Oral Histories

Kevin Feige's Oral History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

On the eve of Infinity War, the Marvel Studios president reflects on the ups, downs, and twists in each phase of the MCU.

by | April 23, 2018 | Comments

Phase One: 2008-2012

Iron Man (94%) | The Incredible Hulk (67%) | Iron Man 2 (73%) | Thor (77%) | Captain America: The First Avenger (79%) | Marvel’s The Avengers (92%)

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. were not obvious pegs on which to hang a superhero movie — or the fortunes of a studio. Favreau’s biggest hit was a Christmas flick, which still had some time to go before becoming a classic, and Robert Downey Jr. was an acclaimed actor, but at that stage far from the world’s biggest star. But Marvel Studios and studio president Kevin Feige were determined to pick the best talent over marquee names. “It was liberating to make decisions like that, that I don’t know would have been made at other studios at the time,” Feige told Rotten Tomatoes when he sat down to talk about 10 years of the MCU. The decision paid off — Iron Man was beloved by critics (94% on the Tomatometer) and audiences alike (the film has an Audience Score of 91%).

Not all of Phase One’s films fared as well: The Incredible Hulk, Louis Leterrier’s reboot of the character, starring Edward Norton, was a sturdy effort, and is Fresh on the Tomatometer at 67%, but failed to set the world on fire — or launch a trilogy, as all other Phase One movies did. Mostly, however, critics and audiences rapturously embraced the assembling Avengers that Marvel Studios unleashed on multiplexes. Joss Whedon’s Avengers then took things next level with a 92% — a score that wouldn’t be matched again until Spider-Man: Homecoming. The secret sauce, Feige says, was there in the very first MCU effort. “What Jon brought to the process and what Robert brought to the process, as we were making Iron Man, laid the foundations — not only with the narrative and the story for where we’ve gone, now, almost 19 films with Infinity War — but also the tonality of our films and behind the scenes, the way we made the films.”

What follows is a history of the MCU, and reflection upon it, drawn form a sit-down interview between Feige and Rotten Tomatoes. 

PHASE ONE | PHASE TWO | PHASE THREE


“If we were to fail, at least we would have failed with the best intentions.” 

“I had been involved and Marvel had been involved at certain levels on other films before Iron Man, but always as a partner, never as the lead decision maker. The other studios spent the money to make the films – they had control of the films. When we got the chance to do it ourselves, there was a lot of pressure involved, because it was all on us. But I was very comfortable with that because: If we were to fail, at least we would have failed with the best intentions. And, Iron Man being our first film, we really believed in Tony Stark, we really believed in having a character that was as interesting, if not more interesting, outside of the costume as he was in the costume.”

Robert Downey Jr. and Director Jon Favreau on the set of 2008’s Iron Man (Photo by ©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection)

“Let’s just cast the best actor we can find.”

“Deciding that Marvel Studios’ Iron Man will be the marquee name allowed us to say, ‘Let’s just cast the best actor we can find.’ And it’s funny to remember now, [when] Robert Downey Jr. is one of the biggest stars on the planet. What he was then was one of the best actors on the planet – [if not] necessarily one of the biggest marquee stars on the planet. It was liberating to make decisions like that, that I don’t know would have been made at other studios at the time.”

“On those early Iron Man screenings, it was apparent that audiences loved Tony Stark, that audiences loved the redemption arc that Tony was undergoing in that movie.”

“We do what we call friends-and-family screenings on all of our films, made up of neither friends nor family, but made up of people that we trust to tell us the truth and not tell anyone else about the horrifically rough version of the movie that we’re showing them at that point. On those early Iron Man screenings it was apparent that audiences loved Tony Stark, that audiences loved the redemption arc that Tony was undergoing in that movie. It was after those screenings… some of the executives at the studio at that time started making very big predictions for the opening weekend.”

Edward Norton in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. (Photo by ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)

“Hulk is a great character – who I do think can have standalone movies, and who I think would be great in his own standalone movies.”

