We don’t know precisely when our universe was born, but we do know that the Big Bang that created the Marvel Cinematic Universe took place on May 2, 2008, when Iron Man exploded in theatres.
At the time, Marvel was a year away from being purchased by Disney, IM’s star Robert Downey Jr. was known for years of making Hollywood Bad Boy headlines, IM was considered a second-tier Marvel property and the idea of a shared universe with storylines for individual Marvel comic book superheroes was in its infancy. In fact, the next step in that direction was a misstep with The Incredible Hulk, which had a not very muscular opening on June 13, 2008. IM had opened to $98.6 million and did $585.8 million worldwide, but Hulk kicked off to just $55.4 million and only grossed $264.8 million globally.
Nonetheless, Marvel stayed the course and moviegoers began gravitating to new MCU titles, Downey’s life took a happy turn for the better and Iron Man spawned hit sequels (IM2 with $623.9 million worldwide in 2010 and IM3 with $1.2 billion globally in 2013). Disney purchased Marvel on August 31, 2009, in a deal worth $4 billion. Since then, MCU films have grossed about $22 billion – some $18 billion more than Disney paid.
We’ve already seen three phases of the MCU and are now entering the fourth. Phase One began with IM and ended with the first crossover film The Avengers (2012). Phase Two started with IM3 (2013) and wrapped up with Ant-Man (2015). Phase Three got going with Captain America: Civil War (2016) and culminated in Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019 via Sony). Phase Four kicks off 7/9 with Black Widow, followed by Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Sept. 3), Eternals (Nov. 5) and Spider-Man: No Way Home (Dec. 17).
Of course, in 2009 when Disney CEO Robert Iger decided to acquire Marvel, there were considerable risks. Earlier this week, Iger, who’s now Disney’s executive chairman, reflected at the Clio Awards (for creative advertising) on green-lighting costly Disney acquisitions over the years like Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar and 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets. While acknowledging that there were risks, he added it wasn’t “as risky in my mind because of my confidence in our ability to execute.” Clearly, Iger was right and great execution over the past dozen years by Disney and Marvel (under studio chief/president Kevin Feige) has made the MCU an astronomical success.