Daredevil’s History Onscreen: A Retrospective

Daredevil has always been one of Marvel’s best characters. Although a lack of initial exposure outside of the comics made it hard to compete with – or even reach the same level of popularity as – characters like Spider-Man, over the years he’s slowly become a fan favorite. As a big fan of the character and in anticipation of Charlie Cox’s appearance in the upcoming series She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. I wanted to use the opportunity look back at the character’s history in media.

To start things off we’ll go all the way back to the 70’s. During this time in the comics Marvel decided to pair Daredevil with the Black Widow. With the two even sharing the title of the book for a time. At some point the book caught the attention of David Bowie’s then wife Angela Bowie. She managed to secure the rights to the characters for a year from Stan Lee with the hope of producing a live action series. Bowie got British photographer Terry O’Neill to do a photoshoot with her dressed as Black Widow. Actor Ben Carruthers was set to play Daredevil. However, the project was deemed too expensive, and the photoshoot was the furthest the project ever went with the rights reverting back to Marvel. The photos still exist, and you can see one of the images below.

Angela Bowie as Black Widow. With Ben Carruthers as Daredevil.

But that wouldn’t be the last time Marvel tried to bring Daredevil to television. A pilot for ABC was written in 1983 by Academy Award Winner Stirling Silliphant. But the series was never picked up. Eventually Daredevil was finally able to make it on the small screen in 1989. In the made for TV film The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Rex Smith portrayed the character of Matt Murdock alongside Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. In the film Matt Murdock defends Banner in a case and later teams up with him to fight The Kingpin played by John Rhys-Davies. The hope was that the film would do well enough that it would lead to a spin off series for Daredevil. Unfortunately, while the film did get good ratings the planned spin-off was never produced.

The film does have a lasting legacy for a few reasons, however. The first is that it was actually the first time Stan Lee made a cameo in a Marvel adaption. Something that would later become a tradition and he would continue to do until his death in 2018. The other is that in the movie Daredevil didn’t wear his traditional red costume with the horns. Instead, he wore a black ninja like outfit. This design would later be used in both the comics and the Netflix series.

Rex Smith as Daredevil. With Lou Ferringo as the Hulk.

By the time the 90s rolled around. Several Marvel characters starred in successful animated series. With the two biggest ones being X-Men: The Animated Series and Spider-Man: The Animated Series. With Daredevil making an appearance in the latter. There were brief discussions about giving the character his own animated series as well during this time. But it didn’t move forward due to some fears that the character was too dark for a kids show. By the end of the decade Marvel decided it was time to bring Daredevil to the big screen.

Giving the film rights to 20th Century Fox the movie went through a lot of names for a director including Chris Columbus before Mark Steven Johnson was hired. The role of Daredevil ultimately went to Ben Affleck who was a fan of the comic book. The film was released in 2003 and while it did well at the box office it received negative reviews from critics and fans. Affleck would later express regret over the film and a sequel was never made. Although a spin-off film Elektra was released in 2005, Affleck reprised his role in a scene for that film that was ultimately deleted. Personally, while I can’t argue with people who don’t like the Affleck film. I’ve always had a soft spot for it mainly because it’s what introduced me to the character. So, the movie succeeded in at least making me think “Wow this guy’s cool I want to know more about him.”

Ben Affleck as Daredevil in the 2003 film

Sadly, the disappointment of the film seemed to cause some hesitancy from studios to adapt the character in another project for a while. When the film rights returned to Marvel Studios in 2012. It was decided that instead of a film the character would instead finally get to star in his own show. In 2015 Marvel’s Daredevil was released on Netflix as the first series in what is now dubbed “The Defenders Saga“. A series of shows including Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. With Charlie Cox in the leading role. However, after three seasons Netflix unfortunately decided to cancel all the shows in 2018. But the deal with Netflix apparently made it to where Disney couldn’t use the characters for themselves for a period of time. But after three years of anticipation from fans including a strong online campaign called #SaveDaredevil. Matt Murdock finally made his big screen comeback in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Charlie Cox as Daredevil in The Defenders

Following his appearance in that film there was actually an increase in viewership for the series on Netflix. Shortly afterwards all seasons of the show were moved to Disney+.

Finally last month at the San Diego Comic-Con it was confirmed that the character would make an appearance in She-Hulk along with the announcement of a new series called Daredevil: Born Again set for release in 2024 with Cox reprising his role. The news was met with excitement from fans like me, along with the hope that the character will be the last iteration we see for years to come. After all, Cox’s return proves that he’s certainly the most definitive.

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