Oh, how good it must feel to be Kevin Feige and David Maisel right about now. The twin towers of Marvel Entertainment's (NYSE:MVL) Hollywood operation yesterday scored a coup when Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau both agreed to be a part of 2011's The Avengers, which will be distributed worldwide under a new deal with Viacom's (NYSE:VIA) Paramount Studios.

What's that? Recession, you say? Sorry, wasn't listening there. I've got more important news: Downey Jr. will once again star as Stark and Iron Man. Favreau won't direct, but will instead be an executive producer. Don Cheadle, meanwhile, will replace Terrence Howard as Stark's best friend and confidant, Col. James Rhodes.

As expected, all three will also be involved with Iron Man 2, which will debut in theaters on May 7, 2010.

Here are three reasons why this is such a big deal:

  1. Downey's performance has helped to establish a franchise worth more than a half-billion in theater receipts, according to Box Office Mojo.
  2. More than 6.8 million Iron Man DVDs have been sold to date, which means that Favreau's vision for the Golden Avenger is an almost-certain audience-grabber.
  3. Have you ever seen Cheadle act? Seriously.

Avengers Assemble!
Samuel L. Jackson is likely to appear in The Avengers as SHIELD administrator Nick Fury, reprising his cameo from the end of Iron Man. Edward Norton could return as Bruce Banner and his big green alter ego, if he can clear up any lingering bad (gamma-irradiated?) blood with Marvel regarding their disputes over last summer's The Incredible Hulk. That leaves two open slots that we know of. One for Thor, Marvel's rendition of the legendary Norse thunder god, and another for Captain America. No word yet on who will play either role.

But having Downey, Cheadle, and Favreau in place is an important first step. The Avengers is Marvel's mother of all tentpole films as an independent studio. From now till summer 2011, everything the studio does will be a build-up to that film. Even the flicks produced by outside studios, such as 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine from News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Fox, might get involved -- or at least, that's my guess.

To be the next Disney (NYSE:DIS), Marvel must not only attract big audiences, but also top talent. Few are more talented, or more in demand, than Downey, Favreau, and Cheadle. Well done, sirs.

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