— New Line Cinema

Marvel Studios has been trapped in a creative and commercial rut of its own making. There’s a sense that Marvel and its massive cinematic universe have lost their magic; as the studio works to change course amid growing franchise fatigue, reports that Marvel is still moving forward with Blade, but with a significantly more modest budget. The film, now set for a 2025 release, will be shot for less than $100 million. That’s still a lot of money, but against the MCU average — which has crept closer and closer to $200 million — it doesn’t seem like much. Even Iron Man, the film that started it all, was produced on a budget of $140 million. Will Blade be able to get by with even less?

Of course, a smaller budget isn’t a fatal blow: thanks to Gareth Edwards’ The Creator, we know a whole lot can be done with “just” $80 million. The indie-to-blockbuster pipeline has seen countless filmmakers, Edwards included, leap from modest productions to massive tentpole movies, but very few directors can apply the economic techniques they learned to larger productions.

“I always scratch my head when they pluck up out of film festivals these amazing filmmakers who have done these stunning debuts,” Edwards told Inverse. “And then they go and put them in the Hollywood machine and guess what? It comes out the other end quite similar to all the other things that have been made in the machine.”

Marvel has been recruiting indie directors for years, from Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler to The Marvels’ Nia DaCosta. The Marvels, notably, is one of the most expensive films produced by Marvel, sitting at a budget over $270 million. Unfortunately, that’s become the norm, while The Creator is the anomaly. Perhaps Disney has taken note of Edwards’ success at 20th Century Studios, and is willing to apply those same techniques to its upcoming slate. It would certainly force Marvel to employ a skill its productions notoriously lack: efficiency.

If the franchise wants to return to its glory days, tighter productions will have to become the new norm. Blade could provide the blueprint for better, stronger behind-the-scenes practices. The film still has a long way to go, but at least there’s a vampire-purging light at the end of the tunnel.

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