Disney’s investment in lesser known heroes pays off

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Captain America the Winter SoldierA new piece this week in Bloomberg BusinessWeek looks at Marvel Studios’ dominant box office run. It seems crazy now, but when Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion, investors were worried. The comics company had sold off the movie rights to its most popular characters, Spider-Man and The X-Men. What was left in the cupboard?

It turns out the best characters Marvel had to offer were still in there. Comic book lovers have long loved the likes of Thor, Iron Man and Captain America. Not everybody was sure the average moviegoer would warm to them. Marvel Studios, led by Kevin Feige, did it with old school comic book storytelling. At the end of each Marvel movie, they teased the “Avenger Initiative.” Marvel would be the first comic company to bring a full team of its most popular heroes to the screen.

“The Avengers” arrived in 2012, and lived up to the impossible expectations. It was a hit with critics, comic book fans and the all important casual moviegoer. Feige fought off pressure to do the big movie first, then spin off the individual members into their own films. Disney was especially worried that a Captain America film set in World War II wouldn’t appeal to today’s movie buffs. Feige said the World War II origin was essential to understanding Cap’s character. He wouldn’t even agree to a compromise that would have had the first movie splitting time between World War II and the modern era.

Captain America got here soon enough, and his fish out of water persona was one of “The Avengers” most enjoyable elements. His sequel “The Winter Soldier” arrives this week, and critics including the Washington Post’s David Betancourt are calling it Marvel’s best yet.

The biggest test yet for Marvel Studios may come August 1 when it releases “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Captain America and Thor weren’t Spider-Man famous when their movies arrived, but you had probably heard of them. The Guardians are considered obscure even by regular comic readers. Their members include a talking raccoon and a tree. There’s no Robert Downey Jr. in this cast. After this, Marvel plans to make Ant-Man a household name in a 2015 film. Sound crazy? Not looking at what they’ve already accomplished.

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