LOS ANGELES — Tobey Maguire has hung up his spandex suit and will not return as Spider-Man when the fourth film based on the web-slinging superhero hits cinemas in 2012, studio officials confirmed.
In a surprise move, Sony Pictures Entertainment said on Monday Maguire and director Sam Raimi would not be involved in "Spider-Man 4," the latest instalment of the franchise which has grossed nearly 2.5 billion dollars worldwide since 2002.
The announcement comes after weeks of rumors swirling around Hollywood citing creative differences between Raimi and studio chiefs over the script being prepared for "Spider-Man 4."
Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios said they would proceed with a script written by James Vanderbilt in which hero Peter Parker returns to high school.
"Spider-Man 4" -- with a different script and Raimi directing -- had initially been set for release in 2011 but had not gone into production.
"A decade ago we set out on this journey with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and together we made three 'Spider-Man' films that set a new bar for the genre," said Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
"When we began, no-one ever imagined that we would make history at the box office, and now we have a rare opportunity to make history once again with this franchise," she said.
"Peter Parker as an ordinary young adult grappling with extraordinary powers has always been the foundation that has made this character so timeless and compelling for generations of fans," Pascal said.
"We're very excited about the creative possibilities that come from returning to Peter's roots..."
Raimi said in a statement that the "Spider-Man" movies "was the experience of a lifetime for me."
"While we were looking forward to doing a fourth one together, the studio and Marvel have a unique opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction, and I know they will do a terrific job," he said.
Columbia Pictures President Matt Tolmach, who has served as the studio's chief production executive since the beginning of the franchise, described the parting with Maguire, 34, and Raimi as "bittersweet."
"We have had a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration and friendship with Sam and Tobey and they have given us their best for the better part of the last decade," he said.
"This is a bittersweet moment for us because while it is hard to imagine Spider-Man in anyone else's hands, I know that this was a day that was inevitable," Tolmach said.
"Now everything begins anew, and that's got us all tremendously excited about what comes next."