After a fifty-year comic book legacy, Morbius the Living Vampire will finally make his big screen debut in this year’s self-titled solo film. It’s a Marvel movie that perhaps no one saw coming a few years back, although development of a Morbius feature dates all the way back to 2000, when Artisan Entertainment partnered with Marvel to option fifteen of its comic book properties for feature adaptations, of which that title was included. But the theatrical legacy of this character dates back further than that, almost as far back as Marvel’s movie history in and of itself, as the character was originally set to debut at the end of 1998’s Blade.
Blade was, of course, only Marvel’s second big screen venture after 1986’s Howard the Duck—and far more successful, at that. While the credit usually goes to X-Men and Spider-Man for the massive comic book movie boom that has now sustained for two decades, Blade did so much to open the door to allow both of those films to happen in the first place. It was a film about an obscure character, a massive gamble, and it paid off. Because the movie was so risky, it’s actually a little surprising that director Stephen Norrington and writer David Goyer thought to set up a sequel in the first place, even if that tease was eventually cut.
To refresh anyone’s memory if they need it, Blade as we know it ends with the vampire hunter and the human Karen emerging onto a rooftop after their battle with Deacon Frost. Karen, who has cured herself of the infection, offers to help cure Blade as well, but having had his bloodlust reignited, he only suggests she make him a stronger serum instead, as he still needs his abilities in order to do his job. The movie then cuts to Moscow, where we see Blade set to take out some Russian vampires.
Initially, in the deleted ending, that rooftop scene went on a little longer. Blade still tells Karen to keep her cure because, as he says, “I still have a job to do.” This time, Karen then tells him “You’re on the clock,” revealing a figure watching the conversation from atop a nearby building. That figure is none other than Morbius. All in all, this blatant sequel tease of an ending might be a little too on-the-nose, but it’s also deliciously cheesy.
This ending was filmed and has been available to watch online in pretty low quality for years. Unfortunately, a higher-res version has never surfaced, though I would love to see any kind of behind-the-scenes footage or photos for what went into shooting that, if they even exist.
Imagine that, though: Morbius making his debut at the end of Blade, directly to tease a sequel in which he would be a central figure, before we even had Spider-Man on the big screen. More than that, this is the kind of direct, blatant sequel set-up that the MCU is known for and it was shot a full decade before the release of Iron Man. Heck, Marvel wouldn’t even attempt another credits sting until X-Men: The Last Stand in 2006. So what happened? Why was this amazing set-up scrapped in the first place?
The question is mostly answered by writer David Goyer on the DVD commentary. The ending was meant to set up a sequel in which Morbius would be the main antagonist. That was Goyer and director Stephen Norrington’s idea and would have formed the backbone of his sequel; but when Norrington left, that idea went with him. Guillermo del Toro came on board to direct Blade II instead and, naturally, wanted to do his own thing. That resulted in what most fans consider to the best movie of the Blade franchise.
It’s interesting to think of Morbius as the villain in the Blade sequel and what that may have looked like. Yes, the character made his debut as a Spider-Man villain, and he has a long history of rivalry with Blade, but he has never been anything but sympathetic. It would be surprising to see him portrayed as an outright antagonist, though it’s also possible that this hypothetical long-dead Blade II could have seen the two anti-heroes taking on some larger threat. With Morbius being not quite a vampire—or at least someone who came to vampirism through extremely non-conventional means—and often struggling to keep his bloodlust under control, he has a great deal in common with Blade. I’ve often assumed that their longstanding hatred for one another stems from just how much of themselves they see in the other, as there are so many similarities between the two of them. After all, vampires tend to get testy about looking into a mirror.
Everything about what that version of Blade II may have entailed is pure speculation, unfortunately, as it never seemed to even make it to a script stage, despite Morbius’ introduction being filmed. Sequel ideas were also tossed around introducing comic characters Frank Drake and Hannibal King, the latter of which would eventually appear in Blade Trinity played by Ryan Reynolds. Stephen Norrington turned down the offer to direct the sequel and del Toro came in with his own vampire mythology, to obviously great results. Norrington, however, had a much bigger role in Morbius’ introduction at the end of the original Blade than most fans would probably ever think to guess. I had always assumed the role of Morbius in that scrapped cameo was played by an unnamed stuntman, but the truth is way more interesting as the person wearing Morbius’ billowy coat in that cut finale is none other than director Stephen Norrington himself.
That’s both amazing and entirely unsurprising as it meant not having to hire someone for an incredibly brief role, plus the fact that you can’t actually make out any details about Morbius save for his signature long, black hair.
After his departure from Blade, Norrington wound up becoming attached to countless other projects, including a few other Marvel movies. In 2001, he was attached to direct Ghost Rider, before the project shifted hands from Dimension to Columbia. That same year, he signed a deal to direct The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu, which was in development for years, though never actively, and Norrington was replaced as director on that by Yuen Woo-ping in 2005. In 2007, he was set to direct the remake of Clash of the Titans which he left on the grounds that he had never grown up with the original, handing the reigns to Incredible Hulk director Louis Leterrier instead. In 2008, Norrington announced that he would direct a remake of The Crow and remained attached for several years before departing in 2013. Several other filmmakers have come and gone from that project since. Norrington was also said by Robert Englund to have been attached to Freddy vs. Jason in 2001. Just before Norrington was attached—and just after Rob Bottin disappeared from both the development of that film and the industry as a whole—Englund noted another filmmaker had boarded the project when speaking to Horror Online at the time: “I believe they were going to go with Guillermo del Toro, who I love. I loved Cronos and Mimic. But he’s busy with Blade II now.”
By that timeline, Norrington would have turned down Blade II, leaving del Toro to come in and replace him, with del Toro leaving Freddy vs. Jason in the process, leaving Norrington to replace him on that. Which, if true, is an amazing perfect circle of development hell. Unfortunately, other than the quotes from Englund, neither director’s involvement has ever seemed to be substantiated, so it’s possible that neither one of them was ever as seriously involved with the project as rumors have led fans to believe.
Norrington’s last film as director was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. As a big fan of that first Blade, though, I would love to see him finally direct something else that actually gets made. While Blade would certainly have been a no-brainer to bring Morbius to the big screen, it’s crazy to actually see the character debut in his own solo film two decades later. It’s a natural instinct to think it’s insane that comic book culture has ballooned to such a massive size that characters like Morbius can get their own movie, but the truth is, thanks to being tied to Spider-Man and featuring prominently in the ‘90s animated series, Morbius was probably a more well known character than Blade at the time that movie came out. Although Blade made a few appearances on that cartoon as well, they were smaller guest appearances, like many other Marvel heroes.
Between then and now there was another outlet that was rumored to see Morbius make his live-action debut: the short-lived Blade: The Series. That show, which ran for only thirteen episodes on Spike, was cancelled after an extreme cliffhanger. David Goyer and everyone involved seemed to think a second season was almost guaranteed and there were concrete plans for what the second season would have entailed. While rumors of Morbius’ inclusion circulated for a long time, they were never confirmed and there’s almost no way they could be true, as by that time the Spider-Man franchise was in full swing and the character was firmly tied up at Sony. However: Blade: The Series was set to mark the live-action debut of yet another Marvel character long before they finally hit the screen, as the supernatural vigilante Moon Knight was set to appear in the second season, had it been made. Moon Knight now has a series headed to Disney+.
For a character (and film) that almost never gets mentioned alongside other foundational Marvel heroes, Blade did a ton to make this hero-heavy climate possible, in some unconventional, crucial, and unfortunately largely forgotten ways.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on January 16, 2020.