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Disney Executives Originally Feared Marvel Movies Would ‘Tarnish’ the Studio’s Image

Disney has come a long way since first thinking Marvel comics were "too edgy."

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marvel Enterprises/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886273du)Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark RuffaloThe Avengers - 2012Director: Joss WhedonMarvel EnterprisesUSAScene StillAvengers Assemble

“The Avengers”

Marvel Enterprises/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Marvel Studios make up one of the most profitable partnerships in Hollywood history. This year, the studios released “Avengers: Endgame” ($2.796 billion, the highest grossing movie ever released worldwide) and “Captain Marvel” ($1.1 billion), both of which are in the year’s top 5 grossers. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is such an integral part of Disney that it’s strange to think of a time when the House of Mouse was scared to take a chance on Marvel comic book movies.

Disney executive Bob Iger’s new book “The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company” includes a memorable passage in which he remembers the studio being fearful of buying Marvel (via /Film). Disney acquired Marvel Entertainment on August 31, 2009 in a deal estimated at $4.24 billion. At that point, Marvel had already begun the MCU by releasing titles like “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” through Paramount. The success of these early MCU films proved to Disney how lucrative Marvel could be with audiences, but prior to then the studio thought Marvel was “too edgy” for the Disney brand.

“This wasn’t the first time Marvel has been on Disney’s radar,” Iger writes about the landmark 2009 deal. “Early in my time working for Michael [Eisner], I attended a staff lunch in which he floated the idea of acquiring [Marvel]. A handful of executives around the table objected. Marvel was too edgy, they said. It would tarnish the Disney brand. There was an assumption at the time — internally, and among members of the board — that Disney was a single, monolithic brand, and all of our businesses existed beneath the Disney umbrella. I sensed Michael knew better, but any negative reaction to the brand, or suggestion that it wasn’t being managed well, he took personally.”

The 2009 deal would lead Disney to be the studio behind the most dominant movie franchise currently in Hollywood. Disney’s first Marvel release was Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers,” which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, and the MCU has continued to expand under Iger and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. The studios have a huge slate of television and movies in development, including “Shang-Chi,” a Mahershala Ali-starring “Blade” movie, and several MCU television shows set to launch on Disney+.

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