As much as we love B-movie supremo Roger Corman, his Fantastic Four adaptation wasn’t exactly MCU standard. It wasn’t even good enough to release officially (producer Berndt Eichinger reputedly only made it so that he could keep hold of the rights to the property).
Cannon, meanwhile, weren’t known for their quality-control standards. The exchange basically meant that Spidey went from the frying pan into the fire. Cannon chiefs Menahem Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus paid just $225,000 for a five-year option (the rights reverted back to Marvel if a movie wasn’t made before 1990), and somehow still didn’t manage to profit from the licence.
Part of the problem was that they fundamentally didn’t get the character, and attempted to do something like David Cronenberg was doing with The Fly.
They targeted The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper, and hired Outer Limits creator Leslie Stevens to draft an out-there version of Peter’s origin story.
In this new version, instead of being bitten by a radioactive spider, Parker was deliberately bombarded with radiation by a corporate scientist – named Doctor Zork – who transforms the ID photographer (not student, or journalist) into a giant eight-armed spider-hybrid, who’s so monstrous he swiftly becomes suicidal. Yay?
This man-spider is encouraged to lead the scientist’s race of mutants (shades of The Island Of Dr Moreau), but refuses and fights the creations instead.
Stan Lee, understandably, was unhappy with the changes and convinced Cannon to abandon this version of the project.
A new pitch was put together by Ted Newsom and John Brancato, which felt more traditional – and actually sounds a lot like the Spider-Man PS4 game.
As in the game, this take saw Otto Octavius as a teacher and mentor to a college-aged Peter Parker.
The same accident that transforms Peter also turns Otto into Doctor Octopus, who tries to control the world using a previously undiscovered ‘fifth force’ of nature. As a result, New York City is threatened, as is the world.
Joseph Zito, who had just helmed Cannon's hit Chuck Norris flick Invasion USA, took over from Tobe Hooper as director. Barney Cohen, creator of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Forever Knight was hired as screenwriter, added action scenes, and gave Doc Ock the catch phrase, ‘Okey-dokey’. He also simplified the villain’s aim – shifting from the fifth force to an ability to control gravity.
Cannon’s budget for the project was around $20 million, which was relatively high for the studio. However, after costly failures Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Masters of the Universe, the company halved the budget to under $10 million. Zito left the project, figuring he wouldn't be able to do it on that budget.
The cast they were going for was… Ambitious. Tom Cruise (admittedly early in his career) as Parker, Bob Hoskins as Doc Ock, Christopher Lee as a supporting scientist, Lauren Bacall or Katharine Hepburn for Aunt May, with Stan Lee potentially playing Daily Bugle editor J Jonah Jameson in a role that wasn’t so much a cameo as a supporting part.
Stunt man (and part time Marvel model) Scott Leva was also in contention for the title role, and read each draft. He said: "Ted Newsom and John Brancato had written the script. It was good, but it needed a little work. Unfortunately, with every subsequent rewrite by other writers, it went from good to bad to terrible."
The project didn’t go ahead, with the production shut down – but not before $1.5 million was spent during the development stage. Yikes.
Eventually, the rights went to 21st Century (not to be confused with 20th Century Fox), who teamed with Carolco and MGM to hire James Cameron to direct his own version of the film.
This would have featured Arnie as Doc Ock, as well as added profanity, and a sex scene between Parker and Mary Jane Watson. In 1992, the project was shut down.
In 1996, Marvel went bankrupt, returning in 1998 thanks to a Toy Biz deal. They sold many of their properties to film studios, with Spider-Man going to Columbia, a subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
They sold as many licences as they could, only retaining the rights to the comic-book characters no-one else wanted. You know, folks like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye… The nobodies, basically.
If Tobe Hooper had made his horror version of the Spider-Man character, maybe Cannon would still be churning out spider-movies today. Maybe Marvel wouldn’t have had to dip into their intellectual-property barrel, creating the MCU in the process. Maybe the current cinematic landscape would look completely different.
We know which ‘What If…’ universe we’d rather live in (spoiler alert, it’s the one we already have).
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