Today, superhero movies are a money-making machine. The success of Avengers: Infinity War and its 2 billion dollars of box office has been seen as the achievement of the twenty Marvel films that the publisher has been launching with Disney in the last decade. It is not that Infinity was a sublime film, it was that it began to close a story with which children have grown up and the parents of these who have seen their comic book heroes brought to the big screen.
However, before Marvel from the hand of Kevin Feige began to design all the connections between films of his Cinematic Universe, and that Disney saw in it the next great franchise of today, the editorial had a long and largely dilapidated film career with more than fifty years of history, thirty recesses, and several absolute failures. This is the story of the Marvel films before they are what they are today and the comings and goings of the rights of their characters.
First appearances in Marvel cinema and television
The first Marvel film in the cinema was not a movie in itself, but a serial of 15 scenes that was projected behind feature films. His inspiring, of course, was the most popular hero of the time. The first film of Captain America (1944) was made by the producer Republic Pictures, its sequenced format in several deliveries made it relevant and successful, but Marvel – then called Timely Comics – did not finish quite content with the treatment that was given to his character, who used firearms at a time when in comics, very focused on the young audience, he still did not. Despite this, this naive Captain America was honored in The First Avenger (2011), in the scenes in which Steve Rogers becomes a kind of national hero.
Escape from the cinema for years after this first attempt, Marvel preferred to focus on television thanks to an agreement with CBS to present its characters in a real version. From this agreement came a first Spiderman movie (1977) starring Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker, Doctor Strange (1978) and two more TV movies by Captain America (1979).
The attempt was not bad for both companies, but it is said that Stan Lee was especially angry with the overly childish tone that was given to Spiderman, so Marvel refused the rights of the character and gave them (oh, surprise) to Toei. The Japanese production company that brought animation to Dragon Ball used Spidey to create a more Japanese character: Supaidaman, which would eventually sow the germ of the Super Sentai genre, those squads made up of young people in tight suits known worldwide under the Power Rangers franchise. The turns that Marvel’s life and rights give, and we’ve just started.
Howard the Duck (1984), the first modern Marvel movie
With these comings and goings, it is normal that Marvel moved away somewhat from the productions in real action (his cartoons were another story) in both cinema and television. However, a man appeared who was interested in a special character. That man was none other than George Lucas, who after American Graffiti (1973) interviewed Marvel with interest in making a film of his character Howard The Duck.
Howard The Duck is perhaps the Marvel character minus Marvel of all. Tinted with an acid and sarcastic humor, the cartoon created by Steve Gerber tells the story of a duck-like alien who ends up banished on Earth. His adventures are a simple method to explore social criticism. Lucas apparently loved it, but left the project to focus on a small saga without repercussions called Star Wars. Once premiered the first three installments of Star Wars, Lucas retook the idea of Howard The Duck, taking it to a real action tape with special effects very advanced for the time, but ended up being a failure.
The film ended with a zero profit after raising $ 38 million and terrible criticism, being nominated for seven Razzie awards (those that point to the worst movies) and sealing the first Marvel film for cinema as a resounding failure. Of course, this slip with a lot of laughs Marvel laughed years later, when he included the character in one of the post-credits scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Back to TV and bump in the movies while DC resurfaces
Marvel returned to be scared of the cinema after the experiment with its extraterrestrial duck to return to the shelter of the television. There had worked quite well in the mid-eighties the series of real action on Hulk, played by bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno. Seen as a good asset, it extended the rights of the character to New World Television to launch three films for the small screen. These would be The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988) The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) and The Death of the Incredible Hulk (1990), the last one with a title of era pre-spoilers.
Although these films for television were still very naïve, they arranged some elements that are part of the modern Marvel. In each of them an added character was introduced (Thor in the first and Daredevil in the second) as a crossover, while Stan Lee appeared in cameos as he does in current productions.
Despite this, Marvel tried again in the cinema. It sold the rights of The Punisher to New World Pictures (absorbed later by FOX), although production problems ended up reversing these licenses to Lionsgate and Artisan. Marvel, however, did not want to give his antihero with the complete pack: forbidden for example to wear his usual shirt with the skull, so the character, played by Dolph Lundgren, ended up being decaffeinated. The tape was another failure that ended up being released directly in video in 1989.
At the same time, La Casa de las Ideas had also delivered the rights of Captain America to Cannon, a company focused on low-budget films that for several years had shaped the idea of a movie of the American hero. Although it was intended to launch for 1990 to mark the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the character, his production was postponed until 1992. The tape, with bad reviews, would also go directly to the market in video.
Marvel had just crossed two major new bumps in the cinema just at the time when its direct competitor, DC Comics, had just released Tim Burton’s Batman, winner of the Oscar for best art direction. Someone had to call the Avengers to fix everything, and fast, but it would still take a while to do it.
The tough nineties to Blade
With his rising rival in the cinema, Marvel faced the nineties with a very marked regularity: all his films were being a disaster. And the first film about The Fantastic Four (1994) was not going to be different.
