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Before Black Panther, here’s how the Marvel Cinematic Universe became the biggest film franchise ever

As a run-up to the release of Black Panther, which is getting some of the best reviews of the series and is projected to break several box office records, let’s take a look at the journey of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

hollywood Updated: Feb 13, 2018 09:37 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Black Panther,Marvel Cinematic Universe,Iron Man
Captain America: Civil War was the last film when most Marvel characters came together.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018. During this period, the series has taken B-list superheroes and turned them into the most-successful film franchise in history, beating out the likes of James Bond, Harry Potter and Star Wars. But it wasn’t always like that. Back in 2008, a shared universe of films was seen as a very expensive gamble, an experiment that eventually paid off and altered the course of modern blockbuster moviemaking.

As a run-up to the release of Black Panther, which is getting some of the best reviews of the series and is projected to break several box office records, let’s take a look at the journey of the MCU.

The series began in 2008, with the release of Iron Man, which was quickly followed by The Incredible Hulk. It was in the first Iron Man movie that hints of an upcoming universe were first dropped. In a post-credits scene — a gimmick that has since taken over the industry — Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark is approached by Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, who informs him that there are others like him in the world. He wants to bring them together. He wants to call it the Avengers initiative.

Iron Man opened to great box office numbers and in the next few years, Marvel’s Phase I laid the groundwork for the cinematic universe we know and love today. As you can see in this graph, the first batch of movies didn’t exactly break any records, but with the release of The Avengers in 2012, everything changed. The next set of solo movies witnessed what industry analysts termed ‘The Avengers Effect’. They saw significant jumps from their predecessors, which cemented the franchise as the only one with three simultaneously successful series.

Iron Man 3, which was the first post-Avengers release, almost managed to touch the worldwide gross of that movie, while both Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier experienced similar bumps.

In this graph, notice how individual series in the larger universe have shown growth over the years. While it could be argued that Captain America: Civil War played more like Avengers 2.5, its $1.1 billion (Rs 7,070 crore) gross catapulted Steve Rogers to near Tony Stark highs.

This gave Marvel the confidence to experiment further. New heroes were introduced after the triumph of the second Avengers film — which didn’t quite match up to the first one’s figures, but remains the series’ second-highest-grossing film. The first new superhero to get his own movie was Ant-Man. The film closed out Marvel’s second phase and while it was the lowest-grossing entry in a while — the over $500 million total was nothing to scoff at, considering especially that it was made on a smaller scale.

Marvel movies have averaged a phenomenal $750 million per movie. That’s close to Rs 5,000 crore. Per film. But another significant reason behind their success is the across-the-board positive critical reception they’ve received. Before Black Panther debuted to a record-breaking 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes — the number has since dropped to 97%, still enough to make it the best-reviewed of the lot — Marvel movies boasted an average rating of 84% on the review aggregator site.

Check out this graph which tabulates the RT scores over the years. The lowest-rated films are Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk, which falls in line with audience reactions. The highest-rated (excluding Black Panther) is still the first Iron Man.

All of this — narrative expansion, positive reviews, growing box office — is the reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe has sustained for 10 years. As producer Kevin Feige said in a recent video celebrating this milestone, “Here’s to 10 more”.

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First Published: Feb 13, 2018 09:28 IST