An Alux Scoop on Marvel’s Struggles and Success!
Hello, Aluxers, and welcome back. Today we’re going to look at the company that stands above all others when it comes to box office domination. And we can bet that even if you hadn’t seen the title of this article, you would know exactly who we’re talking about.
There’s no question that Marvel is at the top of their game with over 20 blockbuster hits and tens of billions in revenue, but as little as 20 years ago, Marvel was at risk of bankruptcy and closure. So what changed and how did they rise to the top so quickly? That’s exactly what we’re going to look at today.
If you are someone who would rather watch colorful visuals over dull text, here’s the whole article for you covered in our YouTube video:
With that out of the way, let’s come back to the article and learn how Marvel became the king of cinema.
The Big Picture
Marvel Studios is an American film studio that has been in operation since 1993, when it was originally called Marvel Films. However, they didn’t start producing films independently until 2005. Today Marvel is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Studios.
Several different projects have come out of Marvel Studios, but they are best known for the production of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films—the most successful film franchise of all time. Marvel Studios is located on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank, California. In 2009, Marvel Music was established as a subsidiary of Marvel Studios.
It’s primarily a record label for releasing music associated with Marvel’s film and television productions. Marvel’s closest competitors, Sony and Fox, are attempting to play catch-up with franchises of their own, but it seems that they’ve been playing checkers while Marvel is playing chess. But Marvel certainly hasn’t always been on top. Let’s go back now to see where this company started.
Resource: Most Expensive Superhero Film Props
Marvel Comics was founded in 1939 by magazine publisher Martin Goodman under its original name, Timely Comics. The company’s first comic was published in October 1939, the same year that Stanley Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, joined the company as a teenager.
Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby went on to create some of the most iconic characters of all time, including the Hulk, Thor, Black Panther, Iron Man, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and many others. In 1960, Goodman’s company officially rebranded to Marvel comics, and the first comics under the Marvel brand name were published soon after.
Less than five years later, they were selling 50 million comic books per year, but they had some major obstacles waiting for them down the road.
In 1986, the Marvel Entertainment Group was sold to New World Entertainment, and three years later it was sold again to Revlon executive Ronald Perelman. He decided to take the Marvel Entertainment Group public, and its stock rose rapidly.
The company suffered a significant setback in 1992 when seven of its most talented artists collectively quit so that they could form their own company called Image Comics. Just a few years later, the entire comic industry went through a slump as the comic book boom of the early 90s tapered off.
In December 1996, Marvel had no choice but to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Marvel was saved in 1997 when the toy company Toy Biz bought them out and formed a new corporation called Marvel Enterprises.
The following year, looking for an influx of cash to help get them back on their feet, Marvel offered to sell the rights to a long list of characters, including Thor, Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, to Sony Pictures for 25 million dollars. Sony ended up only paying them 7 million for Spider-Man because they didn’t see the other characters as profitable, which is a move many at Sony seriously regret today.
After years of licensing their characters out for films created by other production studios, Marvel finally decided they were ready to start self-financing in 2005. They began buying back some of the film rights they had sold off, regaining the rights to Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow. These were important moves, but perhaps the greatest choice that Marvel execs made was who to put in charge.
The entire success of the Marvel cinematic universe can be traced back to one man—Kevin Feige [Feej], who became the president of production and the producer of all Marvel Studios films. When Feige was made the head of Marvel Studios in 2007, he was only 33 years old, but he had creative ideas and a strong vision for building the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
He was also a huge fan of Marvel and had an impressive amount of knowledge about the characters and their storylines.
Kevin assembled a small committee of executives and creative people with a strong background in Marvel comics. His greatest vision was staying true to the comics and making films that even hard core loyalists would approve of rather than trying to appeal to the masses.
He knew if he could get the loyal fanbase on board, the mainstream moviegoers could be won over based on the strength of the characters and the entertaining storylines. Feige went to battle time and time again to ensure that the creative choices that were made honored the comics, and he has produced every Marvel film since 2007, following his strategic timeline.
