Although there is some debate as to precisely when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was officially launched, most people see that point as having been the release of the Iron Man movie back in 2008, with the universe currently in its third phase. This has seen the launch of films such as Captain America: Civil War – which grossed $408,084,349 at the box office and Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which grossed $310,912,148.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe refers to a complex series of interlinking films centred on Marvel Comic Book characters – among them, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and Doctor Strange. It is an ambitious concept that sees characters appear in each others films, with the Avengers franchise tying them all together. It was launched in 2008, with Iron Man, following an eight-year period when films such as the X-Men series had made Marvel one of the most bankable names in Hollywood. The man who brought the idea to fruition was the president of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, and his decision to do so represented a huge gamble. After all, most of the superhero characters that mainstream audiences were aware of – such as Batman and Superman – were owned by the rival DC Comics. Marvel had to make films that appealed to their hardcore ‘geek’ audience base, while also introducing their characters successfully to a wider audience.
The way they went about doing this was to make films introducing the individual characters during phase one – which featured the films Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, before wrapping up this phase with 2012’s The Avengers. This basic strategy, coupled with what became a familiar mix of action, drama and comedy, saw the Marvel films satisfy those who read the original comic books while also pleasing more mainstream cinemagoers. Marvel followed a roughly similar strategy through phase two – which proved equally lucrative – and is continuing with the current phase three. So successful has the brand become that rivals DC are now attempting to imitate it, by creating their own interlinked universe of characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. They are doing so in a slightly different fashion, and so far are struggling to replicate the audience and critical success of MCU, but Feige is now indicating that Marvel may seek to shake-up the formula after the end of phase three. This is scheduled to conclude two years from now, with Avengers 4, so it will be interesting to see whether that pans out.
That is unlikely to see the MCU end entirely, as it is simply too much of a box-office banker, having expanded out into hit television series’ like Agents of SHIELD, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, as well as spin-off products like Marvel-themed online slots games that are mentioned in the 888 review, for example. It is more likely that a rebooting of the universe will occur, although how audiences respond to that is uncertain. For the moment, we have upcoming films like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther to look forward to, so its immediate popularity seems assured.