The Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Formula of Success

By: Cal Parsons


The heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Source

I will be the first to admit that I am a huge fan of what Marvel Studios has created over the past 9 years. The way they’ve created a universe of characters and storylines woven together through multiple separate films that culminate to huge team-up films is not only impressive but unquestionably historic. Marvel has created a new age of superhero films that, in my opinion, has yet to be matched by other studios. I will also be the first to admit, however, that their films tend to be safe and formulaic.

The Marvel Studios brand has become the shining star of superhero blockbusters. From their first film Iron Man to their latest solo-origin Doctor Strange, Marvel has consistently made hundreds of millions of dollars from each movie all while turning C-list superheroes into A-list superheroes. No average movie-goer ever knew of Iron Man, Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, after solidifying themselves as the masters of superhero entertainment, their latest film Doctor Strange (2016) made more money than Man of Steel (2013). Who would have guessed four years ago that a Doctor Strange movie would beat Superman?


Doctor Strange concept art in EW – Source

This shows just how dominant Marvel has become over the superhero genre. They are able to take C-list superheroes and make more money than Superman. Guardians of the Galaxy, which is arguably one of Marvel’s biggest risks, made more money than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Star-Lord beat Batman.

But the MCU is not without its flaws. They don’t always make the BEST movies, (see: Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2), but there can be an argument made that none of the MCU movies can be called “terrible”. They’re light-hearted, fun, entertaining movies that let the audience escape into these visually stunning worlds filled with interesting characters and energetic action. But that’s about all there is to these movies, for the most part. Doctor Strange, while a visually impressive, perhaps jaw-dropping, spectacle of a film, the plot is very similar to Iron Man. This can also be said about Ant-Man, all three having similar origin stories with similar plot points and narratives.


A selection of villains in the MCU – Source

Without a doubt, the biggest flaw of the MCU has been how they handle their villains. Their villains are generic, one-dimensional angry people that add hardly any emotional heft or challenges to the heroes. Some villains, like Loki, Winter Soldier, and Zemo are given backstory and emotional connections to the heroes and are the few of the many that are handled very well. The other villains strive for power or world domination, which is getting old quickly. Their Netflix shows, however, have been doing a great job with all their villains, having the advantage of multiple hour-long episodes for development.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, with all its flaws, is an impressive feat that has yet to be matched. Marvel has done what was thought to be the impossible: they’ve created a comic book world with their films, and they don’t seem to be slowing down for a second. For the next few years we will be getting three Marvel Studios films a year instead of the usual two a year, and are impressively well-organized, thanks mostly to their head Executive Producer Kevin Feige.

There’s a lot more to be said about the accomplishments and the flaws of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but audiences can see for themselves every time they see a new Marvel Studios film. If you’re at all curious of a break-down of how vast the scope of the MCU really is, check this out.



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13 Responses to The Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Formula of Success

  1. mediaphiles says:

    What’s interesting is I remember seeing The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man when they were both in theaters. At the end of Incredible Hulk Tony Stark’s character appears to address the general about the Avenger Initiative. Pretty cool stuff

    Russell Lawrence

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’m a big fan of Marvel as well, and I can totally agree – while still praising it – that the characters can be one-dimensional, and the plots formulaic. However, I do think the appeal is still there, and maybe it is exactly these simplistic elements that draw people to Marvel movies, like something familiar and comfortable.

    -Meg Schmit

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I would like to first agree with your title, The Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Formula of Success. I am a huge fan of Marvel films, I’d probably have to rate their films as my number one type of films to watch. I also like how you stated, The way they’ve created a universe of characters and story-lines woven together through multiple separate films that culminate to huge team-up films is not only impressive but unquestionably historic. I thought about writing my blog on this topic as well.

    -John Armstrong

  4. mediaphiles says:

    great topic! I agree that marvel has done it right. Finding a formula that works, is fine too. What I like about marvel is that they took their time getting to where they are now. The biggest issue I think DC faces is the fact that they didn’t really have any origin stories to lead into the bigger films they created. They also tend to change comic book universes without informing general viewers, so there is much more confusion. Anyways, marvel is awesome.
    Michael Cyphers

  5. mediaphiles says:

    I am a big Marvel fan as well. I think what you said about with the C-list superheroes is very true and shows just how impressive Marvel’s success is. I had never heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before, but it might be my favorite film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These films obviously have their flaws, but they are all very entertaining and look great. I think the most impressive thing is that people are still wildly excited for the new films even after how many films have already been released.

    -Walker Rise

  6. mediaphiles says:

    It so crazy what a brand can do. Marvel just being Marvel can make any superhero popular now. I think that Dr. Strange selling Man of Steel just shows loyalty from the fans, not that Dr. Strange is better but yet the fan base is growing and everyone wants to see what is created. I also agree with the villains they aren’t as well played as needed. If the villains role was treated just as the superhero I think Marvel would be complete.

    -Dez Wortham

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I, too, am a huge fan of Marvel, but I do believe they are very formulaic when it comes to making another mundane superhero movie. Though they are formulaic in nature, I completely agree that Marvel sticks with that formula because it works for them. Their various movies have given them an increasing amount of acclaim. It poses the question, should they fix it? It’s difficult to say, especially when those types of movies are cash cows. Despite this, there are some movies that stand out from all the rest such as Deadpool and the upcoming stand alone film, Logan (which I recommend viewing). It seems that Marvel is trying to go in an edgier direction, which has been working out well for them. Hopefully, with the introduction of more superheroes with different personalities, this could cause Marvel to branch out more. For anyone interested the link to the new Logan trailer is here:

    -Shelby Halliman

    • mediaphiles says:

      So there are a few Marvel properties such as the X-Men (which have Wolverine and Deadpool) that are actually not owned by Marvel Studios. Those are owned by Fox, which also owns the Fantastic Four as well. Marvel Studios has the MCU, and Fox has the X-Men. It’s a whole debacle that happened in the 90s.
      – Cal

  8. mediaphiles says:

    This was very interesting to read! I love Marvel movies and try to see the new movies in the theaters, but I often forget them after seeing them once. As you said, the villains are very generic and that, in my mind, is what separates the movies from being entertaining, one time views, from the hots that are still talked about today like Superman.
    -Maddie Turner

  9. mediaphiles says:

    I like many of the Marvel movies well enough, but the others just don’t click with me. I totally agree with you that they can get too formulaic sometimes, so some of them just become boring for me. I like the latest one, Doctor Strange, pretty much. I will still go and watch every one of them. Marvel hasn’t let me down as DC has, ha!

    -Kevin Yu

  10. mediaphiles says:

    A couple summers ago the production company I worked for shared space with one of the editing teams for a Marvel film. Because of this, I sometimes was handed potential Marvel scripts to read and give feedback to the production team. Every time I hated the script, and told them it was a waste of time. Finally, my boss sat me down and told the importance of super hero films: they are “safe and formulaic” just as you wrote above. They print money without question. I still don’t think that they are beautiful pieces of art, but I will agree that ” there can be an argument made that none of the MCU movies can be called ‘terrible.'”

    Katherine Naylor

  11. mediaphiles says:

    The part of this studio’s success that I like the most is the list of actors they have had for their films. Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Scarlet Johansson, Hugo Weaving, just to name a few. It’s pretty clear, they make a lot of good choices in their films.
    -Jordan Hansgen

  12. mediaphiles says:

    This is a good bird’s eye view into the great success of the Marvel franchise. They definitely have a good system down and are sticking with it. Who can blame em?

    -Jake Fallin

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