No comic publisher has ever assembled a more formidable phalanx of films based on its characters than Marvel Comics, which has no fewer than five major motion pictures set for theatrical release during the next 18 months. The latest love affair between Tinseltown and four-color heroes was sparked by the mega-success of Fox's adaptation of Marvel's X-Men, and there is no denying that the current wave of comic adaptations has a distinctly Marvel hue. While Marvel did not get a huge immediate return on the X-Men film, thanks largely to sluggish toy sales from its ToyBiz division, the success of the X-Men has paid dividends in the long run since Marvel now reportedly has gained a share of 'gross' profits on many of its new projects -- and the success of Marvel's characters in movies has lead to steady growth in licensing revenues. Plus the strong performance of the X-Men film led directly to the current wave of Marvel-based films. Now the action really heats up as studios release three major Marvel projects in 2002 starting with Blade 2, which opens on March 22, followed by the Spider-Man film on May 3 and a Daredevil movie, which will open during this year's holiday season.
The success of the first screen adaptation of Blade actually predated the triumph of the first X-Men film, though the first Blade film was more of a 'programmer' than a blockbuster despite the brilliant casting of Wesley Snipes in the title role. Blade 2 probably has the smallest budget of any of the five new Marvel films, but it does have Snipes reprising the title role once again and this time, stylish horror director Guillermo del Toro is at the helm. New Line thought enough of the prospects for Blade 2 that it bought expensive television spots on Super Bowl Sunday during which it gave viewers some fascinating glimpses at the villains who should make Blade 2 a deliciously scary experience.
Sony/Columbia also purchased Super Bowl ad time for Spider-Man as well as an extended spot on the 'Malcolm in the Middle' episode that followed the gridiron clash. The Spider-Man previews are stunning and the casting of this Sam Raimi directed blockbuster appears to be note-perfect with Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Willem DaFoe. The Spider-Man film has a prime opening spot on May 3 and the buzz surrounding the film is very strong. Spider-Man should provide both retailers and Marvel with a great opportunity to increase readership and sales. In Hollywood the studios call the major films that can be counted on to keep the company strong, 'tentpoles.' Spider-Man is definitely the tent-pole among these 5 Marvel based films. Its success is the most crucial for Marvel and for pop culture retailers. Major promotional support (see 'Spider-Man vs. Episode II' and 'Free Comic Book Day on May 4') ratchets up the size of the opportunity on this movie.
Daredevil may have to compete with the second Harry Potter film and the second installment of Lord of the Rings (though there are some indications that the film's opening may be pushed back to Valentine's day, 2003), but it will have an A-list cast including Ben Affleck as blind attorney/crimefighter Matt Murdock (see 'Daredevil Movie Filming Set'). Jennifer Garner, who already won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of a karate-kicking counterspy in the new TV series Alias, will play Elektra; while Oscar-nominated Michael Clarke Duncan will portray the mammoth crime lord known as the Kingpin. Mark Steven Johnson will direct this New Regency/Fox production, which, if successful, could easily lead to a spin-off series for the sexy Elektra.
The sequel to the first X-men film will involve all the principal players who helped make the first film so successful, including Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, and Hugh Jackman. Bryan Singer, who has a solid feel for putting comics-based stories on film, will direct X-Men 2, and Fox has already staked out a prime early May, 2003 release date for the film (see 'X-Men Sequel Pushed Back to 2003').
The Incredible HulkUnlikely as it may seem to those who pay attention to comic book circulation numbers, the Hulk film may well turn out to be the most interesting and most successful of all of these comic book adaptations. Certainly its director, Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger), will provide an original take on the Hulk mythos, while the cast, which includes Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, has the acting chops to match Lee's directorial skills. If Lee is successful in adapting the Hulk, he should be able to gain strong critical notices that could well attract a portion of the movie-going audience that doesn't normally consider going to films based on comics. The Incredible Hulk is slated for a June 2003 release from Universal (see 'Universal Sets Hulk Release'), providing Marvel with a fantastic one-two punch for the summer movie season of 2003.