Former Marvel Chairman Reveals How Close We Were to Missing Out on the MCU

Thursday, 05 May 2016 - 12:02PM
Marvel
Iron Man
Thursday, 05 May 2016 - 12:02PM
Former Marvel Chairman Reveals How Close We Were to Missing Out on the MCU
Nowadays, every movie studio is trying to emulate Marvel's cinematic universe model, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are all household names that can sell movies as well (if not better) than Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, and the Marvel name is essentially synonymous with success. So it's easy to forget that just a decade ago, Marvel Studios was barely a thing, and if it weren't for David Maisel's idea for a live-action movie series, the landscape of superhero movies would look very different today.

Maisel was the COO and chairman of Marvel before the MCU existed, back when Kevin Feige was a lower-level executive. Back then, the studio was practically a non-entity, only making money off of merchandise and holding a bunch of properties that were viewed as useless dead-ends. According to a wide-ranging interview with THR, when Maisel first came in, there was no plan for a cinematic universe, and in fact, Marvel was trying to sell all of our favorite MCU characters to other studios.

Opening quote
Maisel says the company's focus was on licensing other characters, "the more movies, the better because there's more consumer products to sell." Soon after he started, the company was poised to license Captain America to Warner Bros. and Thor to Sony. "If I had gotten there three months, six months later, those deals would have been done," he says. "And there would be no chance to bring all these characters together." Spider-Man already was at Sony, and Iron Man had been idling at New Line. ("They thought it was a lousy property," says Maisel.)
Closing quote

And by all accounts, New Line should have been right, because the success of Iron Man went against every reasonable prediction. The character wasn't well-known, and superhero movies weren't the safe bet they are today; The Dark Knight hadn't come out at this time, so the idea that these movies could be prestigious was laughable. The studio, for its part, wasn't too concerned with making a creatively great movie ("Don't worry. We'll be very happy if this breaks even and we can sell more toys," a board member told Maisel at the time). Which makes sense, considering that they had never managed to make a good movie. (If you need a reminder, just watch this Honest Trailer for the 1990 Captain America movie.)



But a confluence of factors, including the partnership with talented filmmaker Jon Favreau and the huge coup in casting Robert Downey Jr., who was only available because he was down on his luck at the time, led to the success of Iron Man, and the rest is history. Stories like this about Marvel aren't hard to come by, but it's amazing to think how close we were to never seeing something like the Avengers on screen.
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