Feige had the idea to introduce the members of the Avengers with their own movies before bringing them all together in an epic film. In this way, their origin stories could be introduced thoroughly, and the Marvel Universe could grow and develop through a series of films rather than trying to cram it all into one.
When trying to decide which superhero would be featured first, the choice was ultimately made by children. Marvel presented a number of heroes to multiple panels of children, explaining their abilities and weapons.
The executives were surprised that the overwhelming majority of children chose Iron Man as their favorite, but they decided to go ahead and greenlight the first Iron Man film with a 140 million dollar budget.
When it brought in a total gross of 585.2 million dollars, they knew they were on to something. The success of this film contributed to Disney’s decision to buy Marvel Entertainment for 4 billion dollars in December 2009, and Disney completely took over marketing efforts for the future films as well.
After Iron Man proved to be a winning venture, Marvel began playing an intense game of cinematic chess, planning several moves ahead. It was critical to build a strong foundation that could support an ever-growing universe and never-ending storylines.
One critical part of this was finding the best actors and actresses who were willing to sign lengthy multi-picture deals. Robert Downey Jr. signed on first even though the Marvel execs thought he was a risky choice due to his past drug abuse. Find out more about that with our video of how Robert Downey Jr. went from addict to becoming Iron Man.
Downey was followed by Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson, and other A-listers. Marvel set a precedent in the industry for developing talent and building an expansive shared cinematic universe. After laying the groundwork with their first several films, it was time to see if this strategy could pay off in a bigger way.
The Defining Moment
With Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel earned the trust of the comic book faithful and also opened up comic storylines and characters to a whole new audience. They had meticulously created a foundation for what would be the most ambitious film of their short independent studio history—The Avengers.
After four years of build-up, the fans were ready. They showed up in droves on opening weekend in May 2012, setting a record for the biggest opening weekend in the United States and Canada. The film went on to set at least 14 more cinematic records, including the highest-grossing superhero film, the fastest film to earn $100 million, and the highest cumulative gross.
The Avengers became the first Marvel film to gross over 1 billion dollars with global revenues totaling over 1.5 billion dollars. Marvel had achieved an even bigger payoff than they were expecting, and this was when they became the clear frontrunners in the movie industry.
Since 2008, Marvel has released 23 incredibly successful films with 7 of these passing the one billion mark at the box office. In 2019, Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing film of all time, bringing in nearly 2.8 billion dollars at the global box office.
Marvel has been crowned the king of cinema with the highest-grossing film franchise in history with total revenues surpassing 22.5 billion worldwide. And they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
When we say Marvel is playing chess, we aren’t kidding. They’re looking more than a few moves ahead with their future movie line-up. In fact, they have mapped out their films all the way to 2028 and possibly beyond.
An overarching thread of significant character arcs and major events for the next ten years has already been put on paper. In fact, they are mapped out on the wall of Kevin Feige’s office.
The films are released in groups called phases, and the first three phases, which ended with Avengers: Endgame in 2019, are collectively known as “The Infinity Saga.” Phase four, starting in 2020, will include films about Black Widow, Black Panther, Thor, and others.
Marvel plans on releasing at least two films per year in addition to eight planned television series which are being developed for the Disney Plus streaming service. Marvel owns the rights to more than 8,000 characters, so the possibilities for future films are nearly endless.
There’s no question that Marvel sits on the throne of the film industry with a steady flow of massive blockbuster hits with no end in sight. The success of Marvel is no accident as every step was carefully analyzed and meticulously planned.
They stayed true to their roots and brought the classic characters of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and others to life in a way that resonated with audiences worldwide—both diehard comic book fans and those who had never been drawn to the genre previously.
Marvel also had the patience to build a strong infrastructure that supports the entire Marvel Universe today. Others like Sony, Fox, and DC Comics may try to emulate their formula, but it seems unlikely that anyone will be able to beat Marvel at the game they created and wrote the rules for, so they will likely remain king of the cinema for many years to come.