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Analysis

13 years ago, Disney bought Marvel — and changed movies forever

In 2009, Disney swooped in and bought the nascent Marvel Cinematic Universe for $4B.

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

In 2009, Marvel was on the upswing. After plunging into bankruptcy in the late 1990s and selling off some of its most valuable intellectual property to stay in business, the company had pulled off the impossible: a series of interconnected superhero movies that won over critics and audiences alike.

Well, “series” is perhaps a bit generous. Marvel had released one popular Iron Man movie and one so-so Hulk movie by 2009 when Disney swooped in to acquire the company for $4 billion. But it was clear that the nascent film studio was building towards something, and the House of Mouse wanted in.

“We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation,” said then-Disney CEO Bob Iger in a prepared statement.

Marvel’s controversial CEO Ike Perlmutter, who would oversee Marvel Studios until 2015, echoed Iger’s sentiment.

“Disney is the perfect home for Marvel’s fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses,” he said. “This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney’s tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world.”

Bob Iger with Avengers: Endgame’s directors at the movies 2019 premiere.Charley Gallay/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Turns out, they were both right. While not every movie in the first phase of Marvel’s cinematic universe was a home run, the studio was able to stay the course and deliver the epic crossover it promised in Iron Man’s historic post-credits scene.

Thanks in part to Disney’s support, Marvel released The Avengers in 2012. Hollywood has never been the same.

But fast forward another decade, and it’s a little less clear whether Marvel and Disney’s union has been a good or a bad thing overall. The MCU pumps out new movies and TV shows so relentlessly at this point that even diehard fans are starting to feel the fatigue. Marvel dominance (along with a few other unrelated factors) has terraformed the movie landscape. Comedy and mid-budget action no longer have a place in most theaters, and the VFX industry is ripping at the seams trying to keep up with the superhero studio’s unreasonable demands.

Iron Man was one of two MCU movies in existence when Disney bought Marvel. Marvel Studios

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how Disney may have saved Marvel in the long run. Back in 2009, the studio’s plans likely didn’t extend much further than 2012’s The Avengers. 13 years later, the MCU is finishing out its fourth victory lap with at least two more already in the works.

Much of the studio’s future also hinges on characters that Marvel sold off decades ago. The Fantastic Four are slated to join the MCU in 2024, and the X-Men could be close behind. That’s only possible because of a mega-merger between Disney and 20th Century Fox, something that never could have happened if Marvel was still an independent studio.

So was the Disney-Marvel merger good for Marvel? For the most part, yes. Was it good for Disney? Considering that the company has more than quadrupled its money, I’d say yes. But was it good for movies in general? The jury’s still out on that one.

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