“With The Incredible Hulk, we were trying to bring a Bruce Banner and a Hulk into the beginnings of the MCU, the beginnings of our cinematic universe. The thing about Hulk, and we realized this early on as we started working on The Avengers, is that he is a great character — who I do think can have standalone movies, and who I think would be great in his own standalone movies. There’s a wish fulfilment to Hulk that even the worst of us can be used for good – that, I think, is why that character has endured for as many years as it has. But there was also something fun that had never been explored on screen before, in either of the two movies or in his television series, [something] which had only been explored in the comics: Which was [what he is like] when he is part of an ensemble, when he is this unpredictable part of this ensemble.”

Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). (Photo by Jay Maidment/©Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

“Agent Carter is unbelievably capable at a time when it was very difficult to rise up the ranks in the military. We really wanted to create these female characters that were as strong and as capable as the heroes.” 

“From the beginning of my career, the notion of the damsel in distress was outdated, and when we started to make our own movies, we didn’t want to fall into that trope – we wanted to avoid it as much as possible. With Agent Carter, she is unbelievably capable at a time when it was very difficult to rise up the ranks in the military. We really wanted to create these female characters that were as strong and as capable as the heroes. Now, as we’ve continued to grow, that’s gotten even more apparent, to the point where they are the heroes. Literally right this second, Brie Larson is on the set of Captain Marvel in the first few weeks of photography; Evangeline Lilly has finished her role as The Wasp in Ant-man and the Wasp – and it will only grow from there. What Ryan Coogler did with Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri in Black Panther… they’re already iconic characters, and people are already asking, ‘When are they getting their movies? When are we getting the Shuri movie?’ The answer is: Nobody wants to see that more than me. And that’s a testament to that film and to those actresses. And to the world being ready, and overdue, to see these types of characters on the screen.”

Director Joss Whedon and Scarlett Johansson on set of The Avengers. (Photo by Zade Rosenthal, © Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection)

“The big danger with the first Avengers was just getting overwhelmed with action. So many superheroes, so much spectacle, so many special effects.”

“Early on, we realized that the role of the filmmaker on our films is to bring a unique tonality and be able to maintain and ride that tone over the course of production and through post-production. We have amazing artists and technicians who can help with the scale, that can help with as big a canvas as it is.  What the filmmakers need to do is not get lost in all of that and to focus on the great character work. The big danger of the first Avengers was just getting overwhelmed with action. So many superheroes, so much spectacle, so many special effects. The most interesting thing about the Avengers is: Why in the world are all these people in the same room together – and what would they do when they were in the same room together? Joss Whedon was an amazing writer, and had done amazing things that showed that character would not get lost amongst the spectacle. And, he of course exceeded all of our wildest expectations – twice.”


