Sells heroes not stars, Marvel becomes the most moneymaking studio

Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man (2008) (Image taken from IMDb)

What turned Marvel, a comic publisher, into the most moneymaking film company in the world? Not the super heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America nor the father of Marvel who created those heroes, Stan Lee, but the 45-year-old CEO of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige.

Graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Feige had worked for 20th Century Fox, producing X-men with his brilliant business sense. Then he occupied the position of the president in a movie department of Marvel at the age of 34, selected as one of “40 under 40” by Fortune. And before his 40-year-old birthday, Feige was given “ICG Publicists Guild Award,” which is regarded as the Oscars of producers.

U.S. film producer Kevin Feige attends a premiere of his movie “Dr. Strange” in Hong Kong, Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

“’To manage creativity’ is more important than ‘to create creativity’.” Harvard Business Review, which has listed Marvel as a successful business case study twice, indicated that owning intellectual property of over 7 thousand super heroes doesn’t mean knowing how to sell them effectively. Feige not only turns the IP of each character into money but also makes money make more and more money.

At the time that Feige joined Marvel, this company hit the deepest bottom. With creativity but lack of ability to run budgets and assets, Marvel’s shares has fallen to $2, only relying on selling copyrights of heroes to better the income.

However, selling rights to other companies made it harder to control the quality of movies, and when the movies hit box office, Marvel as the owner of intellectual property couldn’t gain the maximum profit; not to mention if the movie may not receive well, it’s a kind of waste to those legend characters.

To twist this fate, the only way that Marvel can do is to take back their control of filming. In 2005, Marvel took a risky step to mortgage the right of the legend character “Captain America” to the Wall Street’s investment bank, Merrill Lynch for borrowing 500 million dollars to set up their own movie department.

To change the old pattern and make their own movies was a dangerous bet to Marvel. Although the income relying on the authorization of stories was not much, at least Marvel didn’t have to run the risk of losing money. When it came disagreement and the seniors quitted one by one, including the CEO of Marvel, Feige took this vital position.

Under his conduct, Marvel has broken the patterns of Hollywood: without A-list actors, the movies sell heroes, not stars.

Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong, and Benedict Cumberbatch in Avengers Infinity War (2018) (Image taken from IMDb)
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, and Tom Holland in Avengers Infinity War (2018) (Image taken from IMDb)
Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Sebastian Stan, Jeremy Sample, Winston Duke, and Dawit Gulilat in Avengers Infinity War (2018) (Image taken from IMDb)

In the past, the stars influenced over 70% of box office of a Hollywood movie, but the expensive remuneration made up half the costs. Feige bravely threw this pattern away, inviting some has-been actors (Robert Downey Jr.) and rookie actors (Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth) to star the brand-new heroes’ stories.

Robert Downey Jr. at an event for Avengers Infinity War (2018) (Image taken from IMDb)

“It doesn’t matter who plays the role because every icon is a brand.” Nicholas Lovell , the author of Harvard Business Review, indicated the key point of Marvel’s success. Despite that the stars quit, it will be harmless to Marvel because whoever can continue the fighting scenes and charming characteristics as long as putting on the hero costume designed by special effect.

As the series of hero movies blow up the globe, there is a strong connection between those actors/actresses and the characters. The audiences get used to see Robert Downey Junior’s frivolous smile under the mask of Iron Man and they might not accept another hunk puts on Captain America’s tights instead of Chris Evans. Feige signed the long-term contrasts with them when those actors/actresses required lower remuneration for the unpopularity, so the sequels won’t be influenced by the soaring remuneration.

Thus, Marvel takes ultimate decision-making power in charge. By doing so, Marvel can not only control the costs and budgets but decide the stories, making a win-win outcome between box office and profits.