Thursday, November 8, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 28 - Marvel Studios

"DC was the equivalent of the big Hollywood studios: After the brilliance of DC's reinvention of the superhero ... in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it had run into a creative drought by the decade's end.  There was a new audience for comics now, and it wasn't just the little kids that traditionally had read the books.  The Marvel of the 1960s was in its own way the counterpart of the French New Wave ... Marvel was pioneering new methods of comics storytelling and characterization, addressing more serious themes, and in the processs keeping and attracting readers in their teens and beyond.  Moreover, among this new generation of readers were people who wanted to write and draw comics themselves, within the new style that Marvel had pioneered, and push the creative envelope still further."
Peter Sanderson, comics historian

"Marvel's brand and its treasure trove of content will now benefit from our extraordinary reach.  We paid a price that reflects the value they've created and the value we can create as one company.  It's a full price, but a fair price."
Robert A. Iger, Disney CEO on the Marvel purchase

"It's different incarnations of the script, the different incarnations of the cut of the film.  We test; there are earlier versions of 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' that you would not be saying nice things about, as is true for all our films.  You cut together what you have and watch it, you see what you have and how you want to adapt it, you go and shoot additional materials (which we do on all our movies) and we begin to shape it.  I don't think people realize what a collaborative, living sort of piece of art a film is.  Four weeks ago, this movie was different."
Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios Chair on the success of Marvel Studios

What we know today as Marvel Comics started in 1939 as Timely Publications.  After a stint as Atlas Comics in the 1950s, the name Marvel took hold in the 1960s with the publication of the Fantastic Four.  Through the 1960s, so many of our favorite characters were introduced: Spider-man, The Incredible Hulk, the X-men, the Avengers, Iron Man, Ant-man and the Wasp, The Mighty Thor, Dr. Strange, and Black Panther, as well as many others.  Through the years, Marvel has diversified their publication line and has expanded into other offerings.

Marvel had varying levels of involvement with motion pictures since the beginning.  Even as early as the 1940s, Marvel licensed a Captain America serial to Republic Pictures just for the free advertising.  There were several television programs with the characters and some television and low budget movies, but they never caught on in the big screen like Superman or Batman.

After a near disastrous Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996, Marvel began aggressively licensing their characters for film and television productions to a variety of studios.  Founding Marvel Studios in August 1996, Marvel looked for any and every studio it could license from, placing though particular requirements on Marvel's involvement.  Specifically, Marvel was looking to package the development of a film and present it to a major studio partner for filming and distribution.  This led to their characters being split between several of the different production houses, with the Spider-man characters primarily at Sony, the X-men and the Fantastic Four at 20th Century Fox, and the Incredible Hulk and Namor at Universal.

In 2004, Marvel Studios tried something radical and developed a plan to self-finance their own movies.  Marvel collateralized the movie rights to a total of 10 characters from the vast character vault and got $525 million to make a maximum of ten movies based on the company's properties over an eight year period.  From there, Marvel lined up a marketing and distribution deal with Paramount for their new film series.  And with the premier of Iron Man in 2008, Marvel Studios was off to the races.

Then the game changer - on December 31, 2009, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment, comics and all, for $4 billion.  And while Disney could not directly capitalize on Marvel Studios productions initially, by the release of The Avengers, Disney had the full distribution rights to Marvel Studios films.  The films in this Marvel Cinematic Universe have grossed over $17 billion at the global box-office making it the highest-grossing film franchise of all time.  With the acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the ability to bring the X-men and Fantastic Four characters under the Marvel Studios umbrella, the future is looking bright.

Accordingly, the goals for Marvel align with PIXAR, in keeping a company that is working on the right track.

Primary Goals for the Division:

