating MJ at work because she broke up with him, there was something chilling in the way Peter’s darkness overwhelmed him.
What made these scenes all the more effective was the fact that Maguire chose to deliver his lines either coldly or emotionless. In those moments, he was no longer the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man but someone completely different. While it’s not a side many people like to see, it did help to make him a more complex and dynamic character.
Garfield Had Great Emotional Vulnerability/Range
Thanks in part to director Marc Webb’s desire to let the smaller, character moments play out in his films, Garfield excels in getting an opportunity to portray Peter’s humanity through his emotional availability.
This is evident in The Amazing Spider-Man after Peter sneaks into Gwen’s bedroom and expresses his guilt over Dr. Connors’ transformation. Here, he conveys that he’s learning to embrace the responsibility his Uncle Ben had spoken about. Garfield brings a particular vulnerability to his performance that allows the audience in on the pain and the growth he’s experiencing.
Garfield’s Portrayal Was The Most Realistic
Garfield was already in his late 20’s when he first donned the Spider outfit, but, nevertheless, he nails the look and feel of the superhero. Maguire was a bit bulkier and always looked older than his age, and while Holland certainly is the right age and has the physical chops, he doesn’t quite match up to the tall and slender Garfield.
As Peter, Garfield captures the brilliant but socially awkward teenage nerd who also isn’t afraid to stand up for people. He has an edge and a teenage angst that feels very realistic, perhaps due to him being slightly older when he was cast and having had time to be introspective of his teenage years.
Garfield Had The Best Acting
Having already begun to garner critical acclaim for his performance in The Social Network and Never Let Me Go, Garfield was the most accomplished actor to be cast as Peter Parker. Indeed, his performance as Peter and Spider-Man never feels like acting; it feels like he’s living through the extraordinary moments he’s experiencing.
While Maguire’s acting works within Raimi’s over-the-top, heartfelt world and Holland delivers the goods on lines such as “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good,” Garfield consistently and quietly kills it in his role, never giving the scene more than it needs and often burying subtle facial gestures and speech patterns into his performance. Emotional moments such as Peter’s breakup with Gwen or Gwen’s demise demonstrate the soft-touch Garfield is capable of laying on the table.
Garfield’s Movies Had The Best Romance Storyline
Raimi’s and Jon Watts’ trilogies did their best to create well-developed romances, but their story wasn’t as emotionally resonating as Gwen and Peter’s in The Amazing Spider-Man movies. Although they didn’t get as much time, fans grew to love their romance as it was full of depth and engaging subplots.
While it did help that Garfield and Stone had amazing chemistry together, their relationship allowed viewers to see the soft and sweeter side to Peter as they often joked or tried to come up with the best solutions together. It might not have ended the way the audiences wanted, but they can tell that Garfield put his heart and soul into those sad scenes at the end of Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Garfield’s Relationship With His Aunt May Felt A Lot More Authentic
While Maguire and Holland’s great chemistry with Rosemary Harris and Marisa Tomei played an important part in their trilogies’ stories, many fans will agree that Garfield and Sally Field’s dynamic had much more of a profound impact.
When it came to the interactions between the two, audiences generally believed that Garfield and Field could have been related as they both delivered authentic and emotional performances. Where Garfield would act sarcastic and witty with the criminals or enemies, he would do the complete opposite in his scenes with Aunt May. He would talk to her in a respectful and calm manner, and would always take her thoughts and advice into consideration. Their conversations were always so endearing and heartwarming to watch.
Holland’s Youthfulness Helped To Shape The Character
Out of all of the actors, Holland best exemplifies the youthful, teenage exuberance of Peter Parker. This is because Holland was by far the youngest of the three when he first appeared in the role, being only 19 years old in Captain America: Civil War.
Holland does so well at demonstrating the oblivious shock and awe a teenager would exhibit when put in the extraordinary circumstances he faces. In his scenes with the Avengers, he is consistently star-struck by their presence, and when engaging in battle, he offers a never-ending string of quips that demonstrates his nervous energy. This is memorably played for laughs in his very first appearance as Spider-Man in Civil War when he battles Bucky, Falcon, and Ant-Man.
Holland’s Physicality Helped Strengthen The Role
Before being cast as the third live-action actor to play Spider-Man on the big screen, Holland was already an accomplished gymnast and dancer, which he was eager to show the production team in his audition (via Associative Press). Holland’s physical capabilities did indeed assist him in both landing the role and shaping it.
The stunt teams worked with Holland extensively to lend more credibility to the part, allowing Holland to participate in a good amount of Spider-Man’s stunts. Not that Garfield or Maguire were slouches in their spandex, but Holland embodies the physical movements of Spider-Man better than either previous incarnation (which should assist him in his upcoming adventures as the mountain-climbing Nathan Drake).
Holland’s Spider-Man Had The Greatest Appeal
MCU fans were ecstatic when Sony and Marvel announced the landmark deal to incorporate Spidey into the MCU. The announcement of the talented and humble Holland only increased the excitement among fans.
Entering a franchise with notably older actors, Holland instantly helped appeal to a younger audience who could see him as more relatable than Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor. Additionally, being thrust into the MCU immediately increased his exposure and injected youthful life into the already-thriving franchise, with Holland’s genuine excitement becoming apparent in his famously spoiler-ish interviews.
Holland’s Character Development
One way that Tom Holland’s portrayal of the Marvel superhero had the edge on all the others was through his character development. While it’s not exactly Maguire or Garfield’s fault that they didn’t get as many movies as Holland (especially since they weren’t part of the MCU), it’s not surprising that the viewers preferred Holland as they saw him explore the role in-depth.
From being a naive and impulsive teenager to a mature and independent young man, Holland’s Peter underwent a tremendous character arc. He might have not have known how to handle the responsibility of being a hero at first, but audiences eventually saw him grow into the position as the years went on (to the extent that he became a great leader).
The Writing Helped Holland’s Peter More Relatable
Out of the three Spider-Men, Tom Holland’s web-slinger did prove to be the most relatable since the audience got a lot of insight into his teen years and the internal conflicts he faced. Although Raimi and Webb’s first movies show Peter in high school, they never really explored the problems he faced as a regular teenager.
In Holland’s version, the viewers see him struggle to go to social events, try to fit into school, and hide secrets from his friends. They even see him and Ned talking about their interests too and what they will do in their spare time (such as building a LEGO Death Star). Moments like these just remind the audience that Peter is just as human as anyone else.
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