1 Simple Secret to Marvel’s Success

Have you ever wondered why Marvel's more recent films have done so well? I mean, really, how could Iron Man 3 earn $1.2 billion for Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , almost twice as much as the $637 million Man of Steel produced for Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) ?

Critical reception may account for some of the difference. (Only 56% of critics tracked by Rotten Tomatoes liked Man of Steel, versus 78% for Iron Man 3.) Robert Downey Jr.'s undisputed appeal in the role of Tony Stark and Iron Man might also be a factor.

If so, I suspect it's because fans see in Downey Jr. a nod to the comics they've grown up reading. Look at who Marvel hires to make its films. Many of them were comic book fans before they took on the task of creating a comic book film.

Actor Jon Favreau took particular care to appeal to fans (like yours truly) in making the 2008 breakout hit Iron Man. Joss Whedon is a longtime comics fan and one of the principal backers of Comic-Con: Episode IV -- A Fan's Hope, Morgan Spurlock's documentary love letter to fans of the medium. Next to the join the list: Anthony and Joe Russo, co-directors of next April's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

"We keep saying this, but this is the best job we've ever had," Joe said during Marvel Studios' main hall presentation at San Diego Comic-Con. "I started collecting comic books when I was 10, so to be able to come and present this footage at Hall H is like a dream come true for us."

Concept art for Captain America: The Winter Soldier from Comic-Con. Source: Marvel Entertainment.

Will the Russos' love both for the "Winter Soldier" storyline from the comics and the overall medium translate into big screen success? For his part, writer Ed Brubaker, the man responsible for the film's source material, has said the script he read was "fantastic" and represented "the best Marvel movie."

We'll have to wait to find out whether Brubaker's high praise is deserved. But he isn't the only one involved with the film who's excited by its prospects.

"It would really be a problem if the franchise you were stuck with wasn't making good products. But it turns out Marvel knows what they're doing, so that every time you put the suit back on you get really excited and you can't wait to see what they're going to do," actor Chris Evans told the Comic-Con crowd. Winter Soldier is his third big-screen go at playing Captain America.

To be fair, DC and Time Warner also have plenty of fans behind the making of their films. Director Zack Snyder talked fondly of the medium in making Man of Steel and the film has done well, if not at the same level as Iron Man 3. Director Martin Campbell didn't bring the same enthusiasm to Green Lantern, and it showed both in reviews and at the box office.

Therein is the lesson for investors. If Disney and Marvel look great right now, it's largely because they're hiring people who know how to keep core fans happy because they're fans, too.

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  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2013, at 11:27 PM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    Well I agree that having fans of the source material helps to translate super heroes or most anything onscreen. I think Ang Lee's "Hulk" is an example of it not going quite as well as it should have.

    But as far as Robert Downey Jr., though I enjoy him in the IM films growing up reading IM in the 60's and 70's I would never have pictured anyone like him playing Tony Stark. I still see a disparity between the page and screen portrayals, but it works so what the hey!

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2013, at 11:32 PM, mgalbraith wrote:

    Why is everyone comparing Iron Man 3 to Man of Steel as if they are Apples to Apples comparisons? IM 3 directly followed The Avengers and has two financially successful predecessors and a bona fide star in the lead role with a very well received performance. Man of Steel is a reboot/origin story that follows a very poorly received Superman Returns, and a lead actor who is unknown outside of pay cable. The original Iron Man ($585 mil) or Batman Begins ($374 mil) are better comparisons. Batman Begins was a reboot/origin story of a popular character following a poorly received outing and featuring an actor who, at the time, wasn't as well known.

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2013, at 11:57 PM, btc909 wrote:

    If you made a Iron Man 4 without RDJ you WILL make less money.

    The two things that hurt MOS was the non-american actor chosen, and the 2nd half of the movie.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 1:20 AM, BoyOfSteel wrote:

    I think the big secret, and what most "main stream" people forget. As most have no clue what hero is Marvel and which one is DC, is that DC (Time Warner) has been pumping out TV/Radio shows and Movies off of their comics since the 30's and 40's.

