Marvel was desperate for cash in the '90s, partly due to a particularly bad lull in the comics industry's boom-or-bust cycle, and one of the strategies they tried was licensing out their major characters for movies. It might seem obvious, but up to that point, Marvel's big-screen efforts had actually been pretty dismal: a couple of rough attempts at Captain America, an ill-fated Fantastic Four movie from legendary B-movie director Roger Corman that only existed as a bootleg for years, the widely panned Howard the Duck, and the underrated 1989 Punisher movie that was maybe a little too much like the comics of the time for its own good.
At the same time, TV efforts like the X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons had proved to be hugely successful—especially in terms of selling action figures—and even the old Incredible Hulk TV show was something of a pop culture touchstone. Clearly, the characters were appealing—which is why they were the ones that Marvel rushed to license. Spider-Man, after a super complicated licensing issue that I'm not even close to fully understanding, wound up at Sony, and the X-Men went to Fox, the company that not coincidentally owned the TV network that aired the cartoon, along with Fantastic Four. But while they were the major ones, there's another one that beat them to success in film: Blade.
That might be the weirdest but most telling thing about Marvel's entire run of movies: it wasn't the big-name franchise players that gave them their first big hit, it was, to put it charitably, a C-list character who'd never really held down his own title, and whose movie didn't even include his own arch-nemesis. But it was proof that filmmakers could make it work with obscure characters that could blend genres into something that felt different, something that seems pretty obvious when you're looking back 20 years later, when we've got two successful, big-budget movies featuring Rocket Racoon.
And hey, if you ever doubt how important the Blade films were to the very idea of the modern comic book movie, just look at what the guy who wrote them is up to these days.