There's a constant debate within the nerd-o-sphere about which superhero film is best. Some score points for being accurate to the source material, some are of a higher quality than others, and some are just downright enjoyable to sit through while munching down a tub of popcorn.
In the end, this debate always boils down to personal preference, but there's no denying that just one film truly cemented the audience's desire for more superhero films — and that's 2002's Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire. Sure, it's not the best filmmaking that the genre's ever seen, nor is it even close to being the highest grossing, but what this film can claim that no other superhero film can is a crucial role in American pop culture following the horrific events that occurred the morning of September 11th, 2001.
I mean, the guy is so down on his luck that he has to live with his aunt.
For anyone unfamiliar with his role in the comic books, Peter Parker was never some big, strong superhero. He never wore a cape and he he was never really a permanent member of some greater superhero alliance. In fact, he was generally the opposite of what most people would assume a superhero would be. He's a quiet, shy nerd who works a low-paying, entry-level job for a boss that hates him.
In both the films and the comics, Peter Parker is actually the stand-in for the audience. The general public isn't made up of rich billionaire philanthropists or Norse gods — they're just average Joes trying to make ends meet.
We told ourselves we would rebuild. And we did.
The film was in production for years and, just like in the comics, it showcased New York City a character, as much as anyone else in the film. So, in much of the film's advertisements, they used the two most iconic buildings in the New York skyline: the Twin Towers. In promotional posters and even a stand-alone story trailer that showed Spider-Man stopping bank robbers in a getaway helicopter, the Towers placed a fairly central role.
Then, the day that none will forget came. Four passenger airliners were hijacked. Two successfully struck their target, the World Trade Center in New York City, and another hit the Pentagon. The fourth was brought down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
What seemed like an eternity to onlookers took one hour and seventeen minutes. There's no denying that, in this moment, all American felt scared and, for once, vulnerable.
America was hurting bad. Meanwhile, certain scenes had to be re-shot that featured the New York skyline. This, of course, shuffled the release date back. But in the process, Sam Raimi, the director of the film, added one iconic moment that made the most lasting impression on pop culture — the very last twenty seconds of the film.
Spider-Man had saved the day, saved a hurting New York City, swung up to the top of the Empire State Building, and stood in front of a proud, billowing American flag.
It was exactly what most people, especially the film's target demographic — a younger crowd that couldn't really comprehend what had happened — needed to hear. Your average, everyday guy who just happened to be bit by a radioactive spider, is there to save the day.
And that America will be okay.