Behind Marvel’s Attempt to Reboot the Vampire Thriller 5

Marvel Studios keeps trying to unsheathe Blade, but the vampire thriller is stuck in its scabbard. The latest setback occurred in recent weeks when the feature lost director Yann Demange, the second helmer to exit the project. Some sources say both sides grew frustrated by Blade’s prolonged development process.

Star Mahershala Ali is also said to be increasingly frustrated. Ali, who has been attached to the project since 2019, handpicked Demange after the project lost director Bassam Tariq in September 2022. At the time, Blade was in preproduction and about two months from principal photography, but Marvel came to believe that Tariq was not the best fit for the project, according to sources. Marvel then presented Ali with a list of directors for consideration, but Ali conducted his own search after having concerns that the list largely featured filmmakers who were untested at the big studio level.

Ali has, at times, exercised an inordinate amount of influence over the project, in a way few other actors have on Marvel movies. Part of it stems from Blade’s inception, which began when Ali called the studio after winning the Oscar for his work on Green Book and said he wanted to do Blade. Ali has envisioned Blade as his Black Panther, according to sources.

Demange’s Blade was batting its wings toward a shoot starting in May 2023 and hired yet another writer, True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, also an Ali pick, to bring the script over the finish line. But it was all for naught, as the writers strike, then the actors strike, shut the movie down. “People have missed about three windows to shoot other movies or shows,” an agent notes.

But unlike several other Marvel projects that were shut down and then restarted — including Deadpool & Wolverine and Thunderbolts Blade instead let most of its actors go, Delroy Lindo and Aaron Pierre among them, and went through more writers. Marvel hired Michael Green in November. And right after Demange left, go-to Marvel writer Eric Pearson, who had pleased the studio with recent work on Thunderbolts and Fantastic Four, jumped in.

It’s been such a long road that memes of an aged Ali at the far-in-the-future premiere of Blade took over social media after the latest helmer parted ways. Even Wesley Snipes, who played the vampire hunter in a trio of movies released by New Line, weighed in. “Blade, lordylordylordy,” Snipes sniped on X.

Ali’s attorney, Shelby Weiser, told THR in a recent interview: “That deal was in 2019, and they still haven’t shot iitt, which is pretty much the craziest thing in my professional experience.”

On top of last year’s strikes, Blade was a victim of pandemic delays and Disney’s full-steam-ahead pivot to streaming, which forced Marvel to overproduce and overdevelop its slate.

“There wasn’t enough attention paid to it,” says one insider. “It really was a casualty of the ‘too much’ era.”

That could explain why Blade kept on shifting storylines and time periods. The version that was aiming to shoot last year was set in the 1920s, according to sources, and featured Mia Goth as a vampire villain named Lilith who wanted the blood of Blade’s daughter. (Goth remains attached to star in the project.) For another iteration, under Tariq, Marvel built a massive train set, but it was never used. (It may be passed on to a different Disney production.) The new take on Blade is said to be present day. 

It is unclear how many millions Marvel has spent on Blade, counting the development and pre-production costs. But it’s not stopping now. Marvel has learned in recent years that it does not pay to be rushed into production. And the studio prides itself on having a high development-to-production ratio, something that eludes most other companies. The new plan calls for the script to be written over the summer and then go out to directors. 

Marvel chief Kevin Feige holds a special place for Blade, considering the Snipes 1998 movie an eye-opener for him and one of the inspirations for focusing on B-list characters in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

As he remarked in 2017: “A character nobody had heard of at all, had only appeared in a few issues of Tomb of Dracula or something, turned into a big franchise. That was always a great lesson for me, where you go, ‘It doesn’t matter how well known the character is, it matters how cool the movie is.’”

Scribes Who’ve Tried to Sharpen Blade

February 2021: Marvel hires Watchmen writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour to pen the script for a project that has Oscar winner Mahershala Ali attached to star as the horror hero.

Fall 2022: Beau DeMayo, who created X-Men ’97, takes his own stab, described as a period piece.

April 2023: With the writers strike looming, Marvel shells out for True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto to write. (He worked with Blade star Ali on season three of the HBO series.)

Fall 2023: After losing original director Bassam Tariq, Marvel taps Michael Starrbury (When They See Us) to write a new script for new director Yann Demange.

Fall 2023: The studio hires star scribe Michael Green, known for well-received genre movies Logan and Blade Runner 2049.

Summer 2024: With Demange exiting as director, Marvel brings in studio mainstay Eric Pearson, who has pushed scripts for Thor: Ragnarok, Black Widow and Fantastic Four over the finish line. 

This story appeared in the June 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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