It began with ‘Iron Man’, the blockbuster about narcissistic billionaire alcoholic-turned superhero Tony Stark. It was a gamble on Marvel’s part. Though Iron Man is a popular character now, at the time, he couldn’t hold a candle to Spider-Man or the X-Men in terms of popularity. Unfortunately for Marvel, both of those franchises were owned by different studios with Spider-Man being at Sony and the X-Men being with Fox. So they rolled the dice on what was at least to the mainstream audience, a relatively unknown character. The gamble paid off in a big way. In what will probably go down as one of the most compelling moments in movie history, after the credits, Tony Stark returned home to find Nick Fury, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. waiting for him to tell Tony that he was far from the only ‘special’ person in the world, and with that, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.
Each movie coming after ‘Iron Man’ was a hit, including the Iron Man sequels, which were both considered to be two of the weaker installments. The huge success of the MCU has caused other studios to follow-suit. Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics, is now in the process of their own unified cinematic universe. They launched it with ‘Man of Steel’, a reboot of the Superman franchise. They have such confidence in the potential of the universe model that they’re going all-in on it in spite of ‘Man of Steel’ not being as big of a box office or critical hit as many of the MCU’s titles. They’ll be looking to continue with a Man of Steel sequel titled ‘Superman vs. Batman: The Dawn of Justice’, bringing in not only DC’s other big hero, Batman, but also characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg. They seem to be doing the opposite of what Marvel did. Marvel went with lesser-known actors in their star roles and focused on building each individual franchise leading to the ‘Avengers’. DC is trying to load their movies with big stars like Ben Affleck as Batman and jumping right to the introduction of the Justice League, so we’ll see if it plays out as successfully as Marvel’s.
The idea of a cinematic universe isn’t specifically designated to comic book superheroes. Universal Studios is doing one with their classic monster line, beginning with last year’s ‘Dracula: Untold’, and Sony is now planning one for the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise, starting with an all-female reboot of the classic movie. The idea of building an intertwining universe paid off big for Marvel, now we just have to wait and see if other studios can mimic that success.