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Not many of us know about the history of Marvel. It seems like their movies have been in existence for several decades. We all know their movies have gained millions of dollars at the box office, but it turns out that Marvel was not alway successful. Marvel had to work their way up to become the brand they are today. There is one who we can thank for all these fantastic movies that keep getting better and better. Marvel Studios gained its success from president Kevin Feige and his ability to take risks.
Marvel seems to be on the top of the totem pole when it comes to films, but there was a time when DC dominated the world of superheros, when Marvel Studios did not exist nor did Warner Bros’ DC instead there was Marvel Comics and DC comics. In this time, superhero films did not control the world, only comics did. In every comic book, the hero reaches his darkest point when he is on his knees, the city’s in ruins, and the villain is about to kill him or her.
It feels like there is no hope. Marvel reached its darkest point occurred in 1996.
Marvel had grown substantially during the 60s, 70s, and 80s due to the storytelling and art in the comics like the Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider Man. It had its most financial success in the 90s. During this time, there was a boom in violent crimes. The popularity of comics were starting to decline and this caused a lack of interest.
Marvel’s stock went from $35.75 in 1993 to $2.375 in 1996. Marvel’s future was up in the air. DC comics was also affected by this lack of interest. The rise of DC comics occured when the comic book industry decided to take a different approach. DC comics took a huge risk by killing off many of their main popular heros; this can be seen in the comic the Death of Superman. This increase in crime rate levels caused an increase in vigilante type characters. All the heroes that have “dead,” “death”, and “blood in their names were from this era. This brought an increase in sales, but still the comic industry continued to decline.
Sandman writer Neil Gaiman gave a speech gave a speech to 3,000 retailers about the collection and sale of comics in the year 1993. In short, he told the retailers to collect as much comics as they can since they might be worth a fortune and attract buyers by telling them that they are investing money for high guaranteed returns. He said that the comic book revenues would not be as high in the future. A lot of the collecting was already happening a few years prior to the speech and comic books gained the interest of mainstream media by the 1980s. Golden Age comics sold for thousands of dollars. Publishers began creating comics that had colorful covers with fancy writing and the buyers sucked it all up. The readers knew that there could be a hefty profit in the future if they stored up all the copies of comic books. In the meantime, Rob Perelman, millionaire businessman, took an interest in Marvel. He bought the Marvel Entertainment Group that was owned by New World Pictures at the time. Perelman bought shares in ToyBiz (another company) as well as trading card companies, and more in the first two years Marvel was on the stock market. Marvel had to pay approximately $700 million to pay for this.
Marvel had great success with the Spiderman and X-Men comics. It replicated its success with a new comic, X-Force, but this time Marvel had a trick up its sleeve. Marvel added five different tradings cards for the first issue. The collectors had to buy multiple versions of the comic to get all five trading cards. Multiple copies were bought for saving and one of them was opened for reading purposes.
Marvel lost its ground like Gaiman thought it would. Revenues from the comic books and trading cards fell. Perelman was blamed for this, but he fought back claiming that if he raised the prices Marvel fans will begin would spend a lot more money on buying comics. To prove it, he sold 40% of Marvel’s stock, which more than he payed for the whole company. He over promised though, which led to his downfall. He told investors that he would increase the price and do brand extensions. He said that most fans would stay loyal despite all these changes. Fans started to quit collecting in early 1993 because of the high prices. Retailers were getting affected by the sales going down by 70%. No one had expected this not even Perelman.
Marvel was in serious debt by the time 1995 rolled around. To save the company, Perelman came up with a plan: to create Marvel Studios. He decided to buy the shares left in ToyBiz and combine them with Marvel’s shares to create a mega entity. Marvel shareholders disagreed with this plan and that the share prices would be destroyed. Perelman took it upon himself to find a way to carry out his plan without the shareholders agreement: file for bankruptcy. Many stockholders such as Carl Icahn publicly went against Perelman. A court case ensued; the result was ToyBiz and Marvel Entertainment Group came together. But anyone associated with Perlman and Icahn had their careers ruined at Marvel. This include CEO Scott Sassa who only lasted in his position for 8 months. This occured due to two executive members of ToyBiz who had been on Marvel’s board since the year of 1993. These members were Isaac Perlmutter and Avi Arad. They made Joseph Calamari the new CEO; he had been part of Marvel in the 80s. With Marvel’s board members calming down, Marvel decided to give it a go at the movie business, something they had been trying since the 80s.
Avi Arad was the CEO of ToyBiz and was named ‘the hottest developer in the toy business.” His success doubled in 1993 when Marvel purchased 46 percent of the shares in ToyBiz. In return, Arad received 10 percent of the shares. At first, he oversaw Marvel action figures production and then he made Stan Lee in charge of Marvel Films.
Arad was an executive producer on the very popular animated TV series X-Men and in the summer of 1993, he had made a deal with 20th Century Fox to create a X-Men movie. Marvel had struggled to get its popular characters onto the big screen: the rights to Spiderman could not be figured until the late 1990s and 1986’s Howard The Duck was ripped apart critically and financially. Due to the past failures, many Hollywood executives did not believe Marvel’s movies could bring success critically and financially. But they were proved wrong as Blade was a hit, earning $70 million dollars at the box office. Unfortunately, Marvel only earned $25,000 from the film. The X-Men and Spiderman films were also hits, but Marvel again got a small profit from both films.
