In the new thriller film The Girl in the Spider's Web, super hacker and sexual assault avenger Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) adds another notch to her belt: international woman of mystery. The heroine takes on a terrorist group called the Spiders that's straight out of a James Bond movie, as the group sets out to steal an NSA computer program capable of obtaining the launch codes for all the world's nuclear arsenals. The NSA is an actual U.S. government agency, but are the Spiders real as well, or were they invented just for the movie?
Thankfully, the Spiders are not an actual terrorist group. They're based on the "Spider Society," a criminal organization that appears in the book version of The Girl in the Spider's Web, by David Lagercrantz. In both the book and the movie, the Spiders or Spider Society are a team of elite Russian criminals that was originally founded by none other than Lisbeth's own father. And although it's fiction, the idea of a terrorist organization with Russian ties is hardly a new one in the world of espionage thrillers, which brings us back to Agent 007 and the fictional shady organizations he has taken on over the years.
In the original Bond novels by Ian Fleming, the secret agent's main adversary was an organization called SMERSH, which was a fictionalized version of a Soviet Union counterintelligence agency — and therefore was government sanctioned. Once James Bond made the leap to the big screen, however, SMERSH was swapped out for an entirely fictional organization from the novels called SPECTRE. SPECTRE is an international crime syndicate trading in terror with plans for global domination, and although the group wasn't overtly Russian, many Bond films still found ways to insert villainous Russians into its ranks. The most recent incarnation of SPECTRE, as seen in the 2015 film Spectre, even has a similar familial connection to the Spiders: it was founded by Blofeld, Bond's pseudo-adoptive brother.
While the Spider Society's connections to Spectre are theoretical, the fictional society has some more tangible connections to another pop culture institution: Marvel Comics. In the novel, some of the Spider Society's members use codenames derived from Marvel Comics, such as Zemo and Thanos, according to The Verge. There also exists in Marvel Comics a group known as the Spider Society, and it's possible — even likely — that Lagercrantz, the book's author, was inspired by that group when naming his terrorist organization. The Marvel Spider Society bears little resemblance to the group Lisbeth Salander battles, however, as the comic incarnation is an ancient society that worships spider deities and has nothing to do with Russian terrorists.
The Girl in the Spider's Web's Spiders, or Spider Society as it's known in the book version, is not a real organization. Instead, it's a fictional criminal syndicate that likely draws inspiration from other fictional organizations like James Bond's SPECTRE and Marvel Comics' Spider Society, which is probably why it's so thrilling to see Lisbeth take them on with all the panache of a superhero.