You know, there was a time when comic movies were pretty much failures. And often, what made it to the screen was in name only. The Dolph Lundgren Punisher film, for example. All the characters had the same name… but they could not even manage a skull emblazoned t-shirt.
The Hulk had a successful TV series, and Spidey had a live action show that lasted a season. There were crappy copies of a never released Roger Corman version of the Fantastic Four that floated around conventions. There was a live action version of Captain America starring the son of J.D. Salinger. It was terrible.
Well into the 90’s, Marvel had yet to hit the success of of the Donner Superman films or the Burton/Schumacher Batman films. Sure, the final Batman film seemed to hammer the nails into the coffin of super-hero movies in general. Outside of the Mask and the Crow, few comic book movies had found success.
And poor Marvel. In spite of having a beloved character like Spider-Man? They could not seem to cut a break. There were rumors over the years of James Cameron making a Spider-Man movie. And then there were talks of a Chris Columbus helmed Fantastic Four film. There were rumors of an X-Men movie. There were options to Daredevil, the Silver Surfer and others. But nothing ever came of these, and eventually it was clear that these rumors and options were never to see fruit. Then something happened.
In 1998, the first Blade film was released. Based loosely on an obscure character from Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula comics created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, the first Blade film was a pretty solid hit that garnered mixed reviews (Ebert liked it). It was successful enough to get two sequels and a TV series, as well as revive the character for the comics.
But the real influence of Blade was that it showed there was an appetite for fantastic comic book type adventures. It gave Marvel renewed hope and they started a serious push to get their properties into the right hands. In their infancy, Marvel Films worked with other studios to bring their films to life (Which is why the current slate that makes up the Avengers does not reference the existence of the X-Men, Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four).
Starting with the X-Men, Marvel started finding success greater than that of DC. There were some stumbles (Daredevil) along the way. But Marvel saw enough success to become it’s own studio entity, rather than be dependent on other studios.
In recognition of this year’s coming Avengers film, I plan to go through the Marvel movies starting with with the X-Men and leading to the Avengers over the next few months.