Every Marvel fan knows that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which eventually became the biggest movie franchise in Hollywood, began with the original ‘Iron Man’ movie in 2008. Of course, there were movies based on Marvel publications before that, such as 2002’s ‘Spider-Man’ and 2000’s ‘X-Men.’ Today, many fans believe that the first-ever feature movie based on Marvel publications was 1998’s ‘Blade,’ starring Wesley Snipes. And if you believe it too, you might be surprised now when we tell you that ‘Blade’ wasn’t the first Marvel movie ever. In this article, we’ll tell you which movie is and why people still consider ‘Blade’ the first one, regardless if they are aware of the existence of that first movie.
Produced by New Line Cinema, the original ‘Blade’ movie was released in 1998, before the inception of Marvel franchises such as ‘X-Men’ and ‘Spider-Man.’ Since it spawned a trilogy, it isn’t wrong to consider ‘Blade’ the first Marvel movie franchise ever. However, the first movie ever that was based on Marvel publications was ‘Howard the Duck,’ which was released in 1986 and co-produced by Universal Pictures and Lucasfilm. The catch is that ‘Howard the Duck’ is considered one of the worst movies ever made, and Marvel fans usually tend to forget it when thinking about the first Marvel movie ever made, which is why ‘Blade’ holds that title among fans since it was made before the inception of Marvel’s blockbuster franchises that started in the 2000s.
The birth of the superhero genre as we know it began in 1978 with the original ‘Superman’ movie starring Christopher Reeve, although there was a theatrical ‘Batman’ movie starring Adam West in 1966. Now that we think of it, we might draw a parallel here. Imagine that ‘Superman,’ which many fans consider the first DC movie is ‘Blade,’ and 1966’s Batman movie is ‘Howard the Duck.’ The explanation is basically the same, although it would be foolish to compare an iconic character such as Batman (even the campy one) with Howard the Duck. So let’s see how history played with this Marvel character, that it gave it the honor of frontrunning the first Marvel movie in history. Pretty bad movie, but still a first one.
How did Howard the Duck become the first Marvel character adapted for the big screen?
The character of Howard the Duck first appeared in Marvel Comics’ Adventure into Fear in December 1973, created by the writer Steve Gerber and the artist Val Mayerik. He was created as a secondary character associated with Man-Thing, before getting his own comic book title in 1976. Howard’s adventures are usually depicted as social satire.
Believe it or not, there would never be a ‘Howard the Duck’ movie without the man who created ‘Star Wars,’ George Lucas. After Lucas completed his work on ‘American Graffiti,’ he told the movie’s co-writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz about the ‘Howard the Duck’ comic book, which Lucas praised for its humor and absurdism. After finishing his work on the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy, Lucas stepped down as the president of LucasFilm to focus more on producing movies, one of which will eventually be ‘Howard the Duck.’
The development of the movie didn’t really go smoothly. The project was originally intended to be an animated movie, but it was later decided to be a live-action due to the cultural obligation. Huyck and Katz’s screenplay featured a more straightforward story, deprived of the satirical elements from the comics, and it was decided to make the title character “nicer” compared to his rude comic book incarnation.
And on top of all that, the title character’s design was changed several times due to consulting Disney’s lawyers to ensure the character won’t look like Disney’s Donald Duck.
The movie follows the titular character as he lives on Duckworld, a planet in another unvierse that is very similar to Earth, but everything is duck-ish there. The movie features many references to pop culture and known brands of that time. For example, Rolling Stone magazine is called The Rolling Egg on Duckworld, and Playboy there is called Playduck. You get the point.
The story begins one night when Howard returns home and is suddenly sucked into a sky portal that brings him to planet Earth. In the source material, Duckworld was initially placed on Earth-47920 before it was retconned to Earth-791021, and Howard’s origin story eventually transported him to Earth-616, the prime universe of the Marvel Multiverse.
In the movie, once he lands in Cleaveland, Howard quickly meets Beverly Switzler, a singer who he defended from two lowlifes shortly after his arrival on Earth. Howard and Beverly become good friends, and they are quickly drawn into an adventure in which Howard will need to save the world from the Dark Overlord of the Universe. In the end, although he defended his enemy and saved the Earth, he also destroyed his only chance of returning to Duckworld.
Upon its release, ‘Howard the Duck’ received negative reviews, and it was a commercial failure, with only $38 million dollars grossed against the reported budget of $30-37 million. Although it’s still considered one of the worst Marvel movies ever (we won’t call it the worst since Fant4stic exists now), the movie somehow developed a cult following. After all, if you have watched almost all the Marvel movies ever, how much can you lose by watching ‘Howard the Duck’ as well?
Why is ‘Blade’ considered the first Marvel movie by fans?
After ‘Howard the Duck,’ no theatrical feature film was based on Marvel publications until 1998, when New Line Cinema released ‘Blade.’ ‘Blade’ has set many standards for further comic book adaptations. It was some of the first R-rated superhero movies, and despite mixed reception from critics, the popularity of ‘Blade’ hasn’t faded among fans to this day.
‘Blade’ spawned two sequels, and after its release, X-Men and Spider-Man also got their first movies in 2000 and 2002, respectively. Therefore, many consider that ‘Blade’ started this era of Marvel movies that only got stronger with the inception of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s enough to say that since the release of ‘Blade,’ only 1999 and 2001 were the years without a single Marvel movie released.
When we put it all together, it’s understandable why ‘Blade’ is considered the father of Marvel movies, although it wasn’t the first Marvel movie ever made. But honestly, we can’t blame anyone who forgets about ‘Howard the Duck’ since the movie was pretty bad and pretty forgettable. It took 12 years after its release for studios to try and make a Marvel movie.
In 2014, Howard the Duck joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a minor role in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ He was actually more of an easter egg than a character there. The original Blade trilogy concluded in 2004 with ‘Blade: Trinity,’ but the next live-action Blade, played by Mahershala Ali, will join the MCU with the reboot movie that is currently set to be released on Valentine’s Day 2025.
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