    In the last 33 years, we have had something like 8 Batman movies, 5 Cartoon shows, 5 or so Superman movies, and a hand full of live action Superman/Superboy TV shows. Wonder Woman, and The Flash had live action TV shows. A Super Girl movie that was so poor, people try to forget it.

    Marvel, while making good and bad Cartoons, tossed out a couple live action shows in the 70s and 80s (Captain America, Hulk and Spiderman) and just a few low budget movies most people never even found out about (80's Punisher, Captain America, and Nick Furry Agent of Shield)

    So those people who have for years wanted to see Thor, Iron Man, were dying to see it. Spiderman by name alone brought people in, and then they get Joss who had a huge fan following of his own, and is a comic lover.

    DC tossed their Batman/Superman at us with Bat Nipples, Batman using a gun, lame Mr. Freeze, ever changing Bruce Wayne, and just poorly written movies over and over. No one was pumped to see it anymore.

    Marvel starved their fans, then gave them some of the best movies they could put out, it caused a boom. But now, they want to toss out TV shows, and movie after movie, and we will soon have it swing back, because sooner or later greed will kick in, and it suffer in the long run.

    DC needs to learn to hold back more, more so while Marvel is flooding the market and the "average" movie goer is getting sick of it all. Make sure they do not put out a bad Green Lantern like they did (but then Marvel was able to butcher X-Men really bad) get someone like Kevin Smith (who will do a good job like Joss) and then build up to a Justice League movie. If they spend a few years doing a Wonder Woman movie, Flash, Green Lantern, a good Batman (those last three were so far from the Comic, that they could have given it a different name all together.) and a good Superman (Man of Steel, again tried to change and up date to much) give us a lead up, use a few secondary, but loved characters (Black Canary, The Question, Queen Arrow, Super Girl) and a main stream villain that leads up to one someone like Darksid, then they could win as big too.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 1:42 AM, Hank1972 wrote:

    DC is having the same problem they had with their books back in the 80's. Back them Marvel was huge share of that market and almost took over DC. The problem is that many of the DC characters are stale, and out dated. It took a lot of writers and story lines to get DC back. But those stories like Crisis and Zero Hour and the stories and reboots that came out of them may not be good films. Marvel is going to beat DC again with Quicksilver (their version of the Flash) popping up in 2 films before the Flash film gets released. even if by some way DC releases its JLA film, it will have to live up to Xmen or Avengers standards. DC needs to regroup and look to start fresh.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 9:22 AM, pete3000 wrote:

    My argument has always been that Marvel uses the real world, New York City, and other real locations that people can relate to. DC uses fake locations which are similar to other cities but non-existent. In that alone, I think there is a disconnect to new people who watch these films. In a DC movie, people cannot look at a scene and say "I've been there!" as it will not be identified as a real location. You could say Gotham = Chicago, but they wont show the Chicago skyline or ever call it Chicago. When you can make up a city that gives you an infinite possibility, but when you use a real city, you bring in real world issues that people can relate to.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 11:48 AM, Sugoda wrote:

    I agree what Pete3000 wrote but it's much more than that in terms of DC vs. Marvel. DC's problem is their heroes are incredibly unrelatable. Many of them have ridiculous stories, origins and powers/weaknesses that make it hard to swallow. Marvel however has characters with origins that are much more believable in our world.

    That's why some of DC's more popular characters couldn't even have their own movie like Wonder Woman or Aquaman.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 2:03 PM, cnice44 wrote:

    I agree with Pete3000, but it has a lot to do with the care Marvel has taken with they're later bought of movies produced. Also look how poorly the movies that are not directly under the Marvel Studios umbrella have done. Marvel doesn't own the license to the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and I'm unsure of the X-Men characters. The bigger problem is the these other studios will keep putting out terrible movies every few years in order to retain the license irragardless of how they taint the characters lol!

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2013, at 6:50 PM, jan1683 wrote:

    I felt Iron Man was just a little to campy and M of S as a reboot worked, I go to the movies to be entertained and both movies did that!

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