  • Bring back the one-shots and make them theatrical shorts - Marvel used to offer what they called One-Shots on the DVDs as extras.  Short films that expanded the universe and showed us what various characters were doing.  These short films showed us what Agent Coulson and Agent Carter did before their respective television shows.  To show the fate of the Mandarin and hint at the real Mandarin.  These were great short stories and great opportunities for new directors, new cinematographers, new crews, etc. to hone their craft.  I would love to see the One-Shots brought back as a part of the cinematic experience.  To me, every film under a Disney banner should have a short and these would be the Marvel ones.  These could be animated, they can remain live action, but they would be fun additions to the Marvel cinema experience.
  • Explore the depth of the library - Marvel has thousands of characters at its disposal, many of which have proven stories that connect with large audiences.  Let's expand and diversify the film offering as well.  Ms. Marvel, Marvelman, Captain Britain, The Invaders, Moon Knight, Nova, and Squirrel Girl all have potential for great movies.  Beyond the superheroes, Marvel has an excellent back catalog of romance, Western, kaiju, and gothic horror comics.  While people always worry about super-hero fatigue, there is a lot of variety that can keep Marvel Studios productions interesting for the foreseeable future.
  • Keep it all connected - The greatest strength of the Marvel Studios films has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It's the same thing that made the comics great - the idea that all these films are happening in the same place, so it would not be surprising to see Spider-man in a Thor story or Dr. Strange in a SHIELD story, etc.  The idea of the cross-over made the comics and films exciting.  This has been a big selling point of the movies and related television and streaming products.  And it should continue to work.  The films should inform the television and related properties.  And while the tail should not wag the dog, the films should make winks to the television and related properties.  I'll always use the example of how a simple line in Avengers: Age of Ultron regarding people getting powers from fish oil as a reason for the Sokovia Accords would have gone tremendous lengths in strengthening this celebrated bond.
  • But don't be afraid of an evergreen standalone - At the same time, there is a danger of the connection being overused and there being an accusation of a formulaic approach to the films to keep it going.  Just as the comics have the main ongoing series and stand-alone mini-series and one-shots featuring the characters, Marvel Studios should not be afraid to have a disconnected, standalone film as part of its release schedule.   A Black Panther film completely disconnected from the broader universe focusing solely on character development and issues internal to Wakanda.  A stand-alone Captain America film telling a great story on a historical backdrop like Captain America: Truth.  These are the films for great character development and unique directorial visions.  They are the evergreens, seemingly timeless in their place in the overall film universe.  A breath of fresh air as needed.
  • Create a couple of new imprints for new film series - As stated regarding the depth of the library, there are opportunities for other Marvel film series, which could be distantly related to the ongoing Cinematic Universe, but could be their own little worlds.  In other words, there would be no reason to say they are not connected, but likewise no reason to play up that they are.  Perhaps, most pressing, I would like to see Marvel create a Marvel Chillers line, featuring its gothic horror characters.  These are the characters that lead Marvel in the 1970s and could be a very interesting little spin off.  Essentially Marvel creating its own "Dark Universe" of character while Universal still tries to get it right.  Tomb of Dracula with Blade and the Nightstalkers, Werewolf by Night, The Monster of Frankenstein, and Bloodstone, leading to the Legion of Monsters.  All with a reversed Marvel logo with red text on a black background.  This would make for a great October release every year.
  • Fight to bring Spider-man wholly under the Marvel banner when the time is right - The current relationship with Sony is working regarding Spider-man and the broader Marvel Universe.  And with the success of Venom, it looks like Sony will be in no hurry to offload Spider-man to Disney any time soon.  Disney and Marvel Studios should play the long game here regarding bringing the character back in house.  There is no need to rush and do something crazy like acquiring Sony or paying exorbitantly for the character group.  Let the relationship play out and when it is advantageous, bring it back in the fold.
  • Integrate the Fantastic Four right away and the X-men slowly - Conversely, with 20th Century Fox under the Disney banner, a first priority for Phase 4 will be to get the Fox characters integrated into the Marvel Universe.  Fantastic Four should be the first priority, as they are the flagship properties.  The X-men can then follow more slowly, befitting a hidden group of outcasts.  I would reboot these franchises to allow for a more seamless integration with the broader MCU.  Plus, with comics, the benefit of a reboot is that the previous work can always be established as Earth #XXXXXX, making travel back to that version something completely in the realm of possibility.  Think of the benefits of a movie with two Wolverines.
  • Honor the Man, and men/women who made the comics great - Stan is the Man and he should continue to have cameos for as long as possible.  We have to recognize, though, that he is getting up in years and may not be able to keep it up as long as we would like.  The films should continue to have these great cameos with a broad spectrum of comic creators and should continue to honor and recognize those creators that have so greatly impacted the characters seen on screen. 

With that, I want to now turn to a small specific film slate I envision for Marvel Studios.

