The Spider-Man franchise is one of the best comic series adaptations in the world today. Did you know that Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man were written by a Navy veteran though? That's right, Alvin Sargent, two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter for Julia and Ordinary People, served in the U.S. Navy.
Sargent attended high school outside Philadelphia but dropped out to join the U.S. Navy during World War II. He confessed during a 2008 interview with the Writers Guild Foundation, that he really made the move to ensure he would get a diploma. “If you quit high school during the war and your grades were not very good and you’re not even going to graduate, they graduate you,” he said.
While serving in the Navy, Sargent found he had a talent for typing. “It never occurred to me to be a screenwriter, or any kind of a writer, or anything, actually. I never had a plan,” he said. “I learned to type. That was my one skill. After I got out, I took jobs to earn a living. But my one passion was typing.”
He broke into the industry in the 1950s and his career lasted all the way to 2012. He wrote comedy, drama and transitioned into comic book adaptations later in his career. He even served as an uncredited screenwriter on the first Spider-Man film. Further credits include Paper Moon, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, What About Bob?, Unfaithful and Straight Time. He collaborated with directors such as Robert Redford, John Frankenheimer, Martin Ritt, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdonovich, Sam Raimi and Marc Webb.
The quintessential sequel to Sam Raimi's breakout initial volume of the franchise, Spider-Man 2 kicked butt in many ways. First off, its cast is incredible with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Alfred Molina. The direction and special effects do a great job of taking us into the world of our favorite neighborhood Spider-Man. Even more so with the story, Spidey must face off against the brilliant and evil Dr. Octopus to save NYC from his evil clutches. The CGI is top rate and Molina brings his best as the baddie with eight limbs, four of which are mechanical. The film won Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards and was nominated for two more. It received five awards at the Saturn Awards and it demolished with box office with $789M in revenue on a $200M budget. Raimi, Sargent and the entire cast and crew did a superb job so that this film goes down in history as one of the best superhero films of all time. The continued success of Spidey likely led to the further expanded MCU.
In the final part of the trilogy brought to the world by Sam Raimi, Sargent did another bang-up job with his script which led to another excellent overall performance. Spider-Man 3 stars Maguire, Franco and Dunst this time with Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard and the venerable J.K. Simmons (PARKER!!). In this outing, Spidey must face off against the Sandman, Harry Osborn, his former friend and Venom aka Eddie Brock. Lots for Peter to do in this movie. Lots. We also get to meet Gwen Stacy, one of Peter's love interests apart from Mary Jane. The film did great at the box office with a take of $895M against a budget of somewhere in the range of $258M to $350M. Still a fantastic job and a hit for the ages.
Julia is the film for which Sargent won his first Oscar for writing with the Best Adapted Screenplay award. The movie is an American World War II drama film based on Lillian Helman's 1973 book titled Pentimento. It is about Helman's relationship with her lifelong friend, Julia. Julia fought against tyranny from the Nazis prior to World War II. It was directed by Fred Zinnemann, and stars Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook and Meryl Streep in her debut film. The movie did well at the box office with a $20M take against a budget of $7M. Moreso, it was nominated for 11 Oscars and won three including one for Sargent, which includes Best Supporting Actor (Robards) and Best Supporting Actress (Redgrave).
Ordinary People was Robert Redford's directorial debut and was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. It is based on the book by Judith Guest of the same name which was published in 1976. The film stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsch and Timothy Hutton and was released on September 19, 1980. The story follows a wealthy family that breaks apart after the accidental death of their two sons and the other son attempts suicide. The film made $90M in the box against a budget of $6.2M. It was nominated for six Oscars and won four, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Hutton). Another fine job of screenwriting by Mr. Sargent.
Paper Moon made its silver screen debut on April 9, 1973, which came from the 1971 book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown. The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and was adapted to the screen by Sargent, and he was nominated for Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film is shot in black and white and stars the father-daughter duo of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal as Moze and Addie. The supporting cast includes Madeline Kahn and John Hillerman. The story follows conman Moze and his daughter as they travel across the Kansas and Missouri countryside during the Great Depression. It was a critical and box office hit to include Tatum O'Neal earning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress which made her the youngest winner of the award. It brought in $30.9M in revenue on a mere budget of $2.5M.
Alvin Sargent was one of a kind. After a storied career, he passed away at the age of 92 in 2019.