Before ‘Black Panther’: 7 Mainstream Movies Starring Black Superheroes
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Black Panther is currently sitting at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the highest-rated superhero films of all time. And while this might be the first (only?) blockbuster of movies starring black superheroes, Black Panther is not the first movie about a black superhero.
Behold, 7 Movies Starring Black Superheroes Before Black Panther:
1. The Meteor Man
1993 • Directed by, written and starring Robert Townsend
A mild-mannered teacher is struck by a meteor and gains a limited supply of way too many superpowers. Before they disappear for good, he convinces the local gangs to unite and work together to improve their crime-ridden, Washington, D.C., community.
Despite having a nearly all-star cast — including Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin and just about any hip-hop artist you can think of from that era — this comedy was not well-received by critics (currently ranking at 29% on Rotten Tomatoes). Due to its title character being original and therefore completely unheard of, and the movie’s over-aggressive sense of righteousness, it never found its audience, grossing just $8,023,147 with an estimated $30 million budget.
1994 • Directed by Mike Binder, written by Damon Wayons and J.F. Lawton and starring Damon Wayons as Blankman
After the murder of his grandmother by local mobsters, a childlike inventor scrapes together a low-rent costume, array of gadgets, his personal robot assistant (yep) and David Alan Grier to save the city from corruption.
This pratfall-heavy comedy fell flat and hard with critics and audiences alike, with a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earning just $7,892,208. Am I the only one who thinks Blankman is the shitty Batman to Meteor Man’s shitty Superman?
1997 • Directed and written by Kenneth Johnson and starring Shaquille O’Neal as John Henry Irons/Steel
A retired military weapons designer dons a suit of his own creation when he discovers his inventions are being used by criminals, and he takes to the streets as a force for good.
Steel is our first entry actually based on an existing comic book character. DC Comics’ Steel is an inventor inspired by Superman to become an armored superhero. Apparently nothing was learned (by anyone) from the movie Kazaam, and not only was Steel universally panned (currently 12% on Rotten Tomatoes), Shaq himself was nominated but didn’t win a Razzie Award for worst actor. (So Steel actually lost at losing.) Audiences agreed, as it made a mere $1.7 million with a $16 million budget.
1997 • Directed by Mark A.Z. Dippé, written by Alan B. McElroy and starring Michael Jai White
An elite mercenary is betrayed and murdered, but after making a deal with the devil, he returns with horrible scars and hell-spawned powers to perform heroic deeds despite the admonishments of his demon guide.
This horror/superhero combo is based on the enormously successful Spawn comic franchise created by Todd McFarlane. While not well-received by critics, with an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, Spawn actually grossed a respectable $87,949,859 worldwide with an estimated $40 million budget, making it one of the more successful movies starring black superheroes.
5. The Blade Trilogy
1998-2004 • Directed by Stephen Norrington (I), Guillermo del Toro (II) and David S. Goyer (Trinity) and starring Wesley Snipes as Blade
Born to a mother who was bitten by a vampire, Blade has all the powers of a vampire and none of the weaknesses. He proceeds to kill vampires, blood-gods, mutant-vampire hybrids, the Shadow Council and eventually teams up with Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel to kill Dracula.
By sticking to the comic book source material, the success of the Blade Trilogy — the first trilogy of these movies starring black superheroes — was the launching point of the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. These quasi-horror, ultra-violent, R-rated splatter-fests met mediocre reviews but they’ve racked up over $415 million cumulatively. Fun fact: Wesley Snipes convinced Marvel to make Blade after years of attempting to make his own Black Panther movie with no success.
2004 • Directed by Pitof, written by John Brancato, Michael Ferris and John Rogers, and starring Halle Berry
Meek graphic designer Patience Phillips is resurrected after being … you know what? Who cares? As a lifelong fan of DC’s Catwoman, I take personal umbrage with this movie. Catwoman the movie is about the word “Catwoman” and has absolutely nothing to do with Selina Kyle, Batman or even Gotham City, but Warner Brothers still spent $100 million on it. The result? Catwoman was universally panned (9% on Rotten Tomatoes but in the spirit of fairness its audience score is a whopping 18%), earned $82 million worldwide and won Razzie Awards for Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director and Worst Screenplay. Who knows how far back Catwoman set future female-led superhero movies.
2008 • Directed by Peter Berg, written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan and starring Will Smith as John Hancock
A hard-living immortal superhero who has fallen out of favor due to recklessness and bad behavior turns his life and public image around with some help from a person he saves.
With Hancock, we’ve circled back to original/non-comic-based source material. Despite mixed reviews and thanks to the star power of Will Smith, Charlize Theron and Jason Bateman, the film went on to gross $624,386,746 on an estimated $150 million budget.