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The Spider-Man soundtracks are the perfect time capsules of 2000s music

From Nickelback to Post Malone and every genre moment in between

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - Miles Morales listening to Post Malone Sony Pictures Animation

What music does Spider-Man listen to?

In the Oscar-nominated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, music taste is a key component to Miles Morales’ origin story. For a film audience used to numerous incarnations of Peter Parker, the introduction to Miles needed to feel swift, effortless, and individual.

That’s why Miles’ first scene is so striking: Here is a teenage boy in his bedroom, Post Malone blasting from his Sony headphones, blissfully unaware of the time, mindlessly doodling and singing along as his parents try to yell over the isolated noise. Despite being an animated character, Miles, in this moment, is real.

For the past 17 years, Spider-Man has owned real estate on the big screen, and in turn, the soundtracks of the varying adaptations serve as time capsules of music through the 2000s. From the rise of Nickelback to the dominance of mumble rap, Spider-Man movies have mapped musical trends, perhaps subconsciously, through their soundtracks. Here is a breakdown of every Spider-Man soundtrack and what each film was going for — from trends to throwbacks to total misses.

Spider-Man (2002)

Lead single: “Hero” by Chad Kroeger feat. Josey Scott
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “They say that a hero can save us / I’m not gonna stand here and wait”
Notable artists: The Strokes, Sum 41, Aerosmith

Much like Sam Raimi’s franchise-starter — which had to establish a superhero movie language outside of films like Blade (1999) and X-Men (2000) — Music from and Inspired by Spider-Man felt fresh and edgy at the time, but is now delightfully dated. The album homed in on the “friendly neighborhood” aspect of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) by saying: This is totally music that a guy would listen to right now.

Treading a fine line between relatable and edgy, Music from and Inspired by Spider-Man swung in right at the height of the post-grunge rock radio explosion. While many today may scoff at a Nickelback leading the soundtrack, let us not forget that 2002 was the year that “How You Remind Me” was named Top Single of the Year by Billboard; it ended up as the most-played song on U.S. radio of the 2000s decade, according to Nielsen data. Speaking solely from a charts achievement perspective, Nickelback was the Post Malone of its era, making “Hero” (which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100) the Spider-Man single that 2002 deserved.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Lead single: “Vindicated” by Dashboard Confessional
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “Hope dangles on a string / Like slow-spinning redemption / Winding in and winding out / The shine of it has caught my eye / And roped me in”
Notable artists: Train, Maroon 5, Jet, Yellowcard, Taking Back Sunday

Spider-Man 2 found our hero in a tough spot. While Spider-Man had New York mostly protected from superpowered threats, Peter’s personal life was in utter turmoil. Spider-Man 2 was the first of the films to truly delve into Peter’s various conflicts of interest. From Mary Jane’s (Kirsten Dunst) engagement to being responsible for the death of Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), Peter’s stress spiral resulted in him losing his powers throughout the film, during the times he needed them most.

This emotional turmoil was, of course, best represented by emo music, which had broken into the mainstream by 2004. Dashboard Confessional’s lead single, “Vindicated,” plays out like an actual confessional from Peter’s point of view as he processes his newfound confusion: “I am selfish ... I am flawed / But I am cleaning up so well.”

Although the song did not perform as well on the charts as “Hero,” peaking at No. 32 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40, the soundtrack was a breeding ground for acts now considered household names. Maroon 5 contributed “Woman” to the movie’s soundtrack as its second single, “This Love,” climbed up the Billboard charts. Just as this Spider-Man sequel sought to escalate the newly established superhero film genre by pushing the boundaries of what a hero could and should be, the soundtrack simultaneously stayed in touch with what was popular while forecasting new trends and up-and-coming artists.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Lead single: “Signal Fire” by Snow Patrol
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “All I wanted just sped right past me / While I was rooted fast to the earth”
Notable artists: The Flaming Lips, The Killers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yes, Spider-Man 3 is the one where Peter Parker, infected by the Venom symbiote, both dances through the streets to James Brown while shooting finger guns at random women, and takes Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) on a date to the jazz club in which Mary Jane works, only to hijack her performance of “Fever.” The movie ... had a tune all its own.

Neither of the songs that serve as the backdrop to the movie’s infamous scenes make it on Music from and Inspired by Spider-Man 3. Instead, the soundtrack leads with “Signal Fire” by Snow Patrol, first offered up for Shrek the Third. When Dreamworks turned Snow Patrol down, drummer Jonny Quinn reporetedly commented: “Shrek didn’t like it, but Spider-Man did.”

The movie’s out-of-place and somewhat goofy tone — perhaps meant to mirror the strangeness that Peter felt when the Venom symbiote latched onto his body — makes the accompanying indie rock soundtrack seem more out of place than usual. “Signal Fire” is a strangely sincere love song that doesn’t match a movie in which Peter fumes over Mary Jane dating Harry, or makes Mary Jane jealous by dating Gwen. Perhaps the more fitting and bizarre single would have been the soundtrack’s seventh song: “The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How to Be in Love” by the Flaming Lips. Strangely psychedelic, vocally strained, and perhaps way too on the nose, the song gets straight to the heart of the film: “I’ve got the power of a spider but the heart of a man / But the power is in the truth.”

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Lead single: “Til Kingdom Come” by Coldplay
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “I feel my time, my time has come / Let me in, unlock the door / I never felt this way before”
Notable artists: Phantom Planet, The Shins

A fourth Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man film was supposed to follow Spider-Man 3. Raimi, however, left the project in 2010, leading Sony Pictures to reboot the franchise altogether.

