Some Disney executives once viewed Marvel as “too edgy” when then-CEO Michael Eisner proposed The Walt Disney Company acquire Marvel Entertainment, current Disney CEO Bob Iger reveals in his just released memoir The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
“This wasn’t the first time Marvel has been on Disney’s radar. Early in my time working for Michael, I attended a staff lunch in which he floated the idea of acquiring them. A handful of executives around the table objected,” Iger recalls. “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 sometimes controversial Eisner frequently sought to extend the Disney brand: under Eisner, Disney launched Hollywood Pictures, a division of the company intended to produce more adult fare, like the R-rated, Michael Bay-directed The Rock, that couldn’t be released under the famously family-friendly Disney banner. In its theme parks, Eisner pushed for ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter, an intense, dark-toned attraction at Walt Disney World that was criticized for scaring younger park guests.
Iger succeeded Eisner as CEO in 2005 and, in 2009, The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion. The purchase included ownership of Marvel Studios, the then-independent studio overseen by Kevin Feige; in 2008, Marvel wowed the industry when its self-financed Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr., grossed $585 million worldwide.
In the years since, Marvel Studios’ 23-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken in more than $18 billion at the global box office.
“This is perfect from a strategic perspective,” Iger said in 2009. “This treasure trove of over 5,000 characters offers Disney the ability to do what we do best.”
Last summer, Feige credited the partnership with a mostly hands-off Disney for playing a key part in Marvel’s grand success. “I’m not sure we would be here if we weren’t bought by Disney,” Feige said during the 2018 Produced By conference, where he explained Marvel Studios greatly benefits from Disney’s marketing and distribution.
The Marvel purchase also gave Disney the highest-grossing film of all time with Avengers: Endgame, which toppled James Cameron’s Avatar — now owned by Disney following the studio’s completion of its $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox in March — with a mighty $2.79 billion box office haul.
Beyond Marvel Entertainment, Disney under Iger also acquired Pixar, the studio behind nearly two dozen animated hits, and George Lucas’ Lucasfilm, giving Disney two of the most famous franchises in Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Disney next launches streaming service Disney+, which Iger has called “the biggest priority of the company during calendar [year] 2019.”
“Disney+ marks a bold step forward in an exciting new era for our company — one in which consumers will have a direct connection to the incredible array of creative content that is The Walt Disney Company’s hallmark,” Iger said during a Disney+ unveiling event in April. “We are confident that the combination of our unrivaled storytelling, beloved brands, iconic franchises, and cutting-edge technology will make Disney+ a standout in the marketplace, and deliver significant value for consumers and shareholders alike.”
Starting with the launch of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in Fall 2020, Feige and Marvel will bring big-budget Marvel Studios television series WandaVision, Loki, What If...?, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Moon Knight to Disney+ as part of Marvel’s extensive Phase 4 plans.
Disney will also bring its first-ever Marvel-themed expansion, Avengers Campus, to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, when that new area opens at Disney California Adventure park next summer. The addition of the Marvel-inspired land comes after both Disneyland and Walt Disney World added the 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansions.