At this point—12 years, 23 films and $22.5 billion in ticket sales—the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the most well-established brand in pop culture and the single-most consistently successful creation in Hollywood history. Avengers: Endgame is the highest-grossing film of all time, the MCU has not released a financial disappointment since 2008’s The Incredible Hulk and not one of the franchise’s films has earned a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes. No matter how you slice it, the MCU is a well-oiled machine of modern pleasant commercial successes and it’ll soon become a staple of Disney+ as well. Studio head Kevin Feige might as well throw his hat into the presidential ring as a late entrant to the 2020 election.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges en route to ubiquitousness. For example, launching new franchises with lesser-known characters is still a nerve-wracking endeavor for those involved, especially in the face of Marvel’s unprecedented success.
“There’s pressure at every single movie you’re making in the Marvel world,” Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) told Chris Evans (Captain America) during Variety‘s Actors on Actors series. “You don’t want to be the weak link. A character like Ant-Man, yeah, very few people knew. They’d say, ‘Well, what does Ant-Man do?’ And I’d say, ‘He can shrink to the size of an ant, but he also retains strength, and he can control ants and talk to ants.’ And people would just laugh.”
Despite making his first comic book appearance in 1962, the character and mythology of Ant-Man was mostly foreign to mainstream audiences. But, much like 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proved it can turn unsung heroes into, well, superheroes. The two Ant-Man films have grossed more than $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office and a third film is currently in development. The perceived silliness of the character did not prevent it from becoming a well-liked blockbuster franchise. Plus, Rudd’s contributions to crossover films such as Captain America: Civil War and the final two Avengers films have become highly meme-able.
The success speaks to Marvel’s collaborative nature, which creates a more comforting environment, according to Evans. Portraying beloved comic book characters in the social media age of nonstop scrutiny is no easy task, but Marvel’s commitment to a quality-first approach helps drown out the outside noise.
“It was intimidating at first,” Evans told Rudd of tackling the Captain America myth. “Everyone has expectations. You know what it’s like working at Marvel—they make you feel so comfortable. It feels like such a group effort. It’s a real landscape of competing ideas and the best idea wins, and that’s how they end up with so many goo movies. Very quickly you kind of put down your fear and recline a little bit and recognize that you’re in good hands.”
Marvel’s Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, was meant to kick off the MCU’s Phase IV in May, but has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.