Over the weekend I read, but didn’t participate in, a Twitter discussion over whether or not X-Men saved comic book movies as opposed to Blade, which dropped two years prior. X-Men is largely credited with reviving the genre after Batman and Robin supposedly put it all in serious jeopardy with it’s abysmal box office failure (and general all around awfulness). Blade came out year after a B&R and was a rousing success, grossing $131 million on a $40 million budget and spawning two sequels. But X-Men more than doubled that up two years later with a $296 million gross on a $75 million budget. (All numbers come from wikipedia and imdb.com). Did Blade really matter as a comic book film beyond it’s own success? Did X-Men build on Blade’s success, or prosper on it’s own? And did either of them matter towards what came next? Those are the real questions here.
Just how important was Blade?
Blade came out in the summer of 1998, a little over a year after Batman and Robin’s failure. It was preceded by Spawn (which was modestly successful), Steel (an abysmal debacle), and The Mask of Zorro which was a huge success. After Blade finished up there was Mystery Men and then X-Men. So other than Blade you didn’t have any movies based on characters from the big two comic companies after B&R but before X-Men. And even Blade is a D-list character at Marvel. The only appearances in recent history had been an episode of the mid 90s Spider-Man animated series. If no one told you Blade was a Marvel comics character you probably wouldn’t have asked.
The movie itself didn’t have any of the trappings a Marvel-based film and made no allusions to anyone else in Marvel-world, as it was made by New Line Cinema and didn’t even mention Marvel until the closing credits. There was literally nothing in it that said ‘comic book movie’. It was basically a vampire movie with a super-powered protagonist taking them on. If it had failed I doubt that it would have affected anything. So that pretty much settles it, right? Not really. Blade may not have been a factor in the boardrooms, but it mattered to fans. I was interested in Spawn but ultimately didn’t get around to seeing it. I later found that was the right choice. Nobody cared about Steel. But my friends and I did go see Blade at the movie theater. By the time it came out, comic book/superhero movies were at a ‘man, I’ll wait for the video’ moment. Blade started turning that around; when X-Men did come out I was still skeptical but was willing to try it and ultimately felt good about doing so later. So yeah, it was pretty important.
Did Blade affect any future movies?
I’d say not much, at least not immediately. X-Men was already in development when Blade hit the theaters, and was made by Fox so it had no financial stake in Blade’s success. You can say the same for Sony and Spider-Man,which would come in 2002. Spider had been in limbo for over 20 years while Sony bought up all the script options that were floating out there. Once they sewed that all up in 1999 they were doing a movie, full stop. Blade’s box office performance had zero to do with that. Certain characters and properties are a license to print money if done just reasonably well; Spider-Man and the X-Men are two of those. Those movies were getting made once the studios had lined everything up to do so. And once X-Men did well, Fox-owned Fantastic Four getting greenlit was a no brainer.
Now I think there a place where Blade might have been seen as a positive motivation to go forward: Marvel Studios. Marvel did not, and still doesn’t, have the movie rights to it’s free money characters. Seeing a low level character like Blade succeed at the box office by virtue of being done well had to give somebody there some hope that there was money to be made with the characters they did have in house like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, all of whom were much more well known than Blade. So yeah, I think it had some influence. Just not where some might think. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the driving force in these movies since it kicked off, and I do think Blade succeeding may have helped there. But on the other stuff? I don’t think so.