Kevin Feige Looks Back At 10 Years Of Marvel’s Box Office Dominance (And Hints At What’s Next)

We sat down with the Godfather of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Kevin Feige interview Marvel Cinematic Universe

When Kevin Feige was 16, something incredibly important happened: the cinema-going year of 1989.

From Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade to Do The Right Thing, it was a ground-breaking 12 months for movies, and it ended up changing the New Jersey native’s life forever.

“I had a list of every movie I went to see that year and that summer, like a real nerd,” laughs Feige.

“I wrote down the sound system in the theatre, and what theatre I went to see them in.

They weren’t all great, but there were a tonne of movies that year I was really excited for — like Batman — and probably the highlight for me was Back To The Future II. So as a kid growing up obsessed with movies, ‘89 was my year. Not that they were all perfect, but I was excited about all of them.”

The Comic Book Guy

Ironically, “not perfect” but “excited about all of them” is a great way to describe the first half of Feige’s career.

He was hired as the ‘comic book guy’ for Marvel films: that is to say, the guy who knew a lot about the Marvel comics universe and was to use that knowledge to help the filmmakers converting those stories to the big screen.

“On the early films I worked on there was this sense of ‘this is silly, it’s from comic books, how can you make it cool?’”

Some of those films were good — Spider-Man 2, X-Men, X2 — some of those films were okay — The Punisher, Spider-Man, Hulk – and some were bad … really, really bad.

Like, Daredevil bad. Elektra bad. Blade: Trinity, and Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man 3, and X-Men: The Last Stand levels of bad.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe we know today, the one whose first 11 years just culminated in Avengers: Endgame becoming the second highest grossing film of all time, is a long way from that.

Yet without the stumbles, Feige says they wouldn’t have their current run of successes: some 22 of them in fact, with the 23rd Marvel film Spider-Man: Far From Home out this week.

“On the early films I worked on there was this sense of ‘this is silly, it’s from comic books, how can you make it cool?’ Our feeling was always ‘no, it is cool, you just have to take what’s cool about it and put it up on screen’.

Look at Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Far From Home: he’s got this fishbowl on his head and a cape and a zany outfit. Our amazing artists figured out a way to make it awesome, not by changing it radically from the comic book origins, but by embracing what it was in the comic books and translating that for the big screen.

Hypothetically when I started at Marvel 19 years ago, there might have been a conversation around the studio going ‘well, you can’t do the fishbowl, maybe it can be something else — how do we make it cool?’.

Cool 20 years ago meant a black leather outfit.”

Comics, But Make Them Cool?

Cool in 2019 means anything Marvel is doing, basically.

In 2007, Feige was named president of production for Marvel Studios and the once mighty comic giant decided to start making their own movies in-house, with the characters they hadn’t sold off to other studios to stay afloat in the nineties.

“I feel pressure on every film: pressure to meet the expectations of the audience and to hopefully exceed them.”

Iron Man was the first cab off the rank in 2008 and with the then-risky premise of Robert Downey Jr. at the centre of the narrative. It became a defining hit.

The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton a few months later was a rare stumble, but unlike so many of their competitors — namely Warner Brothers, Fox, and Sony — Marvel proved they could learn from their mistakes.

They adapted, they evolved, they retooled, and they began one of the most significant eras of blockbuster cinema, with 20 more films such as the ground-breaking Black Panther, Winter Soldier, and Thor: Ragnarok.

Feige has been the driving force behind all of this, although he doesn’t like to admit to much of it. He’s that rare Hollywood unicorn: a studio exec who prefers to remain low-key and stand behind the work, rather than in front of it.

Right now that should mean a victory lap after the back-to-back billion dollar successes of Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame in 2019.

The Future Of The Marvel Cinematic Universe

The reality, however, is that he’s finishing off the first round of press in London for Spider-Man: Far From Home.

“I feel pressure on every film: pressure to meet the expectations of the audience and to hopefully exceed them,” Feige admits, knowing how much is on the web-slinger’s shoulders with the dawn of this new Marvel era.

“It has been an amazing 10 years so far, that’s for sure.”

“Far From Home was very much a continuation of Endgame … it was all about Peter (Parker) stepping out of the shadow of Tony Stark.”

In a way, Marvel too is stepping out of that shadow of Tony Stark, or rather Robert Downey Jr, who has become synonymous with the character.

With over a decade’s worth of films in the can, the studio is looking towards a future without their most iconic character.

That means doing what they do best: making audiences care about new ones.

“I learned a long time ago that no matter how many things we do, how many films we announce, people ask what’s next, people always ask what other characters we’ll do,” says Feige, who has confirmed in the past few weeks that everything from The Eternals to Asian American superhero Shang-Chi is in development at Marvel.

“At first I was very frustrated by that, but then I thought ‘what am I getting frustrated about?’ It’s a great privilege to be part of a company that has so many characters people will endlessly ask you about … So no, I’m not sick of it. I’m very pleased by it. It has been an amazing 10 years so far, that’s for sure.”

Spider-Man: Far From Home is currently in cinemas.

Maria Lewis is a journalist, screenwriter and author of The Witch Who Courted Death, It Came From The Deep and the Who’s Afraid? novel series, available worldwide.