Luca Guadagnino explains why that “Spider-Verse” reference in “Challengers” is not what you think

Zendaya's connection to the Spider-Man franchise actually had nothing to do with the line.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Challengers.

That Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Easter egg in Challengers actually has nothing to do with Zendaya's own history with the Marvel superhero.

After playing MJ in boyfriend Tom Holland's live-action Spider-Man films, Zendaya now stars as tennis prodigy Tashi in director Luca Guadagnino's sultry love triangle film Challengers. In the beginning of the movie, Tashi and her husband Art (Mike Faist) are having an intense discussion when their young daughter Lily (A.J. Lister) interrupts by asking if she can watch the animated Spider-Verse movie instead of the tennis currently playing on TV.

<p>MGM /Courtesy Everett; Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett</p>

MGM /Courtesy Everett; Columbia Pictures / courtesy Everett

As much as you may think that reference was intentionally calling out Zendaya's Spider-Man connection (even though she doesn't voice a character in the Spider-Verse franchise), the director tells Entertainment Weekly it was actually his idea to include it.

"When you get rights for something to be used in a movie, it's very complicated," he says. "Amy Pascal, our amazing producer, was of help there. I said, 'Amy, can we use one of your catalog titles so it's going to be easier to clear them?' [Lily]'s a girl; she's not going to choose to watch The Social Network or The Post, but maybe she's going to watch a Spider-Man cartoon, so I said, 'Why not Spider-Verse?'"

It took the director a while to realize the second meaning audiences could get from that reference. "Now I realize that it sounded like an in-joke, which, you know, the unconscious guides us all the time," he says.

And what a tangled web it weaves.

— Additional reporting from Gerrad Hall

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