PHASE 1 | PHASE 2 | PHASE 3

Pages: 1 2 3 Next

Tag Cloud

natural history Lifetime Christmas movies Reality Competition Horror A24 PBS video documentaries New York Comic Con adaptation disaster jurassic park BET Awards game of thrones DGA facebook casting Brie Larson vampires Superheroe TCM Certified Fresh halloween tv rotten movies we love Netflix politics Fantasy IFC Interview GoT 72 Emmy Awards WarnerMedia Bravo new star wars movies Apple TV Plus nature Travel Channel nbcuniversal The Academy sequels Mindy Kaling kong 71st Emmy Awards Epix zombies Comedy Central scary movies supernatural spanish Countdown Biopics Western DirecTV Country USA 4/20 E! Disney Plus Film Festival television DC Universe Extras crime drama Pop TV TV Land National Geographic razzies aapi hist period drama chucky 2020 Amazon Studios scorecard renewed TV shows Dark Horse Comics LGBT Spring TV YouTube spanish language American Society of Cinematographers Reality sitcom DC Comics ABC Family Animation Captain marvel BET tv talk YA First Look ESPN Disney The Witch The Walking Dead Cartoon Network FX ITV werewolf comics Amazon Cannes 2018 criterion Sundance TV Ghostbusters Winter TV Alien french Netflix Christmas movies franchise Music ratings what to watch Action dramedy VICE comic Tumblr parents emmy awards Nominations critics versus halloween cartoon fast and furious Paramount Plus fresh Hallmark Christmas movies lord of the rings CBS ABC Acorn TV Film Mudbound singing competition Chilling Adventures of Sabrina marvel cinematic universe Rocky worst Election cinemax YouTube Red Creative Arts Emmys deadpool stoner El Rey Logo The Walt Disney Company Red Carpet Marvel Christmas justice league 21st Century Fox Pirates Comic Book laika TCA 2017 Disney Channel Broadway 24 frames Character Guide kids universal monsters police drama Apple child's play Quiz 007 Oscars Mary Poppins Returns worst movies cancelled television TV One Nat Geo Spike Starz best spider-man christmas movies TLC Vudu Rock VOD Best and Worst award winner Rom-Com Fall TV theme song Hallmark OneApp serial killer Arrowverse 2021 2015 Drama superhero MSNBC directors game show hollywood romantic comedy medical drama godzilla DC streaming service dark crime Premiere Dates Comedy Funimation Polls and Games stand-up comedy historical drama Summer video on demand scene in color Set visit Thanksgiving LGBTQ Binge Guide Mary Tyler Moore Watching Series Holidays Elton John dogs PlayStation IFC Films jamie lee curtis die hard Universal The CW nfl History composers elevated horror Women's History Month finale BBC Lionsgate Grammys comedies travel asian-american Nickelodeon NBC Turner Adult Swim know your critic President Emmys Turner Classic Movies a nightmare on elm street TIFF BBC America Marvel Studios harry potter GLAAD YouTube Premium GIFs Apple TV+ Pet Sematary Tomatazos Disney+ Disney Plus FX on Hulu Peacock monster movies discovery Mystery new york 2017 Classic Film CMT Shudder Showtime latino Television Critics Association superman Star Wars crime thriller new zealand book adaptation dragons Box Office transformers live action unscripted toy story sag awards witnail zombie CNN Fox News mutant doctor who Black Mirror cats docudrama teaser popular mission: impossible TBS Esquire political drama anime SundanceTV docuseries based on movie obituary Warner Bros. First Reviews Sony Pictures Cosplay Baby Yoda Schedule APB comic books twilight independent rt archives ViacomCBS ID Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt FOX Teen king kong blockbusters blockbuster satire NYCC Tubi Lucasfilm Sneak Peek SXSW BAFTA Comics on TV Musicals reviews talk show psychological thriller golden globe awards See It Skip It Awards diversity rom-coms ABC Signature Paramount Network 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards miniseries Marathons MTV black Stephen King trailers A&E 45 Legendary Emmy Nominations cops Spectrum Originals romance australia robots Valentine's Day classics Heroines social media screenings reboot The Purge PaleyFest Sci-Fi TruTV Martial Arts 2016 San Diego Comic-Con Photos Mary poppins sports festival Awards Tour italian Paramount Black History Month Fox Searchlight Discovery Channel free movies Writers Guild of America Calendar Sundance Chernobyl psycho movies BBC One Winners festivals high school comiccon true crime saw Crackle telelvision Ovation Freeform Columbia Pictures Ellie Kemper MCU OWN prank women Anna Paquin cooking news football RT History WGN zero dark thirty Sundance Now dc Opinion 99% TCA Awards canceled strong female leads golden globes Crunchyroll name the review Pride Month TV Hulu boxing sequel AMC 20th Century Fox HBO Video Games documentary Year in Review Rocketman Family archives Tarantino cancelled TV series Song of Ice and Fire richard e. Grant films Syfy target Star Trek dceu hidden camera Super Bowl Pacific Islander Amazon Prime Video venice quibi Trivia space indiana jones Television Academy streaming movies batman international RT21 Pixar children's TV HBO Max CBS All Access boxoffice movie Kids & Family Britbox blaxploitation anthology TV movies Shondaland The Arrangement pirates of the caribbean TV renewals ghosts slashers kaiju screen actors guild indie TCA Winter 2020 TCA joker stop motion revenge hispanic rotten Academy Awards science fiction series cancelled Podcast binge Hear Us Out cars james bond Musical E3 japanese south america concert Superheroes all-time Amazon Prime SDCC animated Trophy Talk Lifetime Pop Holiday Food Network spain Masterpiece Trailer cults spinoff Avengers spy thriller HBO Go Image Comics X-Men 2019 biography USA Network CW Seed technology FXX streaming crossover heist movie Toys toronto Infographic canceled TV shows TNT VH1 mockumentary Marvel Television foreign Endgame adventure cancelled TV shows Disney streaming service remakes breaking bad Exclusive Video thriller aliens Walt Disney Pictures book war 93rd Oscars green book