In 2008, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, was released. Its announcement was received with what might politely be called muted expectation. And it is not hard to see why. It had been in production hell since 1990 with various studios trying to get it off the ground. The film had been turned down by 30 screenwriters. Even while shooting, actors were improvising dialogue off the cuff.
Iron Man made $585m. It was a film about an arms dealer turned good, wearing an iron suit to fight terrorists. Not the easiest sell perhaps. But it was perfect for the post-9/11 cultural milieu, and director Mr Jon Favreau shot it with a naturalism that was unheard of in comic-book films at the time. “You’d think you were watching a military thriller,” wrote Mr David Edelstein in his review for New York Magazine. It was the start of the unstoppable juggernaut.
Due to the wild success of Iron Man, Marvel was bought by Disney for an eye-watering $4bn. This was just 13 years after it filed for bankruptcy. But how can we explain this colossal change of fortune? What made the famously astute Disney part with so much cash? Well, they had an eye on the long game.