Blade: The Movie that Saved a Genre

by GregFahlgren

Examining the impact of the 90s cult classic and how it saved Superhero movies from extinction.

Superhero movies. They have gone from an occasional adventure to a primary driving force in modern filmmaking. This year alone there are at least a half a dozen films to be released, with more in production each and every year. No matter the source, superhero movies have become a fact of everyday life, everyone waiting for the next big one to hit. But did you know there was a time when such films almost became extinct?

That’s right, the Avengers, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, the X-Men and more, all these franchises were non-existent, and in some cases outright killed before they even started. That was until one movie was released quietly in 1998, and almost single-handedly saved the genre from extinction: Blade. But how did this one film save a genre you ask? Well, allow me to explain.

Life Support

The State of Supermovies in the Mid-90s

To put it bluntly, superhero movies were in terrible shape by the mid-90s. Though the decade started well with Batman Returns, much of the rest was a train wreck. Superman IV was a critical and commercial disaster, the franchise being pulled in what some would call a mercy killing. Batman Forever was a mild success, but its sequel Batman & Robin is considered the worst superhero film ever made killing that franchise for almost a decade. To add insult to injury (or injury to insult depending on how you look at it), Batman & Robin was also a failure commercially. Things were so bad because of that movie that WB cancelled The Death of Superman starring Nicholas Cage (no, that’s not a typo), and with cancellation followed a host of others, seemingly killing the genre forever.

Frankly, Hollywood was laughing at the genre. Superheroes, especially the classic heroes, were stupid, childish, and silly to them. The horrid movies of the first half of the decade was all the evidence they needed to kill any chance of the genre going forward. Hard to believe when you look at today’s market, but back then, comic books and their heroes were dying a slow, agonizing death with no relief in sight. But then came a small, low-budget movie about a relatively obscure character was produced that changed things forever, even if no one realized it at the time.

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Vampire Hunter

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how Blade saved the super hero movie genre, I’d like to take a quick moment to talk about the character himself.

For starters, Blade was created in 1973 for the Tomb of Dracula comic book by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan. Originally a supporting character, Blade’s was somewhat stereotypical, and hence he was pulled from the book for a year or so before being reintroduced as a more serious and evolved character. Wolfman loved writing him and thought he was great, but in reality, Blade was not supposed to be much of a success.

However, over the years, Blade’s popularity rose as one of Marvel’s darker heroes, often teaming up with Morbius, Ghost Rider, and other heroes from the mystical side of the Marvel U. But he was still a relatively minor character, not a big deal in any real sense, but that would all change when David Goyer got involved.

Under the Radar

The Quiet Superhero Movie

David Goyer began writing the script for Blade back in 1993 for New Line Cinemas. New Line wanted Goyer originally to write the script as an almost purposeful spoof, but Goyer convinced them to go a different direction (thank the movie and comic book gods for that). Originally, the title role was to be played by LL Cool J, only to be eventually replaced by Wesley Snipes, who Goyer felt was the perfect fit for the role. When Stephen Dorf was cast as the villainous Deacon Frost, things really got rolling and once filming got under way, the small time movie was on its way to history.

Nobody quite knew it at the time though. As I’ve stated before, superhero movies were in really rough shape back then, but Blade was such a small property that the majority of Hollywood either didn’t notice or didn’t care. I would bet money that a few even hoped for its failure, another example they could arrogantly site when they made the argument that superhero movies couldn’t make money anymore.

The naysayers would be proven wrong however, Blade becoming an instant success, bringing in $131 million worldwide. Though some critics panned it, the film gathered a cult following, comic book and movie fans alike taking to the quiet and seemingly unstoppable half-vampire, turning the character Blade into a star. That success had a lasting effect on the genre, one that is felt even to this day. An effect to be quite blunt, no one could have predicted.

Successful Hunt

The Pebble that Started a Rockslide

As strange as it sounds, this small budget film is almost single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of superhero movies, as well as helping save the comic book industry as a whole. Think about it, before Blade, superhero projects were being cancelled left, right and centre, movies abandoned because Hollywood felt there was nothing to be gained. On the comic book side, sales were down, businesses were declaring bankruptcy, and even the major publishers were in serious trouble.

The success of Blade changed all that. This movie made enough money and was well-received enough that people were starting to take superheroes seriously again. I’m not truly qualified to talk about this time as I was still in elementary school during that period, so I reached out to comic-book creator Gail Simone, and asked her about how important Blade was, stating,

“Huge. HUGE. And for some reason, very much underrated and forgotten. I believe the Blade’s success led DIRECTLY to the X-Men film getting made, which was the big precursor to comics films, specifically MARVEL films, getting made. I’m going to stress this, MARVEL WAS BROKE. They couldn’t afford good PAPER for their own comics. They gave away the rights to their major characters in terrible, ridiculous business deals. If not for X-Men, there would be no Marvel resurgence, and THAT happened because of BLADE.”

Simone’s words ring incredible true. Marvel was in bad shape in the late 90s, and the X-Men film was in all likelihood the last thing that could have turned it around. The movie was a massive success, leading to several sequels along with the Spider-Man films, all of which were hugely successful as well. The success of those films helped Marvel get their business back on track, and since have launched them to the very top of the mountain in the comic book world. Today, supermovies are a fact of life, more and more films and tv shows being produced every year, topping the sales charts and breaking records again and again. But if it weren’t for Blade, X-Men might never have been made, and Marvel would have faded away, their properties sold off, and their business failed. Their death may have lead to the death of other publishers, leading superheroes and comic books to become things of the past. Blade changed all that, and that is a fact that should be neither ignored or forgotten.


Return of the Hunter

Since the last Blade film (which wasn’t exactly a big hit), there have been many fans that would love to see Wesley Snipes return to the role for one last go around, especially now that the movie rights have reverted back to Marvel. Snipes has expressed great interest in returning to the role, stating that with his age there isn’t many more years he could do it. I for one would be extremely excited for Blade to return to Marvel, especially with Snipes at the helm.

There have also been rumours about a new film concerning Blade’s daughter, but those are unconfirmed at the moment. Anyway you slice it however, having Blade return to Marvel even in some small way would be an amazing addition to the tapestry Marvel has been painting the last decade or so.



The Hero of Supermovies

Today, superhero films dominate movie theatres, every month it seems that a new one is coming out to the delight of comic book fans everywhere. This year alone we are getting at least a half dozen, with over a half dozen more TV shows and video games on top of that. The comic book business is doing better than it has in decades, its characters reaching more people than anyone ever thought possible.

And it was all in large part because of a small-budget, under the radar cult favourite vampire film starring Wesley Snipes, a movie that saved the superhero genre, and possible the entire comic book industry.

That’s it for me for today folks. Hope you enjoyed this little piece and that it makes appreciate Blade a little bit more. Until next time everyone.


WIthout Blade, These May Never Have Happened
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Updated: 03/10/2016, GregFahlgren
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