SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame ahead!
These days, it’s Marvel Studios and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and then everybody else. The MCU’s superlatives are too many to list, but it is the most successful movie franchise of all time and it recently enjoyed the biggest box office opening of all time with a heretofore-unimaginable debut for Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios literally changed the industry. But it wasn’t always so, and once upon a time, Marvel wasn’t the Hulk in the room, but the underdog.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige remembers what it was like in the early days of film blogging, when Marvel movies weren’t even given a chance because they didn’t have the strong big screen track record that DC’s Batman and Superman enjoyed. Even after the success of X-Men and Spider-Man, Marvel Studios was doubted starting out because it didn’t have the mutants or the Web-Slinger in its stable. That’s all changed now, but Kevin Feige still likes it when Marvel gets to be the underdog, as he explained:
So the fact that we've changed that is nice. But there's also part of me that likes it when we're the underdog. I liked it when people would think, ‘How's the Captain America movie going to work?’ Or: ‘How's the Thor movie going to work?’ Or even after the success of Avengers, and we announced something like Guardians Of The Galaxy? ‘What is that, a tree? A raccoon? What are you doing?’ I like that. I like when we're in that position that people are wondering, you know, ‘What the heck?’ – and we get to surprise them. We get to try to surpass an expectation.
Kevin Feige is happy that Marvel Studios has changed the perception of Marvel films and what’s possible, but he still likes getting to prove people wrong every once in a while, and who can blame him? Proving people wrong is fun and being the underdog that everybody doubts provides some extra motivation to really perform and blow those expectations out of the water.
You hear this a lot with professional fighters and sports teams, how much they relish being the underdog. Some will even cast themselves as that even when the betting lines say otherwise because it is highly motivating to go in with a chip on your shoulder and something to prove.
Marvel Studios has been doing that its whole existence, from the very beginning with heroes like Thor and Captain America. Heroes that, if you’ll remember, Sony didn’t purchase rights to because it thought nobody cared about them. Even after the success of 2012’s The Avengers, there was significant doubt about the viability of Guardians of the Galaxy, as Kevin Feige recalled to Den of Geek.
Kevin Feige likes that underdog dynamic, where Marvel Studios can take big swings and show that ideas and characters that don’t seem like they will work actually can. In those situations, Marvel gets to surprise people and make them fall in love with characters they’ve never heard of. It’s rare that Marvel Studios is the underdog anymore, but Kevin Feige is hoping to get the opportunity to be the underdog once again, as he explained:
And certainly with all the things that we're working on now and the next group of films – which we’ll announce soon enough – I hope we get that same response. People getting excited about characters they've already seen before being thrust into new adventures and new storylines, but also characters they've never heard of yet – and wonder, ‘What the heck is that going to be about?’ That really excites us.
The producer extraordinaire is hoping that people will be excited about Marvel Studios’ future films (they are), but also that even if there isn’t outright skepticism, there is still a real curiosity as to what Marvel is doing, what its films will be about and how the studio will make them work. And while Marvel is hugely successful and most people have confidence in it, there are some aspects of the MCU’s future where it could find itself as the underdog.
For one thing, following the events of Avengers: Endgame, can the MCU still draw in audiences and continue its success without heroes like Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man and Chris Evans' Captain America? Also, with the films we think are coming, how does Marvel win over audiences to something like The Eternals, which is arguably even more obscure and removed from the story we are used to than the Guardians.
Long-term, Marvel will have to somehow incorporate the X-Men in a world without mutants and make them relevant and popular again, a challenging task given the way Fox’s X-Men fizzled out with Dark Phoenix. Also, after multiple failed attempts, even Marvel may be an underdog when it comes to making the Fantastic Four work on the big screen. Kevin Feige may get his underdog wish after all.
Marvel Studios may again find itself the underdog in Phase 4 and beyond, a prospect Kevin Feige is excited about, but he shouldn’t expect many of us to bet against him.