Spencer Harrison, Arne Carlsen, and Miha Kerlavaj discuss how the studio strikes a balance between continuity and renewal.
Marvel Studios has revolutionized the franchise film in just ten years. Over $17 billion has been made from its 22 films, which is more than any other movie franchise in history. They also average 64 nominations and awards for each film and have an amazing 84% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (compared to a 68 percent average for the 15 top-grossing franchises). The spring release of Avengers: Endgame has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and sparked such a surge in demand that internet ticket sellers had to redesign their systems to keep up with the demand.
The head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, provided Variety with a deceptively straightforward justification: “I’ve always believed in widening the idea of what a Marvel Studios movie could be. We attempt to keep audiences coming back by doing the unexpected rather than just sticking to a formula, pattern, or mold. The key seems to be striking the correct balance between making avant-garde films and maintaining just enough consistency to make them all look like they belong to the same cohesive family.
It’s a lot harder to strike that balance than it seems. It’s challenging to even create a film that will support a franchise: In 2017, six of the eight big-budget films with the lowest performances were intended to launch new franchises. Even if the first movie is successful, the sequels are frequently unsuccessful: After the first film, franchises typically have a continuous fall in critic reviews, which is typically reflected in how well they do financially.
It’s incredibly challenging to prevent these series from fizzling out after two [movies], according to Iron Man director Jon Favreau. According to history, the second one appears to be the high point. The CEO of Pixar, Ed Catmull, furthers this argument by labeling movie sequels as a type of “creative bankruptcy.”
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Marvel hasn’t experienced that issue thus far. Even after 22 films, the company is still able to redefine what a Marvel movie may be. When Black Panther arrived in early 2018, shattering box office records, critics hailed it as a “sea change” and a “royally imaginative standout” that presented “a vibrant but convincing reality, laced with socially conscious commentary.”
“The movie doesn’t so much reinvent the superhero genre as reclaim and reenergize it—archetypes, clichés, and all—for viewers hungry to dream in their own skin,” Ty Burr said in the Boston Globe. The movie has a unique sense rather than having the generic vibe of a corporate franchise. However, the movie was still clearly Marvel, as several reviews noted.
Marvel manages to successfully combine continuity and renewal, and how and why? In addition to 140 reviews from renowned critics, 243 interviews, and 95 video interviews with the producers, directors, and writers, we gathered data on each of the 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films that were released through the end of 2018.
We then analysed this data. Each film’s narrative and aesthetic were digitally analyzed, and we looked at the networks of 1,023 actors and 25,853 crew members across all of the films. Our research of these statistics leads us to believe that Marvel’s success is based on four fundamental ideas:
(1) Choose for Experienced Inexperience
(2) Use a Strong Core
(3) Keep the formula fresh
(4) Foster Customer Interest
In the pages that follow, we will examine these concepts and demonstrate how Marvel utilized them as well as how they explain the success of businesses operating in quite dissimilar industries.
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How to Watch All MCU Movies and Series Chronologically: Marvel Movies In Order
We’ve compiled a list of all the MCU films and series in chronological order, starting with the World War II-set Captain America: The First Avenger, if you wish to watch the Marvel and Avengers films in their original order.
But first, if you’d like a quick summary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe organized by release date and divided into its several Phases, you can find it right here:
Phase One of the Infinity Saga (2008–2012)
- On May 2, 2008, Iron Man
- Superhuman Hulk (June 13, 2008)
- Iron Man 2 (7.5.1000)
- (May 6, 2011) Thor
- (July 22, 2011) Captain America: The First Avenger
- (May 4, 2012) Marvel’s The First Avengers
The Second Phase (2013–2015)
- (May 3, 2013) Iron Man 3
- (November 8, 2013) Thor: The Dark World
- (April 4, 2014) Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, August 1)
- (May 1, 2015) Avengers: Age of Ultron
- (July 17, 2015) Ant-Man
Phase Three (2016-2019)
- (May 6, 2016) Captain America: Civil War
- (November 4, 2016) Doctor Strange
- (May 5, 2017) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol
- (7 July 2017) Spider-Man: Homecoming
- (November 3, 2017) Thor: Ragnarok
- (February 16, 2018) Black Panther
- (April 27, 2018) Avengers: Infinity War
- (July 6, 2018): Ant-Man and the Wasp
- (March 8, 2019) Captain Marvel
- (April 26, 2019) Avengers: Endgame
- (July 2, 2019) Spider-Man: Far From Home
Phase Four of The Multiverse Saga (2021–2022)
- (July 9, 2021) Black Widow
- 3 September 2021: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
- (November 5, 2021) Eternals
- (December 17, 2021) Spider-Man: No Way Home
- (May 6, 2021) Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
- (July 8, 2022) Thor: Love and Thunder
- Wakanda Forever in Black Panther (November 11, 2022)
The fifth Phase (2023–2024)
- Quantumania in Ant-Man and the Wasp (17 February 2023)
- 3 May 2023: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol
- The Marvels (11/11/2023)
- (May 3, 2024) Captain America: New World Order
- Lightning (on July 26, 2024)
- (September 6, 2024) Blade
Sixth Phase (2024-2026)
- (November 8, 2024) Deadpool
- (February 14, 2025) Fantastic Four
- (May 2, 2025) Avengers: The Kang Dynasty
- Secret Wars of the Avengers (May 1, 2026)
The following film in the chronology is Captain Marvel, a box office smash starring Brie Larson as the intergalactic Carol Danvers and set in 1995. Then it’s time to launch into Iron Man and RDJ’s iconic performance as Tony Stark. After that, the films can be viewed in order of release, with the exception of Black Widow from 2021, which takes place in the wake of Captain America: Civil War from 2016.
There was a time jump of five years through the climactic conclusion of Endgame (which essentially wrapped up the first three MCU phases), setting the most of it in Phase 4 and later in the near future. With Hawkeye, Loki, Wandavision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Shang-Chi driving the plot forward, Phase 4 has invited its lineup of series to really do some heavy lifting.
Then came the massive Far From Home and No Way Home Spider-Man one-two punch. Following that, the publication dates of Moon Knight, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and now Thor: Love and Thunder are all chronologically ordered. We have since included She-Hulk.
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