In May of 2008 Iron Man proved to be a surprise hit, and caused Marvel Studios, the film branch of the comic publisher, to attract a lot of eyes. They were more or less the underdog of the film industry, the new kid on the block who had sold the rights to some of their most popular characters a few years earlier. They couldn't really do anything serious. They'd hired Robert Downey Jr, who was washed up at the time, to play Ironman, a character who people might have recognised from the name and iconography, but the general public knew very little about.
On a budget of $140 million, the film made $585.2 million.
While we can’t tell how profitable the film is, due to marketing costs being hidden, a rule that can used is that, if a film makes twice its budget worldwide, it’s broke even, so it’s likely that Marvel doubled their money. The only film in Marvel’s first phase (Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Iron Man 1&2) that did not follow this rule is The Hulk, likely explaining why there has not been a sequel. With each of these films they proved that minor characters could be profitable, and that they could keep true to the source material. Disney also saw the talent and potential that the studio had, and purchased them in two thousand and nine. Then…
On a budget of $220 million, the Avengers earned $1.52 billion, over five times its initial budget, and becoming the third highest grossing film of all time. Since then it has slipped to position number five, showing a good sense of longevity. It is at this point, Marvel proved crossovers could be extremely profitable, and that four years spent building a narrative can make a film successful. The only other crossovers that jump to mind from before Marvel are Freddy vs Jason and Alien vs Preadator, and neither of these were particularly profitable. Marvel was successful though. Wildly successful. Not quite James Cameron successful (Avatar and Titanic being first and second on the grossing list,) but successful none the less. Marvel went from underdog to sitting upon the throne.
As a franchise, they’ve been going for eight years without a reboot, and with no major failings. Marvel made a film with a racoon and a talking tree as main characters profitable. They made film where a guy who talks to ants and rides them is profitable. They could release a Howard the Duck film and it would probably be profitable. And people have taken notice.
To finish off and provide a little more proof, here are the cinematic universes that studios have planned to put into action since the Avengers:
- Universal Studios Monsters Universe, Dracula untold being the first film to be released from it, and a reboot of “The Mummy” currently being filmed. This was announced in twenty twelve.
- Paramount’s Transfomers Cinematic Universe, the idea being to expand the current films from a linear story to a more branching series. Announced in twenty fifteen.
- Warner’s DC Universe, created to rival Marvel from its inception. Man of Steel began filming in 2011, 3 years after the Marvel cinematic universe began, and there’s no real way of telling when they began planning, though with Batman V Superman’s date, it’s likely after The Avengers
- Sony’s Spiderverse: Despite only having access to one popular character, Sony thought themselves capable of creating a cinematic universe based off Spider Man and associated characters. This has now been shelved.
- Sony’s Ghostbusters Universe: While never formally announced, the Sony hack of twenty fourteen revealed a lot of information which wasn’t meant to go public, one of which was this project. It has since been shelved with the flop of the latest Ghostbusters film.
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