20th Jan2021

The Success & Future Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe

by James Smith

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the most successful franchises in movie history. With some 23 films under its belt and with more to come, they’ve broken records with big-hitting releases like Avengers: Endgame (2019). That final part in the large and sprawling Infinity Saga surpassed Avatar to become the single highest-grossing movie ever made, grossing an astounding $2.8 billion worldwide (an incredible eight times its budget).

Adding to this financial success has been a remarkably positive critical reception – a difficult ask for any movie series, especially a superhero franchise. As a result, the MCU has become a new benchmark for other studios to replicate. Yet to date, no other franchise has quite been able to reach the same heights as the MCU, both critically and commercially. Films in the MCU and DCEU have created a huge opportunity for merchandise like licensed toys, figures, and games, and even some officially licensed slot games, as this article from New Free Spins No Deposit illustrates so well – Marvel has reached an estimated 7.2 billion dollars in merchandise sales since its inception in 2008.

How did the MCU succeed?

When quizzed on the extraordinary success of the MCU, studio head Kevin Feige places the onus simply on the original comic books. Yet there are plenty of Marvel-originating movies that have failed to reach the same heights. Fantastic Four (2015), Ghost Rider (2007) and Hulk (2003) are all recognised as studio releases that didn’t do quite so well. Even at the start of the MCU, each successive character movie — Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America (2011) — didn’t blow-up quite like Marvel’s The Avengers (2012).

Where previous titles drew in profit, The Avengers reached new heights, grossing $1.5 billion (7.6 times its budget). Herein lies an early glimpse at the MCU’s success: continuity and payoff. Constructed as phases, each MCU arc builds upon the next, introducing new and exciting characters to the movie screen.

This is another important key to the MCU’s recent popularity; the characters. Instead of relying on big-hitters like Spiderman, the MCU introduced a range of lesser-known cinematic characters who were still beloved by the comic book community. Iron Man and Thor were hardly household names when they hit the screen, but they were melded together with more familiar faces like Captain America and the Hulk.

Marvel took this one step further with the arrival of Ant Man (2015) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). These unlikely and almost tongue-in-cheek superheroes were enormous fan hits, triggering the beginning of the MCU’s most successful phase, the Infinity Saga.

Marvel’s successes can be attached, in part, to their directors. Hiring creative choices like James Gunn, the Russo Brothers and Taika Waititi, among other familiar names like Kenneth Branagh and Jon Favreau, offered some variation in style, despite being in the same universe. Things have not always been perfect; the MCU lost Edgar Wright on creative differences. However, Marvel has managed to change things up enough to appear fresh and make new, different choices.

In doing so, they managed to hit the zeitgeist in blending humour, engaging villains and grand story arcs with interwoven superheroes. They also play-out differently, with varying budgets and story sizes. Add to that the intrigue of an end credit scene and the explosion of interest around fan conventions, and you have the perfect recipe for hype and success. The result: movies that have spurred on merchandise sales and continue to draw at the box office.

The future of Marvel

Given the enormous successes of Marvel and the performance of other franchises like DC, many observers have been indicating that superhero fatigue may soon set in. The MCU just retired many of its phase one superheroes, leaving only Thor and the Hulk in the new phase four. As you might expect from a studio that likes to expand and try new things, the upcoming line-up for the MCU is a mix of new and old characters and directors.

Never before filmed characters like the Eternals and Shang-Chi will arrive alongside recurring Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel. The MCU is even branching out into TV with Disney’s new on-demand streaming service. Many fans are paying close attention to new film news and updates to see what might next be announced by the studio. As long as the MCU manages to perform as above with creative directors and intriguing characters, it should remain successful for years to come.
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