Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a profitable beast, generating over $4.7 billion in global box office revenue with five films: The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those five films -- the first Marvel movies to be distributed by Disney --- proved the $4 billion the House of Mouse spent to acquire Marvel in 2009 was money well spent.
Next May, Avengers: Age of Ultron will conclude "Phase 2" of the Cinematic Universe, paving the way for upcoming "Phase 3" films including Ant-Man, Captain America 3, Dr. Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
While the press has talked a lot about those films, it has spent less time discussing Ghost Rider, Blade, and the Punisher, the rights to which all returned to Marvel last year following inconsistent box office track records at Sony (NYSE:SNE), Time Warner (NYSE:TWX), and Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF-A). Let's look at how Marvel can integrate these film outcasts back into its carefully crafted Cinematic Universe.
Ghost Rider: Starting fresh with Danny Ketch
Sony's two Ghost Rider films weren't commercial bombs -- Ghost Rider (2007) grossed $229 million on a budget of $110 million, while Spirit of Vengeance (2012) grossed $133 million on a budget of $57 million. However, the steep box office decline between the first and second clearly indicated that it wouldn't be a good idea to release a third film. Critics despised both films -- the first has a score of 26% at Rotten Tomatoes, while its sequel fares even worse with 18%. Most reviewers disliked the films' silly mythology, cheesy CGI sequences, and Nicolas Cage's hammy, M&M-eating performance as Johnny Blaze.
To move forward with a reboot, Marvel should start fresh with the third Ghost Rider, Danny Ketch, who replaced Blaze in the comics during the early 1990s. That would be a great setup for a film co-starring the Midnight Sons, a team that includes Ghost Rider, Blade, Dr. Strange, and Vengeance (Ghost Rider's former nemesis) in the comics.
The new Ghost Rider could be a great starting point for a new, darker team of superheroes to complement the Avengers and further expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Blade: A perfect match for Ghost Rider
Time Warner/New Line Cinema's three Blade films -- Blade (1998), Blade II (2002), and Blade Trinity (2004) -- grossed $395 million worldwide on a combined budget of $159 million. The three films mostly fared better with critics than Ghost Rider, respectively earning scores of 55%, 59%, and 26% at Rotten Tomatoes. New Line and Marvel tried to keep the franchise alive with Blade: The Series on Spike TV in 2006, but the show was axed after a single season.
Wesley Snipes has suggested he could return as the titular character for the fourth film or reboot, although Michael Jai White and Idris Elba (who also played Heimdall in Thor and Moreau in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) have also expressed interest in the role.
Regardless of who lands the role, I believe Blade should also be brought back as part of the Midnight Sons. Having Blade and Ghost Rider team up in a combined reboot film for both characters would be a surefire way to reignite interest in the two franchises at the same time. Blade could also serve as the link between the Midnight Sons and the remnants of SHIELD, since he was associated with both groups in the comic books.
The Punisher: Time to return... as a villain
Of these three reacquired characters, the Punisher is the toughest to reboot due to the character's homicidal nature. The two previous films from Lions Gate, The Punisher (2004) and Punisher: War Zone (2008), were box office failures -- the first movie grossed $55 million on a budget of $33 million, while the sequel only grossed $10 million on a budget of $35 million. The first film earned 29% at Rotten Tomatoes, while the sequel fared roughly the same with 27%.
Fox briefly considered developing a Punisher TV show in 2012, but it didn't come together before the rights reverted to Marvel. Screen Rant previously speculated that Disney might launch a Punisher TV show on ABC or Netflix to complement Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter, and the new Daredevil show.
However, I believe the Punisher should be rebooted as a villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, instead of a hero, to remain faithful to his print comic debut in the 1970s. The "new" Punisher could debut as a villain in Captain America 3 or Iron Man 4, which would serve as a better introduction to the character than the gloomy approach taken in the previous films.
The Foolish takeaway
Disney and Marvel have a problem that Fox and Sony can only dream of: they have too many great comic book characters, and not enough time to adapt all of them to film. It might be a long time before we see Blade, Ghost Rider, and Punisher back on the big screen, but for now, it'll be fun for fans and investors to debate how Marvel should reboot these classic franchises.
Leo Sun owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Lions Gate Entertainment and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.