David Maisel, a talent agent, asked Perlmutter two questions. Why could Marvel not produce the movies under their name and keep the profits? Why could Marvel not do crossovers with characters from other universes like in the comics? These two ideas could make Marvel worth millions even though Marvel’s stock had stabilized in 1996, Marvel thought it could improve more. There was an issue though, these two ideas needed to go through Marvel’s board of directors and from there Marvel needed to get the appropriate financing.
Marvel was able to make a risky deal with Merrill Lynch in order to get the financing that they needed. In exchange, Marvel had to give characters up like Thor and Captain America to the bank if the films did not get enough money. Merrill Lynch gave Marvel $525 million to use over seven years for 10 films with budgets ranging from $45 million to $180 million. Marvel bought back some of the rights of the characters they sold: Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, and Hulk. Initially, Iron Man was owned by Universal, then sold to Fox, and finally sold to New Line. Marvel announced that Iron Man would be featured in their first independent production.
While work on Iron Man began, Kevin Feige came onto the scene. Feige started off his career by being an assistant to producer Lauren Shuler Donner, Richard Donner’s wife. Next, he got the role of the producer on Fox’s production of X-Men at just 27 years old. He went on to produce Spider-Man, Daredevil, and Hulk. He was brought to the president of Marvel Studios in the year 2007. Thanks to Kevin Feige, Marvel was flourishing. Iron Man, which was Feige’s first credit as a producer for Marvel, earned a whopping $585 million. Downey was able to draw upon his own experiences with success and failure and relate that to his character, which made his onscreen character seem one in the same as his offscreen character. This made him an instant hit in the movie world.
In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel for $4.3 billion. Avi Arad claimed this was a steal for Disney. Marvel continued to blossom, The Avengers made billions of dollars and is ranked as third highest grossing film of all time. Iron Man was the second film of Marvel’s to gross more than $1 billion. Guardians Of The Galaxy made approximately $750 million plus. Black Panther made $1 billion plus as well and is one of the highest grossing films of all time.
In my opinion, films like Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok were very successful were due to their directors. Thor: Ragnarok shows Thor and his home of Asgard in a way we never saw before: not boring. The tone of this move is a complete shift from the other Thor movies and it is one of the funniest movies in this decade. The film takes advantage of the strangeness of space and their characters instead of trying to make sense of it. Taika Waititi, the director, creates emotion connection to his characters. Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, also included humor in his film and he believed that it came from developing character. This film gave us both female and male superheroes. Coogler knew if he directed this film well and choose the right cast members, this movie could be a hit. This film has an ulterior motive, it shows us that superhero movies can be entertaining, but have a cultural impact as well. It celebrates Africa and its beauty and gave someone Africans as well as African Americans someone they could relate to.
What’s in store for the future? Marvel currently has nine more films lined up. One of these films is part two of the third Avengers film (2019): The Avengers: Endgame. Another one is the Spider-Man: Homecoming Sequel (2019), which is Spider-Man: Far From Home. A third one is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2020). I am sure these will be just as successful as their previous movies based on their past history.
Marvel has impacted many fans such as myself culturally in many ways. Moviegoers are infatuated with these characters and care about their fate. Children look up to these characters and adults love to see the characters’ personal growth. Marvel has transformed the public opinion of comic books movies from cheesy into action packed, must see films. Marvel has inspired many other movie studios to shoot their shot in the movie industry such as Warner Bros’ DC. It is interesting to see how Marvel now dominates the film industry and DC dominates the animated TV show world with shows like Justice League and Young Justice in the early 2000s . In terms of comics, who is better now that is another story. To me personally, Marvel characters come off as more relatable to working class citizens.
Marvel movies are about people trying to be superheros, while DC movies are about superheros trying to be people. Marvel has characters that are more vulnerable, driven by personal conflict, and more genuine compared to DC. Also, Marvel has learned how to adapt to the different times. For example, in the 60s, the US was dealing with racial segregation and the civil rights movement created mutants so people who were discriminated against their genetics would have their own characters to look up to. In today’s day and age, people want to see something different and Marvel has a good thing going. When one thinks of superhero films, they always think that the protagonist is faced with a struggle, but is able to win in the end. This is not in Marvel’s case though as films such as Avengers: Infinity War, almost all the characters end up dead. Marvel is breaking out of this stereotype. Another way Marvel is different is they are trying to give personality to their characters using a unique kind of humor in films like Thor: Ragnarok. People come to the movies for an escape and love to see light hearted humor incorporated in action filled films.
Marvel’s success and its ability to beat out the competition would not have come if not for Kevin Feige. He took many risks, he gave his directors full creative control over their films even if their ideas were not conventional. He took Marvel from bankruptcy to millions. Marvel has adapted with the times and will continue to succeed for generations to come. Marvel has survived its judgement day.
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