For Phase 4:
  • Spider-man: Far From Home - already in production featuring Spider-man in London.  While I understand they are going with the "Home" phrasing carrying over from Homecoming, I wish they would have gone with Spider-man: Field Trip, playing up a different school connection in each film.  That way, you could have had Homecoming, Field Trip, Finals, and Graduation or the like for the four film titles.  Still, I'm truly excited to see this new film.
  • The Eternals - another film in production featuring Marvels answer to the New Gods at DC.  A race of perfected Eternals versus the problematic and monstrous Deviants and the explorations of the creation of the Marvel Universe.  Could be a very interesting film.
  • Black Panther 2 - We know this one is coming given the success of the first film.  With the first film focusing on the Killmonger battle, I would love to see this film closer to The Client by Christopher Priest.  Panther in America as the crazy Reverend Achebe plans a coup in Wakanda.
  • Fantastic Four - The fourth film in Phase four.  A perfect spot for the introduction of Marvel's first family.  I would have this be partly a period piece, with the initial rocket launch in the 1960s, sending the family through time and space to return today, leading them to become super-heroes and celebrities now thanks to their inventions and exploits.  Plus Marvel needs Doctor Doom and a good version of him on screen soon, though I would only tease him in this film.  Would love someone like Nikolax Coster-Waldau to play him.  
  • Black Widow - Black Widow needs her own film.  Should be a straight up Cold War spy movie, with very light superhero touches, perhaps like Russia's super-soldier Red Guardian.  The clear storyline is Black Widow cleaning up the "red on her ledger."
  • Captain Marvel 2 - The inevitable sequel to February's Captain Marvel.  This would be a film set in modern day with Carol re-establishing herself on Earth.  Captain Marvel versus the Super-Skrull and introducing Kamala Khan, Ms. Marvel and the Carol Corps.
  • Nova - Marvel's space movie for this set with Guardians future up in the air.  This film would focus on the re-building of the Nova Corps, the selection of Richard Rider, and the wielding of the Worldmind and the Nova force.  An opportunity to bring back the previous Novas from Guardians like Peter Serafinowicz, Glenn Close, and John C. Reilly.
  • Secret Invasion -  This would be the event movie this phase would be building to.  All out war with the Skrull empire.  A perfect and easy plot to seed through the various movies.  And all of these films in Phase 4 have had good connections to the Skrulls or Secret Invasion.  Plus it presents a great opportunity to have Black Panther 3 be See Wakanda and Die.  Bringing back all characters on the table, crazy reveals.  This film could have it all.

For Beyond:

  • Hercules - The Incredible Hercules.  Thor's more comedic counterpart.  Hercules trying to regain his place on Olympus would be excellent.  And a great place to introduce Amadeus Cho.
  • Ms. Marvel - Once Kamala Khan is introduced in Captain Marvel 2, it's time for her own film.  She's this generations Spider-man.  A Muslim teen super-heroine with an undying optimism.  
  • Thunderbolts - I want this film to happen.  I won't spoil the initial concept, but the eventual concept of Marvel's Suicide Squad is a good one too.
  • Captain Britain - Brian Braddock must make a choice to guard England, will he choose the Sword of Might or the Amulet of Right.  This films should be exceedingly British.
  • The Invaders - A period piece featuring Captain America, Namor, the Winter Soldier, and the Torch fighting in World War II.  Can have far reaching connections.
  • X-men - A reboot and re-introduction of the Xmen, now bringing them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  With the Marvel heroes already established, the outcast component of the X-men should be played up.
  • Deadpool - He'll be back.  And even with a reboot it would be foolish to recast Ryan Reynolds.  The fourth wall breaking aspect will allow a little hand-waving to keep everything the same (with perhaps a few humorous changes).
  • Further Sequels - Dr. Strange 2, Black Panther 3, Captain Marvel 3, The Eternals 2 (and 3?), Spider-man 3 and 4, Ant-man and the Wasp 2 (or 3 depending on how you count). The list goes on.

For Marvel Chillers:

  • Tomb of Dracula - Blade and the Nightstalkers versus Dracula, Prince of Darkness.
  • The Monster of Frankenstein - Following Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the Monster is frozen and wakes in modern day.
  • The Curse of Bloodstone - Marvel's British Buffy.  Daughter of renowned monster hunter Ulysses Bloodstone, Elsa Bloodstone receives the family heirloom, the Bloodgem, and learns of the responsibilities and curse it brings.
  • Werewolf by Night - Jack Russell must fight his lupine instincts when the curse of his family line becomes revealed.
  • The Legion of Monsters - Monster and monster hunters alike must join forces to prevent the rise of Chton.

Standalone Movies:

  • Killraven - A sequel to the War of the Worlds with a band of rebels fighting the Martians in a dystopian future.
  • Weirdworld -  A sword and sorcery hidden world.
  • 2099 - A look at a future Marvel universe ruled by corporations.
Make Mine Marvel!


As always, thank you for reading.  Next up in the series - Lucasfilm.

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