Welcome to Part 2 of our series that examines the success of Marvel and their properties across the cinematic landscape. In this chapter we build upon our Part One column as we now take a quick look at how Marvel wasn’t always successful right out of the gate, despite the initial success of the original X-Men film that followed their mediocre first Blade outing. While X-Men was Marvel’s first homerun, it wasn’t always smooth sailing before, or after, for the iconic brand: there were certainly a few bumps along their Marvelous road to cinematic domination…
Not Without Growing Pains: The Punisher, Elektra, and The Blade Sequels
Coming off the huge success of the new X-Men film, and just prior to Raimi’s Spider-Man, Marvel would venture outside their widely known and most popular characters in an attempt to try and revisit their X-Men success. The end result was not well received by audiences, and several of the next Marvel film entries would split fans and critics alike.
First we were treated to Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2. A massive upgrade in terms of film making, though Blade 2 was not a commercial success, it was luckily a critical success. Del Toro made the Blade film every fan had wanted to see, but the overall popularity of the character just wasn’t commercially a successful blockbuster. General audiences didn’t take to the obscure Marvel vampire hunter, and the box office receipts showed just that.
Marvel would have a handful of other significant hits following Blade 2, including Ang Lee’s Hulk. But again Marvel chose to go to the lesser known, but possibly more hip route, by putting The Punisher up on the big screen. The film itself was well made and had just right mixture of violence and story, but audiences, again, did not take to the theaters to see the lesser-known comic book property. The Punisher, starring newcomer Thomas Jane, made only $54 million worldwide.
Marvel was putting decent films out, but they were doing so with properties that were not their cornerstones, and what followed Blade 2 and The Punisher (and hot off the heels of Raimi’s Spider-Man) was Marvel’s attempt to get Daredevil into the mainstream, but again with little success. Also included in this somewhat flawed Daredevil film was Marvel’s first attempt to start a spin-off film within another film, by introducing us to Jennifer Garner’s Elektra. Ultimately neither film was of great success, though Daredevil cleared $100 million, despite the excellent big name casting decisions with Ben Affleck as Daredevil, and the hot commodity that was Jennifer Garner as Elektra at the time (JJ Abrams Alias had starred Garner and had been a huge success on ABC television). Elektra, alas, only grossed $56 million worldwide. But it was a great idea that would see it’s full potential when the Phase One films took off years later.
This decision by Marvel to try and integrate some role playing characters into mainstream cinema was an opportunity that had to be taken. It allowed the studio to see what was clicking with audiences as far as overall content and character was concerned, and it also allowed them to hone their film making practices in preparation for what was to come in the near future (2 years out): Marvel’s Cinematic Phase One.
But one sequel then sets the tone for the future of Marvel films…
X2: X-Men United Stuns Everyone
In 2003 Marvel would release the widely anticipated follow-up to their first big box office hit, X-Men. With X2: X-Men United, director Bryan Singer blew everyone away with telling the perfect X-Men story that covered new ground combined with groundbreaking digital effects. The entire original cast returned for the film, and this sequel out-grossed it’s groundbreaking original by over $50 million domestically. It was also at this time that associate Marvel producer Kevin Feige would take over as co-producer of this and future Marvel films, and ultimately wind up becoming the creative force behind Marvel’s ultimate cinematic success.
X2: X-Men United would also be the best sequel ever made to a comic book film prior to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, while only being Marvel’s 3rd attempt at a franchise film sequel. The film had a fantastic, stunning opening sequence featuring an attack on the White House’s Oval Office, and it went on to see both opposing mutant sides combine forces to try and survive. Better than the original in nearly every single facet, X2: X-Men United upped the comic book film ante for both Marvel and it’s rival DC Comics alike, who were busy in pre-production on their own franchise relaunch with Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
With the success of X2: X-Men United, Marvel had created it’s first cinematic franchise. And what followed X2 would be Marvel’s greatest cinematic feature put to film until The Avengers was released in 2012. Next week we take a look at Spider-Man 2 as the ultimate, and arguably greatest, film sequel ever made, and how Marvel was still learning from their past mistakes before they got things just right.