In Part 4 we lost Batman but got Blade, a second-rate superhero that showed Hollywood how a seriously taken source material and genuinely good movie can turn into a successful property, regardless of how famous it was to begin with. For the first time, you didn’t need Superman or Batman to make a hit.
So Blade turned a lot of heads in 1998 and gave 20th Century Fox the courage to finally shell out $75 million so that X-Men could start filming after years of delays (Bryan Singer signed on to direct the picture way back in 1996). Initially set to open in December 2000, X-Men was moved to July and considering filming just started in September, this was definitely on a very tight schedule. But before we go forward with X-Men, we still got 1999 and 2 superhero movies to talk about.
Black Mask was a movie made way back in 1996 that opened in North America on May 14th 1999 starring Jet Li. The only reason this finally got released is because Jet Li was starting to become popular thanks to his role in Lethal Weapon 4 just a year before. Black Mask only made $12.5 million. A few months later it was time for superhero comedy Mystery Men to bomb at the box office with $29.7 million in North America. Yep, 1999 was not a good year for heroes of the super kind.
X-Men opened on July 14th 2000 with the 5th highest opening weekend at the time, $54.4 million and outstanding reviews and praise from fans alike. This was everything Fox wanted it to be and the franchise potential was enormous. X-Men went on to gross $157.3 million in North America and $296.3 million worldwide. The Marvel revolution was here.
In November 2000 an original superhero created by the mind of M. Night Shyamalan was unleashed in Unbreakable. This was a very different take on the genre but it still received good reviews and great fan appreciation. $95 million in North America and $248.1 million worldwide made Unbreakable one of the bigger hits of that year.
2001 was almost empty with only 1993 Hong Kong movie, Iron Monkey, out in North America grossing just $14.7 million.
2002 was a landmark moment for the superhero genre with Blade returning and Spider-Man finally getting his big screen debut after years of going nowhere. Directed by the now famous Guillermo del Toro, Blade II opened March 22nd with $32.5 million and went on to make $82.3 million in North America and 155 million worldwide. At this point Wesley Snipes and Blade were here to stay, at least until New Line would pull a Superman 3 on it, but more about that at a later time.
Stuck in development hell for over two decades, Sony Pictures finally bought the Spider-Men movie license in 1999 along with a James Cameron original scriptment (he tried to get the project up way back in 1990). After considering directors like Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012), Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns), Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) or David Fincher (Alien 3, Fight Club), they finally went with must less famous Sam Raimi (Evil Dead) in 2000, a long time fan of the comics. Filming took place from January to June 2001 and Spider-Men was set to open in February 2002. After previewing an unfinished version of the movie and realizing the huge potential they had with a summer release, Sony moved the date to May 3rd 2002.
May 3rd 2002, the date Spider-Man, arguably one of the big three most popular superheroes in the world (Batman and Superman being the others), finally opened and what an opening that was. $114.8 million, the biggest weekend ever at the time and it would not stop there. Spider-Man became the best reviewed superhero movie ever, considered by both fans and critics the finest flick to ever feature a superhero. Spidey went on to gross 403.7 million in North America (5th highest back then) and $821.7 million worldwide. Sony now had the biggest hero in town and they wanted to milk it to the last drop. A sequel was obviously on the way, but not for another 2 years, in the meantime other studios tried their luck at this hero thing, now more interesting then ever before.
Warner Bros, the studio that managed to ruin both Superman and Batman in little over a decades, released The Powerpuff Girls Movie in 2002. Based on the popular Cartoon Network series, it made $11.4 million. Hard at work on rebooting their then tarnished superheroes, Warner were not out of the game yet.
On February 14th 2003 Fox unleashed another Marvel superhero on the big screen, Daredevil starring Ben Affleck. It turned out a mediocre flick but it did gross 102.5 million in North America and $179.1 million worldwide. Instead of following it with a sequel, Fox were planning to release a spin-off 2 years later, a disaster we’ll talk about in Part 6.