David Fincher might be known for passing on Spider-Man in 1999, but there is another Marvel film he almost tackled that could be considered the first successful “modern” comic book film. That was Stephen Norrington’s R-rated Blade (1998) starring Wesley Snipes which was released two years before Fox’s X-Men.
First, a little background on the state of the comic book movie genre in the 1990s. Before Blade, most of the comic book films were being made for a younger audience outside of like R-rated adaptations like The Punisher (1989), The Crow (1994), Tank Girl (1995), and Judge Dredd (1994).
Also, at the time the biggest Marvel theaterical movies were Captain America (1990), Howard The Duck (1986) and Dolph Lundgren‘s previously mentioned Punisher, which tells you all you need to know about how seriously studios took Marvel Comics properties at the time.
Blade came out a year after Spawn (1997), which also featured a gun-whielding black superhero in mature setting and had some very early CGI. I’m sure New Line Cinema was more than sweating during Blade’s opening weekend since they also distributed Spawn which was considered a mess.
The film cost $45 million to make and Blade ended up earning $131 million globally which was considered a hit back in 1998.
I credit Blade along with The Crow for helping convince studios that things like X-Men, Batman Begins, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe could make money if they took the material a little more seriously and putting more care into the design/technical side of the film.
Even more importantly, I don’t think it’s commonly known that at one time David Fincher was attached to direct Blade.
In 2004, screenwriter David S. Goyer revealed to MovieWeb a little known fact that Fincher got involved with Blade after Seven (1995) and admits that he helped Goyer develop the script. He was actually going to direct until for unknown reasons he didn’t end up doing it.
“Yeah. I remember talking to David Fincher after Seven. A lot of people don’t know that he was going to direct the first Blade, I even developed the script with him.”
New Line Cinema eventually hired British newcomer Stephen Norrington to direct, who had a background in special effects. The success of Blade eventually led to offers to direct Akira and The League of Extrodinary Gentlmen (2003), but when The League flopped he had a tough time finding future studio projects as Warner Bros. removed him from their live-action Akira film.
Norrington and Fincher had a previous working relationship on Alien 3 (1991), where Stephen did creature effects. I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if David Fincher recommended him to Goyer and New Line.
Stephen Dorff‘s first scene on the film was Deacon Frost’s daytime showdown with Blade and Dorff admitted on the DVD commentary he was a little overwhelmed because Fincher was there on set visiting Norrington/Goyer during the scene, leading to Dorff to mess up the scene a couple of times until Snipes helped him figure things out.
I’m slightly curious what that film might have looked like and if successful, would Fincher still have such a knee-jerk attitudes towards the genre?
David’s disastereous time making Alien 3 is cited as a major reason why he has been coy about making another big studio blockbuster. Producers on the film had all the creative control and some were doubling as screenwriters feverishly rewriting scenes on set moments before filming them, expecting Fincher to work on the fly despite being his first feature film. Ultimately, everyone washed their hands of the film when it didn’t match the success of Aliens and the first-time director was unfortunately given a bulk of the blame.
He’s tinkered with a return to blockbuster filmmaking over the years and it looks like that his World War Z (2013) sequel starring Brad Pitt could end up being his return.
It sounds like he’s soured on certain corners of then comic book genre but it seems to depend on the material and who is working on it because he helped get Deadpool (2016) made.
Fincher played a pivotal role along with James Cameron to convince 20th Century Fox to take a chance on Tim Miller‘s Deadpool. A project that was first hatched between David S. Goyer and Ryan Reynolds on the set of Blade: Trinity (2004), but Goyer would eventually exit the project.
Fincher and Tim Miller had been trying to get financing for Bluer Studio’s animated feature film projects The Goon (comic book adaptation) and a revival of R-rated science fiction anthology Heavy Metal (Cameron and Fincher were attached to direct segments). They remain to be friends to this day and his relationship with Jim led to landing the new Terminator (2019) soft-reboot/Judgement Day sequel which is currently filming in Spain.
David’s feelings towards Blade and Deadpool seems little odd in retrospect, considering his more recent statements on other comic book stuff sounding less than enthusiastic.
A few other Blade tidits include development on the film dates back to 1992 when L.L. Cool J was once considered for the lead I assume because of Toys (1992).
Norrington/Goyer originally wanted Jet Li in the Deacon Frost role but actor made Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) instead.
Jet’s Once Upon A Time In China II (1992) co-star Donnie Yen would take a supporting role in the sequel as The Bloodpack’s mute member Snowman and was a fight choreographer on Blade II (2002) as well.
Stephen Norrington had also tried to develop a film based on Marvel’s Asian martial arts superhero Shang-Chi. There is a good chance he wanted Jet for that role if h had been eyeing him for Frost.
Blade went on to spawn two sequels with Blade II from recent Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro and the third film being Goyer’s first attempt at feature film directing which essentially ended the film franchise after it’s disappointing outcome.
Marvel Studios now controls the Tomb of Dracula/Blade film rights and reportedly had a film treatment commissioned in-house alongside Captain Marvel, but they haven’t announced any plans to move forward with it. It remains to be seen what the future holds for Marvel’s vampire hunter.