When it comes to pinpointing the biggest success story of the 21st century, you would be hard-pushed to beat what the Marvel film franchise has achieved.
Launched with Iron Man in 2008, the series is already firmly established as one of the most successful movie franchises of all-time.
According to a recent study by Betway Insider, only Star Wars and Spider-Man are ahead of Marvel in the rankings and both have existed as film series for much longer.
Given that Spider-Man falls under the Marvel umbrella, it is impossible to argue against the impact the company’s characters have made on the movie industry.
The Marvel film franchise has raked in an eye-watering $27.4 billion at the box office and has won 555 awards at major global ceremonies.
Achieving that feat in the face of a landscape where film franchises often decline in popularity after the first movie has been truly staggering.
With that in mind, we look at some of the core elements that have contributed to Marvel’s quest to achieve global dominance in filmmaking.
Thinking outside the creative box
Hiring the right staff is one of the trickiest things to get right in the movie business. Get the decisions wrong and it can cost companies millions of dollars.
Marvel has bucked the trend in the way it operates by generally targeting directors who have been successful working with other genres.
These include Shakespeare, horror, espionage and comedy, which allows them to bring a different vision to the creation of each film.
For example, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is effectively a spy movie featuring superheroes, while Guardians of the Galaxy can be classified as a space opera.
Much of this thinking has its roots in the success enjoyed by Iron Man, which took huge risks by appointing Jon Favreau as director and Robert Downey Jr in the lead role.
Favreau had directed critically acclaimed movies such as Swingers and Elf, but had no experience of working with the superhero genre.
Downey Jr previously demonstrated his acting expertise in Chaplin, but was widely viewed as a busted flush due to his issues with drug abuse.
However, the pair’s involvement with Iron Man worked a treat and laid the foundations for what followed over the next 14 years.
Building familiarity with the characters
It would be fair to say that the phrase ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ unquestionably does not apply to the Marvel film franchise.
A total of 232 cast members have returned across the series of films, which helps to build continuity in terms of the content and create a stable working environment for newcomers.
The familiarity ethos extends to the off-screen crew, with several films featuring more than half of the same staff as previous movies in the series.
From an acting perspective, this gives the Marvel franchise a greater level of attraction than other series in the same genre have been able to achieve.
Attracting top level talent such as Anthony Hopkins and Robert Redford is a massive achievement, and gives the franchise greater kudos in the eyes of others.
Scarlett Johansson and Benedict Cumberbatch are other excellent exponents of their art who have been surprisingly lured to the superhero genre.
Marvel have allowed them to bring their skills from other areas to develop more depth to their range of characters – such freedom is often unheard of in Hollywood.
The success they enjoy within the Marvel universe makes the franchise even more attractive to their fellow actors, thus ensuring there is a steady stream of newbies eager to jump on board.
Continuously pushing the formulaic boundaries
Many other film franchises fall by the wayside because they steadfastly refuse to deviate from the formula they think the series adheres to.
In simple terms, Marvel movies are built on the simple construct of superheroes and villains who go head-to-head in an environment reliant on computer-generated effects.
However, the scripts allow for the characters to be explored in much more depth than is generally the case within the superhero genre.
Each of the films taps into different human emotions – for instance, Thor is a tear-jerker while Iron Man 2 contains plenty of humorous moments.
Marvel movies also benefit from being staged in different locations. Some take place entirely on Earth, while others are staged on alien planets.
The films that have received the highest acclaim from audiences and film critics are the ones that challenge the formulaic nature of the superhero genre.
Black Panther’s social commentary and characters with political consciousness is a perfect example of how Marvel has shaken up how films of this nature are made.
By largely steering clear of the usual superhero stereotypes, Marvel has successful breathed new life into their vast array of characters.
Engagement, engagement, engagement
Of all the tactics Marvel has used to create a successful movie franchise, engagement with its audience has been the most important of them all.
The firm has expertly leveraged social media to embrace its massive global community of fans and make them feel part of the creative process.
Marvel’s innovative use of post-credits scenes has also helped to build anticipation of future releases and keep audiences invested in the series.
That point was highlighted to perfection at the end of Iron Man, where S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury is introduced to suggest the character may be part of a wider universe.
Casting Samuel L Jackson in the Fury role added credibility to the subsequent movies due to the esteem in which is held in the movie industry.
References to other movies – both hidden and in full view – keep audiences on their toes and help to build further engagement with the franchise.
When Marvel was purely in the business of selling comic books, engagement with fans was THE primary factor that made them so successful.
By staying true to those principles, Marvel has created a landscape where new fans instantly feel like part of something truly special.