|Sam Raimi's Spider-Man and|
Marvel Cinematic Universe character
|First appearance||Spider-Man (2002)|
|Adapted by||David Koepp|
|Portrayed by||Willem Dafoe|
|Occupation||Head of Oscorp|
|Children||Harry Osborn (son)|
Norman Virgil Osborn is a fictional character from Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spider-Man films adapted from the comic book character of the same name created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and also known by his alter-ego, the Green Goblin. He is portrayed in all three films by Willem Dafoe, who also voices the character in the video game adaptation of the first film.
Norman is introduced in the first Spider-Man (2002) film as the CEO of science company Oscorp, and the father of Harry Osborn. Norman has a strained relationship with his son and often neglects him in favor of Harry's best friend, Peter Parker, because he views himself as the only father figure in the boy's life after his Uncle Ben is killed.
When Oscorp faces financial difficulties and Norman is pressured to secure a government contract to save it from bankruptcy, he tests an unstable performance-enhancement serum on himself, developing enhanced physical abilities and a split personality. This new persona, later dubbed the "Green Goblin", occasionally takes over Norman's body to exact revenge on their enemies, using advanced military equipment stolen from Oscorp. Norman eventually becomes aware of his split personality, but rather than rejecting his Green Goblin persona, he fully embraces it. He later comes into conflict with Spider-Man, and eventually discovers that he is Peter, but accidentally kills himself while fighting him. Norman's Green Goblin persona appears posthumously in the sequels Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), as a hallucination enticing Harry, who assumed Spider-Man killed his father, to take revenge on the hero. Dafoe will reprise the role in the upcoming Marvel Studios film Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Dafoe's performance as the Green Goblin garnered wide critical praise, and the character is now considered to be one of the most iconic villains in superhero films.
Design, casting and execution
During development of what would eventually become the 2002 Spider-Man film, David Koepp's rewrites of James Cameron's original script had the Green Goblin as the main antagonist and added Doctor Octopus as the secondary antagonist. Incoming director Sam Raimi felt the Green Goblin and the surrogate father-son theme between Norman Osborn and Peter Parker would be more interesting, thus, he dropped Doctor Octopus from the film. In June 2000, Columbia Pictures hired Scott Rosenberg to rewrite Koepp's material. Willem Dafoe was cast for the role of Norman Osborn in November 2000. Nicolas Cage (who would later portray Spider-Man Noir in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Jason Issacs, John Malkovich, and Jim Carrey turned down the role. Dafoe insisted on wearing the uncomfortable costume as he felt that a stuntman would not convey the character's necessary body language. The 580-piece suit took half an hour to put on.
Dafoe later called his role as the Green Goblin one of his favorites throughout his career, having enjoyed playing the unhinged character particularly due to his dual personalities, and balancing between a dramatic and comedic performance. In particular, he enjoyed the mirror scene in which Norman Osborn discovers and converses with the Green Goblin persona after murdering the Oscorp board of directors. Sam Raimi had given Dafoe a copy of Jekyll and Hyde to prepare for the scene, which was filmed in one take multiple times before Raimi decided to split it.
Before settling on the look used in the film, the original headgear created for the Green Goblin was an animatronic mask created by Amalgamated Dynamics. The design was much more faithful to the comics than the finished product, and allowed for a full range of emotions to be expressed by the wearer. Ultimately, the mask was scrapped before an actor was chosen to play the Green Goblin, and a static, military-grade helmet was produced for the film instead, due to the animatronic concept being deemed "too creepy" by studio executives and due to technical difficulties and constraints.
Characterization and themes
This section needs additional citations for verification. (September 2021)
As portrayed in the Sam Raimi film series, Norman Osborn is a workaholic scientist/businessman, who has a complicated relationship with his son Harry. A career-focused man who prioritizes science, business and success above all else and despite genuinely caring for his son, has a distant relationship with him and is quite disappointed in Harry, who is meant to be Norman's heir, but lacks his father's ambition, intellect, strength and will to succeed and control.