The publisher had sold the rights of the family of researchers to a German producer named Bernd Eichinger, owner of a small production company that seemed unable to carry out the project. In the end, when the rights were about to expire, Eichinger got a very small budget to film it, although it would never be released despite the completion of the editing and a trailer. There are conflicting versions on why it would never be released when it was ready, but the most accepted account that Marvel offered to return the amount of the budget to the German producer to prevent a B-series movie to see the lightwith his characters. Although it was not distributed or in video, on the internet it is easy to find the full movie.
With another blow to his breastplate, Marvel went back to television in the hand of FOX. In 1996 he released a telefilm on Generation X, the new group of mutants without pain or glory, and two years later, in 1998, a new film that although it is not a masterpiece can be marked as a whole noventera ode; mainly because in Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, the role of Fury was played by David Hasselhoff .
At that moment, it was when the first light appeared at the end of the tunnel, curiously thanks to a vampire. The premiere of Blade (1998) with script by David S. Goyer and direction of Stephen Norrington was Marvel’s first success, in this case with New Line Cinema (now owned by Warner) to whom he gave the rights. Its violent and dark environment raised 131 million by 45 of budget. Betting on Blade, a second-rank superhero in the comics and although it did not have much to do with the format later adapted in the Cinematic Universe, it was a success that resulted in two sequels, the first directed by Guillermo del Toro.
And the boom came before the UCM (with its successes and its failures)
Blade coincided with the arrival at the cinema of all the list of rights that Marvel had sold to alleviate their complicated economic situation during the 90s. FOX first premiered the X-Men (2000) led by the later elongated figure of Wolverine by Hugh Jackman, at the time that Sony released the expected film Spiderman (2002) by Sam Raimi. It’s hard to think how Marvel’s most successful hero had not had a previous high-level film, but Raimi’s Spiderman was a critical success and of course a box office hit.
But it would not take long for superhero movies to get back on track. With the help of FOX, Daredevil Ben Affleck (2003) managed to triple his budget at the box office, but left a trail of bad opinions that would drag the character until Marvel regained the rights for his series on Netflix. In spite of this, the good collection promoted a kind of spin-off in the Elektra movie (2005) with Jennifer Garner in the main role and this time, completely ruinous.
Of the same time are other films that although raised by the expectation now appear in many rankings as the worst films inspired by Marvel: The two installments of The Fantastic 4 by FOX (2005-2007) and the Ghost Rider by Nicolas Cage with Sony and its sequel (2007-2011). At the time, the X-Men franchise was adding new movies and with Wolverine as the main hero.
A few years before Marvel tried to re-launch the most successful character in real action: Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) with Eric Bana as Bruce Banner emerged after the momentary transfer of rights to Universal Pictures. Although it is now remembered as a failure, the production counted on the help of the publisher, and Lee’s editing, with many winks to the language of the comic, was praised by some sectors of the critics. Despite this, Marvel was not comfortable with the reception despite generating income, and withdrew the rights of the green giant after the premiere of Universal.
The roller coaster of successes and failures of the first years of the 21st century even had a corpse. Artisan, independent producer, tried to re-launch the character of The Punisher in 2004 with a film with Thomas Jane in the role of anti-hero and whose bad revenues ended up leading to the closure of the company. Lionsgate, in charge of the distribution, then collected the rights and continued to explode with stubbornness in The Punisher: War Zone (2008). This film, although it had already premiered Iron Man, was not part of the UCM, and thank goodness because it is remembered as another of the great fiascos.
Iron Man appeared
Marvel had been planted in the 2000s without the sale of its characters having great benefits, and with a still complicated economic situation. It was at that time, when the current CEO of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, decided to gamble everything to a letter. The plan was to premiere three films that linked the characters in the same universe, under the exclusive invoice of the studio, without external producers, and finalize the delivery with a fourth film where they all met. For this, Marvel requested a bank loan to produce the first two tapes. It was betting to go back or go directly into bankruptcy.
With his characters scattered in different assignments, Marvel again resorted to Hulk (2008), this time with Edward Norton in the lead role. The film, although today it is remembered as a loose ending due to the actor’s refusal to continue playing Banner, would mark the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a post-credits scene in which Robert Downey Jr appeared:
The Incredible Hulk managed to raise 250 million with 150 of budget. It was not a bad start, but who would they turn to then? Feige then decided that it would be better to give entry to a second-rate hero. Iron Man had not lived his best hours in comics in the last 15 years, but it was one of the few historical Avengers on which the publisher maintained the rights.
The Tony Stark of Robert Downey Jr, with his disbelieving and boastful character, won more than 580 million at the box office and is still remembered as one of the best Marvel films. That sum, caught the attention of Disney, who would take Marvel that year for 4,000 million dollars. The publishing house, now focused as a film studio, had solved its economic problems and was facing a successful era. The rest, from Iron Man to Thanos, is history, but above all, still a lot of future.