Let's face it; back in the '90s, superhero movies were in big trouble. DC and Warner Bros. had pretty much killed off both the Superman and Batman franchises, and Marvel had been trying for decades to get Hollywood interested in their properties - but with no hint of success. Things just seemed to be getting worse, with the comic book market bubble bursting, and Marvel desperately struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Then came Blade.
Blade told the story of a brutal Daywalker, a vampire-hunter who struggled with his own bloodlust. Wesley Snipes made the role his own, and the film revelled in its creativity. Extreme camera angles and exaggerated shadows gave the movie a dark, foreboding feel, and fan reaction was surprisingly positive. "Blade was the least likely to succeed," said Avi Arad, a key figure in Marvel Studios of that time. "That was the first time it seemed clear to Hollywood that the Marvel franchise was something special."
Suddenly the world sat up, and studios began to whisper that superhero movies might just be a good idea. Fox - which had purchased the film rights to the X-Men franchise back in 1996 - began to work on the concept of an X-Men movie, and in 2000 we saw the result. Notice the changes they made to the franchise, though; just as with Blade, they abandoned the idea of spandex costumes, and instead went for a sense of pseudo-realism, with dark black leather outfits. The tone of X-Men was dark and ominous, from its opening with memories of the Holocaust through to the climactic battle in the Statue of Liberty. Sure, it was a superhero movie, but it shunned the camp style of Batman and Robin and instead mimicked Blade.
With Fox's success with X-Men, it was becoming ever-clearer that superhero movies might just work. What's more, Marvel began to get back on their feet; by the time Spider-Man was released in 2002, they'd managed to renegotiate their Hollywood contracts so they got a share of gross profit, not net, quite an impressive feat. By 2006, when the film rights for characters such as Iron Man began to return to Marvel Studios, they were ready to try something out. Convinced by Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man that superhero movies could work, Marvel Studios decided to stop licensing properties out to studios - and instead make their own movies. The rest, as they say, is history.
Without 1998's Blade movie, none of this would have happened. Marvel's finances might never have recovered, and both Hollywood and the comic book industry might look very different indeed.
Nowadays, Marvel's leadership publicly acknowledge that Blade was a trailblazer. What's more, it's entirely possible that Wesley Snipes will be returning to his role, either in a movie or, more likely, a Netflix series. It's strange how history sometimes turns full circle. But nobody can deny that it would be appropriate to have the most influential superhero of the past twenty years back on-screen.
Source: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, by Sean Howe