Marvel Studios: Slowly Yet Surely Becoming the Thanos of Real Life

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Marvel Studios: destroyer of the summer blockbuster (Donaldson, 2018); home-base for Earth’s mightiest heroes; where film projects come out in phases as if they’re the moon. A subsidiary of Walt Disney Studios (Lang, 2015),  Marvel Studios is well known for its arsenal of fictional titans and even larger cinematic universes. It is here we will explore and give an in-depth look into the belly of the beast that is Marvel Studios.

The road to the Marvel Studios audiences know and love today has had a tumultuous history. After spending much of the nineties selling their intellectual property (Williams, 2018), 1997 brought then called Marvel films a new leader, name and vision. Entrepreneur Ike Perlmutter, of the company Toy Biz, led the studio into a string of successes collaborating with other film studios on works such as Spider-Man and X-Men.

Actor Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in “Iron Man”

Marvel Studios showed its true ferocity as a film enterprise in 2008 with Iron Man. The triumph of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk caught the eye of a young upstart of a company named Disney. In 2009, Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment, the umbrella in which Marvel Studios operated at the time, for $4 billion (McNary, 2018). Now stationed in an office in Burbank, CA (Sciretta 2017), and with twenty films under their belt, an entire universe at their disposal and having grossed $6.85 billion domestically and $17.33 billion internationally (McNary, 2018), Marvel Studios is a far cry away from its days of declaring bankruptcy (Williams, 2018).

Whenever Marvel Studios is mentioned in the media, audiences can surely expect one name to be referenced. Kevin Feige, President of Production at Marvel Studios, a title reported by the Bloomberg Overview of Marvel Entertainment, was instrumental in finagling the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to where it has landed. More importantly, he slipped out from under the thumb of Marvel Entertainment in 2015 (Belloni, Masters, 2015) when he was increasingly frustrated by Perlmutter. As further reported in The Hollywood Reporter, Marvel Studios joined the likes of Pixar Animation Studios and Lucasfilms as its own banner company underneath Disney. In essence, Feige operates as a Thanos-type being under the House of Mouse.

President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige 

In addition to his overarching creative control over Marvel Studios, Feige has a selective process when determining auteur directors for each project. Feige, in an interview with NPR’s Mandalit Del Barco, explains the weight of the talented people brought into projects: “[Marvel Studios] take those group of artists who know how to do this amazing spectacle on a big canvas, and bring a very personal touch to it, and bring a unique vision to it” (Del Barco, 2018). CrunchBase assesses rather broadly, Marvel Entertainment employs between 500-1,000 people, where roles include Senior Illustrator to Network Engineer, although, the data collected is not geared towards Marvel Studios solely. Still, that’s a huge amount of creative talent to pull. Feige uses Ryan Coogler’s work in Black Panther to illustrate how relatability and humanization of their characters, struggles and stories is a large portion to the success of Marvel Studios. Debatably, it also helps separate its brand of superhero, popcorn flicks from its major competitor, DC Entertainment Inc.

If superheroes and intellectual property are the greatest assets of Marvel Studios, what exactly do they own? Gone are the days when Marvel Studios needs to rely on enlisting a once B-List superhero such as Iron Man to pilot their entire franchise. Complicating the matter further is the fact Disney has now officially purchased 21st Century Fox for $71.3 billion (Barnes, Lee 2018). As the infographic showcases below, properties previously belonging to 21st Century Fox, including DeadpoolX-Men and The Fantastic Four are now back home under the Marvel Studios banner. Other than multiple Spider-Man villains clinging to Sony Pictures and She-Hulk holding down the fort at Universal Pictures, Marvel Studios has almost reclaimed all of their intellectual property sold off years ago.

Visual Guide to Marvel Live-Action Character Rights (courtesy of The Geek Twins). Fans are waiting anxiously for their Man-Ape feature film.

According to the website Investopedia, a business model is defined simply as, “… a company’s plan for how it will generate revenue and make a profit” (2015). Marvel Studios makes films, and as expressed in his NPR interview, Feige assures it’s a carefully choreographed dance. As illustrated by the MPAA theme report for 2017, the people most frequently going to the movies are falling between the ages of 25-39 years old (p. 18). The report also accounts the highest grossest Marvel Studios film was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, earning $398.8 million domestically (p. 23). Guardians ultimately lost to one of its competitors, Wonder Woman, which earned $412.6 million (p. 23).

In his article “Business models and revenue models in the U.S. Media,” author Larry Elin features several revenue models media companies rely upon. Box office receipts are a huge component to their profits, where the MCU has made $13.5 billion worldwide (Carpenter, 2018). Other revenue examples include retail sales from DVDs and Blu-Rays, licensing to broadcasters and syndication, to which the MPAA theme report relays physical home entertainment marks eighteen percent of consumer spending and digital home entertainment reigns with thirty six percent (p. 30). Advertising is another avenue Marvel Studios garners revenue. In a more creative example of product placement, Black Panther and automaker Lexus had a unique partnership deal, where the car was infused into the film, and the character Black Panther and actor Chadwick Boseman appeared in a Lexus commercial (Iliff, 2018).

Marvel Studios has come a long way since bankruptcy over twenty years ago. With two films on the horizon in 2019, including their first female-led film Captain Marvel and part two of Avengers: Infinity War. With Disney’s pension for collecting other companies like Thanos hunts infinity stones, expect to witness other companies disintegrate, and Marvel Studios will watch its new film world order unfold.

 

Bibliography

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Donaldson, K. (2018, March 19). Summer Movie Season Is Over – And It’s All Because of Marvel. Screenrant. Retrieved from https://screenrant.com/summer-movie-season-change-marvel/2/

Elin, L. (2015, September). Business Models and Revenue Models in the U.S. Media.

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