Which brings us to The Amazing Spider-Man, a film that attempted to bring Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) back to teen-hood and attempted to build an indie-leaning high school movie out of a superhero blockbuster. The film was directed by Marc Webb, whose directorial debut was 500 Days of Summer. Perhaps Webb’s influence is the reason Garfield’s Peter Parker was presented as an attainable soft boy — an anonymous troublemaker who split his time equally between entertaining his manic pixie dream girl fantasy of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and figuring out the whole “spider” thing.

For each movie of the preceding trilogy, Sony released both the theatrical score and a soundtrack of popular songs inspired by and used in the film. But the company only put out The Amazing Spider-Man’s theatrical score, written by Titanic and Avatar composer James Horner.

Oddly enough, the few popular songs used in the film feel campy in the context of a “gritty reboot.” The lead single for the film was “Til Kingdom Come” by Coldplay, a song from its 2005 album, X&Y. Using a song from the mid-2000s didn’t do the film any favors in terms of distancing itself from the previous trilogy’s legacy. The song appears in a scene where excruciatingly awkward Peter asks Gwen out on a date, and in his elation, skateboards out his emotions to a Coldplay song. The sequence gives the sense that the acoustic indie soundtrack (which features Phantom Planet and The Shins) is meant to evoke the same emotion as, say, The Smiths in 500 Days of Summer. Instead, it comes off as an unintentional parody that doesn’t hold a candle to the soundtracks of Spider-Man films past and future.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

Lead single: “It’s On Again” by Alicia Keys feat. Kendrick Lamar
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “Tell him you got the behavior of your neighbor / Even when stability’s never in your favor / Fly with the turbulence, only last a minute / Land on your dreams, and recognize you live it”
Notable artists: Pharrell Williams, DJ Snake

Taking a radically different approach than with the previous film, Sony tapped Hans Zimmer to compose a score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that featured Pharrell Williams (whom he worked with on Despicable Me), Mike Einziger of Incubus, Dutch composer Junkie XL, Johnny Marr of The Smiths, and film composers Andrew Kawczynski and Steve Mazzaro. Zimmer dubbed the supergroup “The Magnificent Six,” a reference to the Sinister Six, a group of villains who often appear in Spider-Man comics.

The tracks were a erratic blend of hip-hop and EDM with sweeping orchestral suites. The most bizarre of these was “My Enemy,” an eight-minute track used to score the first major battle between Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Peter Parker in Times Square. The whispering from Electro’s inner monologue accents the piece, which eventually explodes into a laughably surprising dubstep bass drop at the height of one of the film’s most tense scenes. This “modern” twist on the film score seemed to pay homage to the rising popularity of EDM and trap music, but failed to complement a film that was already overstuffed with plot and characters.

The upside of this soundtrack was the return of pop singles, with Williams and Zimmer penning “It’s On Again” for Alicia Keys and Kendrick Lamar. The song has sonic trappings of Williams’ signature radio hits, and Lamar’s involvement in this superhero soundtrack serves as positive foreshadowing for the Black Panther soundtrack, which the rapper produced and curated. Maybe he learned a thing or two from the mistakes of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 while he was in the studio for Black Panther?

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Lead single: N/A
Notable artists: The Ramones, The Rolling Stones

With Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel gave Peter Parker yet another redo. This Peter (Tom Holland) was a quirky, wide-eyed teen from Queens with a knack for “really old movies” like The Empire Strikes Back. The film’s unofficial soundtrack — which hinges on ’70s punk and ’80s new wave — gives the film a classic backdrop to build up a familiar but fresh version of the character.

The soundtrack indulges in the classics over anything current on the pop charts, making the movie timeless instead of timely. Songs like The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop,” used during a “Spider-Man saving the city” montage, and A Flock of Seagulls’ synth-heavy “Space Age Love Song” playing during the homecoming dance scene, are not just familiar as stand-alone tracks, but as other movie music cues. Spider-Man: Homecoming is not a Spider-Man movie that wants to be relatable to teens; it is a teen movie that just so happens to star Spider-Man.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Lead single: “Sunflower” by Post Malone and Swae Lee
Most “Spider-Man” lyric: “I know you’re scared of the unknown / You don’t wanna be alone / I know I always come and go / But it’s out of my control”
Notable artists: Juice WRLD, Vince Staples, Jaden Smith

While previous Spider-Man movies — namely, the Tobey Maguire trilogy — attempted to elevate Peter Parker’s personality with a backdrop of “current” music, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse successfully brings music into Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore) world in a way that is both personal to Miles and immediate in 2019. This is our world, even if it’s shattered by the multiverse.

The hip-hop-focused soundtrack is the perfect backdrop to Miles’ Brooklyn. And Miles having a direct relationship to music — he begins and ends the film listening to Post Malone’s “Sunflower” — finally gives us a direct answer to the question of: “What would Spider-Man really listen to?”

Although “Sunflower” was written specifically for the film, its opening beats are familiar to anyone who listens to modern hip-hop. Post Malone and Swae Lee created a song worthy of Miles’ headphones, which was proved even more when the single reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Sunflower” is easy listening with an emotional edge, with lyrics that are concerned more with matching rhythm than complex wordplay. It goes down easy.

Spider-Verse made Miles the face behind the on-screen mask after almost two decades of Peter Parker. Fresh, young, and inventive, “Sunflower” represents growth in new and familiar territory; a reminder that a friendly neighborhood hero is never too far away.

Now for the big question: What will he listen to in the sequel?

Rosemarie Alejandrino is a freelance arts & culture journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of FLASH THRIVE zine collective, and has been published in Rotten Tomatoes, The Daily Californian, HelloGiggles, and numerous other publications. She tweets a lot about theme parks, musicals, and fictional bears @yesROSEMARIE.


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