Part 1: Send In The B-Team
Looking at Marvel today, it would be easy to assume that they have always been as successful as they are. Though you’d be wrong because, before they were purchased by Disney, even before they launched their movie production arm, Marvel Studios, they were flirting with bankruptcy.
To stop the bleeding, they licensed the rights to their most successful characters to 21st Century Fox, Sony, Universal and New Line (Marvel received a percentage every time a film was produced with their heroes).
So 21st Century got the X-Men and related characters (and exclusive use of the term ‘mutants’) as well as the Fantastic Four. Sony got Spider-Man and related characters, while Universal had the Hulk and Namor the Submariner (Marvel’s Namor in terms of his abilities is similar to DC’s Aquaman, except stronger and more awesome).
But Marvel knew that no one could exploit their characters better than they could, so they threw the ultimate ‘Hail Mary’ pass. To get a loan to build their own studio they borrowed on the strength of their remaining characters.
In other words, it was time for the B-Team to take the field, and Iron Man was released in 2008. The movie was directed by John Favreau and starred Robert Downey Jr–an actor who at the time was known more of his drug use than his acting ability–and went on to earn almost $600 million (on a $140 million dollar production budget).
Marvel Studios was born, and they were eventually purchased by the Walt Disney Company for $4 billion dollars in 2009 (some analysts thought Disney had overpaid. They were wrong.).
Part 2: Raimi’s Spider-Man Films
As I said earlier Sony licensed Marvel’s Spider-Man and in 2002 released Spider-Man. Sam Raimi, known primarily for the Evil Dead series of movies, was chosen to direct. He cast Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson. The first film cost $139 million to produce, and earned almost $822 million dollars worldwide; a very tidy profit.
Spider-Man 2, introduced Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) and was considered the best in the series. It was more expensive than the first film, clocking in at $200 million and eventually pulled in almost $784 million dollars worldwide.
Still profitable, though not quite as much as the first film.
Spider-Man 3, the last film in the series directed by Raimi, cost $258 million, and earned almost $891 million dollars. What set it apart from the earlier films was that it featured three villains, Sandman, Venom and the New Goblin (that’s actually what the character is called on IMDB). Raimi fully expected to direct Spider-Man 4–even after being forced by producer Avi Arad to use Venom, a character he didn’t want in the movie, or like for that matter. In retribution he cast Topher Grace as Eddie Brock/Venom because Arad thought he was a bad choice for the role.
Spider-Man 3 did very well, despite being the worse reviewed of the series. Sam Raimi was apparently prepping the fourth film in the series, before his deal fell through. As a result he was out and the entire franchise rebooted just five years later.