The Green Goblin is Norman Osborn's second personality, born because of the exposure to the experimental performance-enhancing gas. The Green Goblin may perhaps be the unrestrained manifestation of Norman Osborn's ambition for power, desire to succeed, and hatred for anyone who may be a hindrance to his control, such as greedy contractors and board members, and his destined enemy, the superhero Spider-Man. He is a violent, sadistic and unhinged psychopath and an over-ambitious maniac who believes that his power gives him endless potential and places him above normal people. He even attempts to invite Spider-Man to join him, believing that as another powerful being, they both could accomplish many things together. He refuses to give any value to human life and kills whomever stands in his way without hesitation. Although his mental stability has been badly damaged, the Green Goblin is extremely intelligent and clever, making him even more dangerous.
In the comics, Norman Osborn is either depicted as having dual personalities (in original/classic depictions of the Spider-Man mythos) or utilizing the Goblin persona as a mask for his villainous deeds and being truly evil (as in later depictions), depending on the writer. The films went with the former route, making the Goblin personality separate from Norman's normal personality.
Writing in 2020, James Whitbrook of Gizmodo contrasts Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker / Spider-Man with Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn / Green Goblin and James Franco's Harry Osborn in the way they choose to exercise their power in the film series, as he notes that the leading men in the series appear to hold some form of power. While Peter learns to tame his abilities and accept the responsibility that comes with it, Norman gives into fear of losing his prestigious position at his company, choosing to pursue an alternate power in the form of inadvertently becoming the Green Goblin. As a result, he attacks his former colleagues and the people he cares about, namely Harry and Peter, while descending further into madness and insanity.
Fictional character biography
Becoming the Green Goblin
After hearing his colleague Dr. Mendel Stromm reveal to the military officials overseeing the project that some of the test subjects have gone insane, Osborn is threatened with a tight deadline, and experiments on himself. The process drives him insane, and kills Stromm. The military decides to give the super-soldier contract to another company, Quest Aerospace, and in revenge, a crazed Osborn steals an Oscorp suit and glider, killing several high-ranking military officers and Quest scientists present at the test. Although Quest Aerospace's prototype is destroyed, the company decides to expand and, in doing so, assumes control of Oscorp on the condition that Osborn steps down as CEO. Osborn kills Oscorp's board of directors during a festival in Times Square, thus removing the last threat to his control of Oscorp, and inadvertently almost killing Mary Jane Watson and meets Spider-Man.
Osborn leads an attack at the Daily Bugle editor-in-chief J. Jonah Jameson, who has dubbed his crazed split personality as the "Green Goblin", for who takes pictures of Spider-Man. The Goblin offers Spider-Man a partnership and belittles his choice to become a hero, warning that eventually, the city will turn against him. The Goblin baits Spider-Man to a burning apartment, and demands Spider-Man's choice, to which the latter refuses to work with him. After deducing Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Osborn attacks and hospitalizes Parker's aunt May, and later kidnaps Mary Jane thanks to his son, Harry. The Goblin makes Spider-Man choose between saving Mary Jane and a Roosevelt Island Tramway car full of children, but Parker saves both. The Goblin brutally beats Spider-Man, threatening to make Mary Jane's death "nice and slow", but an enraged Parker brutally counterattacks the Goblin. Osborn takes off his mask and reveals himself to Parker, and begs for forgiveness, stating that Parker was like a son to him. After Parker retorts that his true father is Ben Parker, Osborn attempts to impale Parker with his bladed glider, but the latter senses the attack and dodges, allowing the glider to instead fatally stab Osborn, whose last words are for Parker to not tell Harry.
As a hallucination
Two years later, Harry discovers Parker is Spider-Man, and meets Osborn, now a living hallucination. Osborn states that Harry should avenge him, while Harry is reluctant to kill his best friend. Harry shatters the mirror, and discovers a hidden lair containing Green Goblin equipment and technology.
