The first major feature-length Marvel Comics adaptation to include the late Stan Lee was 2000’s X-Men, so by the time 2002’s Spider-Man went into production, these cameos had yet to be solidified as an established tradition, and apparently director Sam Raimi wasn’t too happy with the idea.
Speaking to THR, the filmmaker recalled how producer Avi Arad pushed him into giving Lee some screen time in Peter Parker’s first cinematic outing:
“I got the job for Spider-Man in 1999. And [Marvel head] Avi Arad said, ‘I want you to put Stan in the movie.’ And I was like, ‘No. I know Stan, and he can’t act.’ And Avi was, ‘I want him in the movie. We did it for X-Men, we’re doing it here.’ Now imagine you’re a minor director in England doing Macbeth and you’re told, ‘Put the writer in the play.’ It sounds absurd. ‘Fine, you want Shakespeare in the play, I’ll put Shakespeare in the play.’ Now it’s one of my favorite parts in the movie.”
Regardless of whether Lee’s cameo seemed like a good idea at the time, it’s clear that fans have come to embrace the tradition of seeing the legendary comic book creator pop up unexpectedly amidst the action. And if you think that Raimi was on the wrong side of history with this issue, then you’re probably also in the camp who’d say the director got it right when he and Lee tried to make a Thor movie back in the early ‘90s:
“He took me out to lunch and said we should work together. I said I’d like to make a movie about Thor. We worked together writing treatments and took it to Fox and pitched it. And they said, ‘Absolutely no. Comic books don’t make good movies.’ This was in 1991.”
Evidently, Fox would eventually come around to the idea of comic book movies, even helping to kick off Lee’s run of cameos with first X-Men. It was there that he met future Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who recently recalled how Lee would always be full of infectious energy as he filmed his scenes.
“It would be a holiday on set, when he came to do this cameos. That’s how much he inspired people. Whether it was the beginning of the shoot, the middle, the end, the energy would skyrocket when he came on the set. Those are my strongest memories,” recalled Feige. “And as much as we and the audience love the cameos, Stan loved and was so proud of every one.”
Though Stan Lee is no longer with us, it certainly sounds like we’ll be seeing a few more cameos from the man in upcoming MCU releases like Captain Marvel and Avengers 4. But regardless of how many big screen appearances the late writer has left, his presence will surely linger in these movies through the immeasurable influence of his work.