There have been three actors who have played Spider-Man in the modern era, and all of them have brought something new and different to the role. With each incarnation, the styles changed. The times changed. The comic book influences changed.
Tobey Maguire was the first to take up the challenge in 2002 when Sam Raimi brought the web-slinging superhero to big-screen cinemas with Spider-Man. His reign ended with Spider-Man 3 in 2007.
Andrew Garfield was next to step into the role, which started in 2012 with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man and ended in 2014 with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (both directed by Marc Webb).
And then in 2016, Marvel struck a deal with Sony to use Spider-Man in the MCU, which brought us another iteration of the character. Tom Holland stepped up and continues to be the current Spider-Man as of this writing. He's been in six Marvel movies and counting!
Which of the three Spider-Man actors have been the best, the most iconic, the most influential? Who understood the role on a deeper level than the others? Can we call any of them the Michael Keaton or Hugh Jackman of Spider-Man?
Join us as we compare each of them across five different criteria to find out who truly reigns supreme as king of the Spider-Men.
1. Performance as Peter Parker
Throughout the comic books, Peter Parker has undergone several changes, but one thing always remained true: he's a guy who's blessed with extraordinary power, and he just wants to do the right thing.
Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker best represented Uncle Ben's mantra of "With great power comes great responsibility." He was nerdy, endlessly apologizing for being late, and knew that he couldn't have the things he wanted most because of his duty to the mask.
Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker was more reckless, more willing to risk the things around him, and didn't have the same handle that Maguire had on the Great Responsibility. However, this more edgy version of Peter Parker was charismatic in a charming way.
Tom Holland understands the geeky side of Peter Parker. He knows he isn't popular at all, but he can lean into it because he has great friends around him. He's fully aware of the Great Responsibility, and has help from mentor figures like Tony Stark and Nick Fury.
2. Performance as Spider-Man
When Peter Parker dons the Spider-Man suit, he feels liberated from the restraint of being Peter Parker—which is why Spider-Man and Peter Parker often behave like different characters.
Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man had a measure of fun to him, but there was always a seriousness that underpinned the more carefree aspects of the mask. That said, he was a hero in every sense of the word, and he never shied away from the harshest challenges.
Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man was more of an extension of his Peter Parker, just dialed up to eleven. He was more arrogant, but watching him have fun with low-level criminals was in the essence of Spider-Man. He had a hero factor to him, but to a lesser degree.
Tom Holland's Spider-Man is the most rounded. He's funny, joyous, and has the most fun when he's in the suit. His actions are not always the right ones, but he always rectifies his mistakes because of his unflappable moral compass.
3. Use of Intellect and Wit
The use of intellect and wit is always essential to the Spider-Man character because—apart from his webby powers—this cleverness is what makes Peter Parker a hero in his own right.
Tobey Maguire's character was all about the moral question of being Spider-Man. While his intelligence came across in the films well, it was never a highlight of them. There was a feeling that Maguire's Parker knew more than he ever let on.
Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man used his intellect more often than Maguire did, especially when fighting his enemies. There was always a sense that Garfield's Parker was the most switched-on person in the room underneath his exterior.
Tom Holland's Peter Parker and Spider-Man both rely on intelligence more than the others, but you never get the sense that he's vastly superior to the characters around him. (Maybe that's because he's often in the presence of characters like Tony Stark and Dr. Strange.)
4. Funny Quips and Humor
This aspect is more down to the screenplay than it is to the actors, but pulling off Spider-Man's wit and bringing his lines to life is absolutely an integral part of embodying the character.
Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man did have a few good one-liners in his movies, but there wasn't as much focus on humor with him than there were with future iterations of the character.
Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man was much better when it came to having a mouth. He was often quipping in the heat of battle and while he was generally having fun around New York, which definitely suited his more skater-ish version of the character.
Tom Holland's character uses quips differently—mainly to point out a humorous reference or to remark on the change of environment around him. But he also makes fun of low-level criminals while fighting crime, and even made some gags when fighting some of the Avengers.
5. Heroic Moments
The grandest points of any Spider-Man movie are the "hero moments"—the ones where you're sitting on edge, wondering how he's going to make it out of this one, only for the Web-Head to pull off an incredible feat and turn the tables on the bad guys.
Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man had a few great moments, ranging from his removal of the symbiote to his final fight against Green Goblin, but his most heroic moment is when he stopped the runaway subway in Spider-Man 2. Everything about that scene was epic and iconic.
Andrew Garfield's most heroic moment came at the very end of his tenure as Spider-Man. In The Amazing Spider-Man 2, after he gave up the mantle because of Gwen Stacy's death, he ultimately decides to take it back up because it's his responsibility.
Tom Holland has a far longer list of heroic moments because he's had more screentime as Spider-Man. But his best moment comes in Spider-Man: Homecoming when he leaves Liz at the dance to go stop Adrian Toomes and ends up having to free himself from a building that fell on top of him. It's a moment straight out of the comics, and it was a representation of everything Spider-Man is about.
Our Verdict on the Best Spider-Man
Looking at all the points made, it's clear that all three have their strengths and weaknesses. However, for us, the original performance hasn't yet been topped: Tobey Maguire's portrayal of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is still the best.
Andrew Garfield was the funniest of the three, while Tom Holland has so much more to give to the role. (Holland may eventually end up being the best Spider-Man, given the ongoing opportunities he has thanks to his involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
But as of this writing, looking at the three different Spider-Man actors, Tobey Maguire stands out. His Peter Parker was more grounded than the others; he understood what it meant to be a superhero better than the others; his Spider-Man had the harshest challenges to deal with.
Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland felt like they always were the same person (with or without the powers), whereas Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker felt like a different person when he became Spider-Man.
It might be a cliché in the Spider-Man movies, but "With great power comes great responsibility" defined the Maguire incarnation—and he earned his status as a true hero in a way that the other two didn't.