Before Marvel Comics launched their modern Cinematic Universe, the film that showed the possibility and potential of the current superhero franchises, Blade, was released eighteen years ago today.
For the unfamiliar, the original film focused on a world where vampires walk the earth and Blade (Wesley Snipes) has a goal – to rid the world of all vampire evil. When Blade witnesses a vampire attack on Dr. Karen Jenson (N’Bushe Wright), he fights away the beast and takes Jenson back to his hideout. Here, alongside Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), Blade attempts to help heal Jenson. The vampire Quinn (Donal Logue) who was attacked by Blade, reports back to his master Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), who is planning a huge surprise for the human population.
The film was the brainchild of Marvel Studios had developed the film as early as 1992, when rapper/actor LL Cool J was interested in playing the lead role. Blade was eventually set up at New Line Cinema, with David S. Goyer writing the script. According to Goyer, New Line originally wanted to do Blade as “something that was almost a spoof” before the writer convinced them otherwise. By 1996, Snipes was attached to star.
Initially, when Goyer first pitched the idea of doing a Blade film, the executives of New Line felt there were only three actors who could possibly do the role: Snipes, Denzel Washington, and Laurence Fishburne, but to Goyer, Snipes was always the perfect choice for Blade. Jet Li was offered the role of Deacon Frost but opted to do Lethal Weapon 4 instead.
The first box-office success for Marvel, Blade set the stage for further comic film adaptations. Blade followed the disastrous Howard the Duck as the second Marvel property to get a wide theatrical release in the United States. The Punisher and Captain America both had films made previously, but neither saw a theatrical release in the United States.
In 2003, a talent agent named David Maisel came to Marvel’s Isaac Perlmutter with a proposal. Why not produce the movies under your own banner, and reap the profits for yourself? And if you’re producing your own movies, why can’t the stories cross over with each other, just like they do in the comics?
It was an idea that could, in theory, be worth untold millions: while Marvel’s stock had bounced back since 1996, Maisel argued that going into movie production could see it soar still further. The problem, however, would be convincing Marvel’s board of directors and, just as vitally, gaining the requisite financing.
A major breakthrough came in 2005, when Marvel managed to make a deal with Wall Street firm Merrill Lynch. The details of the deal sounded risky: Marvel was essentially offering up the jewels of its business – characters like Thor and Captain America – as collateral. If the films didn’t make money, those superheroes would suddenly belong to the bank.
Nevertheless, Merrill Lynch gave Marvel access to a huge reservoir of cash: $525m over seven years, which it could use to spend on 10 movies with budgets ranging from $45m to $180m. With their newfound clout, Marvel managed to reacquire the rights to characters it had sold over the years, including Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor and Hulk.
Marvel’s properties have generated billions of dollars since and it all started with half-man, half-vampire daywalker and hero named Blade!
Check out the opening scene from the film, below: