Ten years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe blasted off with Iron Man in 2008, New Line Cinema kicked open the doors on gritty comic book movies with Blade, starring Wesley Snipes as the ultra-cool vampire hunter from Marvel Comics. But Blade wasn’t Snipes’s first choice as a superhero movie role. It was Black Panther, and the failure of a Black Panther film in the Nineties led Snipes to become a different black superhero in the Marvel Universe.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Wesley Snipes explained how hard it was to get traction on his dream project, which was a film adaptation of the Marvel superhero Black Panther. Stan Lee was enthusiastic, but Snipes said studios had a difficult time separating the character from the Black Panther Party, which the comics predated by a year. “They think you want to come out with a black beret and clothing and then there’s a movie,” Snipes said.
After meeting with various screenwriters and directors, including Boyz N the Hood director John Singleton, whose vision clashed with Snipes, the first Black Panther movie “stalled” due to limits in CGI. Said Snipes: “Ultimately, we couldn’t find the right combination of script and director and, also at the time, we were so far ahead of the game in the thinking, the technology wasn’t there to do what they had already created in the comic book.”
That’s when Snipes shifted his focus: Instead of Black Panther, Snipes saw Blade, another black superhero from Marvel created in 1973 by legends Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, and pitched that as a film instead.
“It was a natural progression and a readjustment,” Snipes explained. To Snipes, both Black Panther and Blade “had nobility” as well as both being fighters. “So I thought, hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda and the Vibranium and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black vampire.”
At the same time Marvel was struggling financially; the company declared bankruptcy in 1996. So it was windfall that New Line Cinema’s Blade, directed by Stephen Norrington and written by David S. Goyer (who later wrote Christopher Nolan’s Batman films) grossed $131 million worldwide, allowing Marvel to survive into the new millennium.
Blade evolved into a trilogy, with 2002’s Blade II by Guillermo del Toro and 2004’s Blade: Trinity, directed by Goyer. The film also arguably set the stage for bigger superhero movies, like 2000’s X-Men, 2002’s Spider-Man, and 2005’s Batman Begins to truly get the superhero train going.
While Snipes isn’t Black Panther — that honor goes to Chadwick Boseman, who debuted as the character in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War — the actor told THR that he’s open to a fourth Blade movie. “If Blade 4 comes along, that is a conversation we can have,” he said. “I think the fans have a hunger for me to revision the Blade character, so that could limit where they could place me as another character in that universe.”
That may not be impossible. In the summer of 2017, Marvel Studios producer Kevin Feige said in an interview: “I think Blade is a legacy character now, and I think it would be fun to do something with him one day.”
Marvel’s Black Panther will be released in theaters on February 16.