25 Years Later, Blade Is Still Marvel’s Secret Weapon

Among the many surprises at The Game Awards 2023, we got our first glimpse of Bethesda’s upcoming Blade game. Developed by Arkane Studios Lyon, this third-person action game puts players in the shoes of Marvel’s most iconic vampire hunter. It’s such a natural fit that we can only question why it’s been 20 years since the last Blade game.

The Blade game and the upcoming Blade movie reboot are both coming at a critical time for Marvel, as the company moves forward after a rough 2023 and embraces this iconic vampire hunter as a key part of its future. Is Blade the cure to what ails Marvel these days? It wouldn’t be the first time.

Blade’s Mainstream Popularity Explosion

The original Blade movie came along at a particularly dark time for Marvel. The comic book industry had recently suffered a major crash, as speculators and collectors fled the hobby and numerous comic shops went out of business. Marvel itself filed for bankruptcy in late 1996. The company had certainly faced lean times before, whether it was the anti-comic backlash of the 1950s or the industry-wide contraction of the 1970s, but there was a period in the ‘90s where it looked like Marvel’s days were well and truly numbered.

While Marvel’s comic book division eventually pulled itself out of a hole on the strength of books like Kevin Smith and Joe Quesada’s Daredevil and Brian Bendis and Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man, it’s Marvel’s Hollywood deals that are largely credited with saving the company from oblivion. Licensing out key franchises like Spider-Man and the X-Men helped save Marvel and transform it into the Hollywood juggernaut it is today.

The original Blade movie came along at a particularly dark time for Marvel.

That said, it’s not as though 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man deserve all the credit for pulling Marvel back from the edge. Blade was there first.

Blade had a lot working against it when it hit theaters in 1998. It was only the second Marvel movie to see a wide theatrical release (the first being the critically reviled Howard the Duck). It arrived at a time when comic book movies were anything but guaranteed hits at the box office. Other superhero movies starring Black leads, like 1997’s Spawn and Steel, had already failed. Could a relatively obscure hero like Blade hope to do better?

As it turns out, the answer was a resounding yes. Blade grossed $131.2 million worldwide on a budget of $45 million. The film earned praise for both Wesley Snipes’ performance and Stephen Norrington’s stylish direction, and to date remains one of the most well-regarded pre-MCU movies. It spawned a franchise with two film sequels, a short-lived TV series and multiple video game adaptations. For Marvel, still operating on very shaky ground following its bankruptcy, Blade was a crucial light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s also difficult to understate just how dramatically the Blade movies have informed public perception of the character. Snipes’ dour, trenchcoat-clad, cold-as-ice portrayal of Blade has become the de facto standard in all media. Marvel went so far as to rework the comic book version of Blade to bring him more in line with the movie, transforming him from an ordinary human with immunity to vampire bites to a full-fledged, superhuman dhampir. Marvel’s comics often adopt elements of the live-action movies and series, but never has that transformation been quite so profound (or as permanent) as with Blade.

Blade may not have singlehandedly saved Marvel, but it was exactly the type of mainstream hit the company needed at exactly the right time. This former C-List hero proved to be Marvel’s secret weapon.

How Blade Can Save Marvel (Again)

It just so happens that Marvel may require its secret weapon again. Granted, the current state of Marvel is hardly as dire as it was in 1996. Marvel is now under the umbrella of Disney, one of the most powerful corporations on the planet, and its movies have routinely grossed hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. The company’s comic book line is still going strong, while Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 became the fastest-selling PlayStation Studios game in 2023.

That all being said, Marvel and its parent company had a fairly rough go of it this year. The Marvels suffered the worst opening weekend of any MCU movie and now has the dubious distinction of being the lowest-grossing MCU movie to date. Secret Invasion received a massive critical drubbing. In general, Marvel has been struggling to achieve the same sort of critical and commercial success in the Multiverse Saga that it did during the Infinity Saga.

Meanwhile, on the video games front, there’s a sense that Marvel is still only beginning to tap into its true potential. Alongside the aforementioned Spider-Man series, Marvel has enjoyed a handful of modest hits like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Midnight Suns games. Even Marvel’s Avengers fell short of expectations, with the game becoming the poster child for the pitfalls of live-service games.

With the Marvel ship currently steering through relatively rough waters, Blade is once again coming to the rescue on multiple fronts. On the MCU side of things, Mahershala Ali is taking over the role in 2025’s Blade reboot. That movie is notable for several reasons, not the least of which being that it’s a rare R-rated MCU project. Like Deadpool 3 and the TV-MA-rated Echo, Blade has a chance to prove that this cinematic universe can succeed by specifically targeting older audiences.

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