One year later, Harry becomes the "New Goblin" in honor of Osborn's legacy. Osborn's presence appears after Harry recovers his memories after his first encounter with Parker, reminding Harry to avenge him and to go after Parker's heart. However, Harry eventually finds out the truth about his father's death and gives up his vendetta against Parker, helping him in a battle against Flint Marko / Sandman and Eddie Brock / Venom and giving his own life to save his friend.
In other media
This version of Norman Osborn is mentioned in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, a CGI-animated television series which serves as a loose alternate continuation of the first Spider-Man film. As in the films, Harry holds a grudge against Spider-Man for his father's death, and is not aware of Norman's criminal activities as the Green Goblin.
- Norman Osborn/Green Goblin appears in the video game adaptation of the 2002 film, with Willem Dafoe reprising his role in a vocal capacity, making him and Tobey Maguire the only two actors from the film to do so.
- This version of Norman Osborn appears in his Green Goblin persona in the 2007 game Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, voiced by Roger L. Jackson. In this alternative timeline where all the villains from the Spider-Man films survived their supposed deaths, the Goblin is present during their attempt to kill Spider-Man in the game's opening cutscene. Harry is also present and assists Spider-Man as the New Goblin, not acknowledging that his father is among the villains at any point. After the battle, the group is attacked by a swarm of P.H.A.N.T.O.M.s, and the villains, including the Goblin, are suddenly teleported elsewhere while Spider-Man is rescued by S.H.I.E.L.D. The Goblin is then brainwashed by the villainous mastermind behind the P.H.A.N.T.O.M.s and sent to Tokyo to retrieve one of the meteor shard used to create the P.H.A.N.T.O.M.s. There, the player fights him on top of the city's Oscorp tower, and Spider-Man destroys his mind-controlling amulet, restoring his free will. Afterward, the Goblin, seeking revenge on whoever brainwashed him, reluctantly joins forces with Spider-Man, and becomes a playable character for the remainder of the game.
Reception and legacy
Willem Dafoe's role in the first Spider-Man film was widely well-received, including a New York Daily News reviewer who felt he put "the scare in archvillain" and Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian who deemed him "strong support". However, the Green Goblin costume used in the first film was met with a mixed response, with IGN's Richard George to comment years later: "We're not saying the comic book costume is exactly thrilling, but the Goblin armor (the helmet in particular) from Spider-Man is almost comically bad... Not only is it not frightening, it prohibits expression."
Despite some criticism of the costume, Dafoe's rendition of the Green Goblin is now acclaimed as one of the greatest superhero film villains. Vulture ranked the Green Goblin 19th on the top 25 superhero film villains in 2018, while Collider ranked him the 5th greatest Spider-Man film villain in 2020. Steven Scaife of Vice wrote that "Dafoe's Goblin represents everything that’s fun about superhero villains, as well as everything that’s great about Raimi's campy films." He also commended Dafoe's voice and body language, which helped overcome the bulky Green Goblin costume that he compared to that of a Power Rangers villain. Looking back at the Sam Raimi trilogy, Tom Holland, who portrays Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in addition to his co-star Jacob Batalon, praised Dafoe's performance in the trilogy, calling the Green Goblin a "landmark villain". The two actors praised Dafoe's ability to "bring a difficult character to life" and particularly the mirror scene where he portrays both Norman Osborn and the Green Goblin persona.
A shot of Norman chasing down Spider-Man became a popular Internet meme in 2020.
|2002||Spider-Man||New York Film Critics Circle||Best Supporting Actor||Won|
|2003||MTV Movie Awards||Best Villain||Nominated|||
|Best Fight (with Tobey Maguire)||Nominated|||
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The plot description and characterization were adapted from Spider-Man (film), Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man 3 at Spider-Man films Wiki and Norman Osborn (Earth-96283) at Marvel Movies Wiki, which are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 (Unported) (CC-BY-SA 3.0) license.