SINCE 1939, Marvel Comics have told hundreds of fantastic stories of superheroes fighting to save the planet. But his fight to dominate pop culture is an epic in itself, involving censorship and bankruptcy that has left the company without many of its valuable characters. His latest film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” grossed $ 90 million in box office sales in the United States and Canada over the Labor Day weekend, despite the spread of covid-19 which slows down moviegoers. enthusiasm. That’s three times the previous Labor Day record set by “Halloween” in 2007. How did Marvel come to dominate the movies? And can his superheroes stay on top?

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Marvel’s first decades were tough. The comic book publisher has had to deal with constant management changes, scrambling often and having to cut expenses. It was also restricted by the Comics Code Authority, a de facto industry regulator that emerged in America in the 1950s to avoid more intrusive government interference. Among its many limitations were the ban on vampires, “excessive” gunfire, and sympathetic portrayal of villains. In 1986, the company ended up in the hands of Ronald Perelman, a billionaire who took Marvel public three years later. Mr. Perelman had big ambitions, calling the company “mini-Disney”.

But after getting too much debt, a poorly judged attempt to invest in the toy business, and a downturn in the comic book market, the company filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Marvel survived the 1990s, but was emaciated. He had sold the film and television rights to his most popular character, Spider-Man, to Sony for less than $ 10 million plus royalties. The rights to other characters, as well as a theme park, have been cut. Over the next decade, Marvel continued to produce comics and helped those who owned the rights to its characters bring them to the screen. But the company believed it could do better and planned to produce and fund its own films.

True to their name, The Avengers, Marvel’s superhero team, fought back. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a collection of 25 films and four TV series released since 2008, has grossed more than $ 23 billion at the box office, more than double the amount earned by Star Wars, its closest competitor. . It tells a sprawling story that, like the comics, has no single entrances or characters. In 2019, “Avengers: Endgame” became the highest grossing film in history (excluding reissues), totaling $ 2.8 billion. Of the 48 films that grossed over $ 1 billion at the box office, a fifth is from the MCU. “Black Panther” is the first comic book adaptation to receive a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars. And only one of the MCU’s films, “Thor,” received a score below A- on CinemaScore, an audience benchmark. Only Pixar, an animation studio, comes close, with 22 movies rated A or better, but it took more than twice as long to get there.

As the MCU grows, it gets stronger. During its first five years (“Phase One”), the studio released an average of 1.2 films per year and earned $ 352 million (adjusted for inflation) per frame in the United States and Canada. Canada. In 2016-19, (“Phase Three”), the MCU released 2.75 films per year, making an average of $ 483 million. In 2021, it will release four and hit the small screen for the first time, with six TV series. Some growth comes from backing from the Walt Disney Company, which acquired Marvel in 2009 for $ 4 billion. Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019 also returned the X-Men and Fantastic Four characters to Marvel, although they have yet to appear in the MCU. In 2016, Sony loaned Spider-Man to Marvel “because they know what they’re doing,” according to Sony’s film boss Tom Rothman.

While other franchises have attempted to emulate Marvel’s model over the past decade, none have succeeded. But Marvel’s growth and cultural influence can have limits. “Black Widow,” released in July, has yet to be approved for release in China, nor has “Shang-Chi,” which is set primarily in Asia and whose star was born in the Middle Empire. “Eternals,” slated for release in November and directed by Chinese-born filmmaker Chloe Zhao, has yet to be approved. And Chinese audiences are increasingly turning to local blockbusters. Marvel may seem unstoppable in the West, but it still faces many battles.

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