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 3: 2016–2019

Captain America: Civil War (91%) | Doctor Strange (89%) | Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (83%) | Spider-man: Homecoming (92%) | Thor: Ragnarok (92%) | Black Panther (96%) | Avengers: Infinity War | Ant-Man and the Wasp | Captain Marvel Avengers 4 

Feige, who served as executive producer on the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies starring Tobey Maguire, says that it was an “unbelievable privilege” to bring a new version of that character into the MCU. With Tom Holland’s Spidey, he had come full-circle. “Having Spider-Man on set those early days of Civil War, and then doing an MCU Spider-Man film, with Tony Stark as his mentor, and tapping into a Spider-Man that nobody had seen before outside of the comic books… [it was] one of those sort of pinch-yourself-I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually-happening moments,” says Feige.

Audiences had a number of those pinch-yourself moments during Phase Three, the best-reviewed phase of the MCU so far. There was the psychedelia of bending cities in Doctor Strange and the Led Zeppelin-in-space opera that was Thor: Ragnarok. And then there was seeing T’Challa, Okoye, Shuri, Killmonger, and the rest of the Black Panther team make history. Next year, Captain Marvel will make history again, as Brie Larson stars in the first female-led MCU movie, the penultimate movie in Phase Three. The final film of the phase will be the second half of the Infinity Stones saga, which kicks off this week with Avengers: Infinity War.

With each release, Feige will be asking the same question he has asked since the first screenings of Iron Man. “It was after those screenings [that] some of the executives at the studio at that time started making very big predictions for the opening weekend,” says Feige. “At that point, the only thing we were thinking about, and the only thing we think about to this day – because it’s the only thing we can control – is how will the audience respond on opening weekend. It’s not about the numbers, it’s not about the tracking — other people can worry about that, later in the process. We work on: how will the audience respond?”


“We’re all a product of our time. I don’t think we set out to make any overt political statements in our movies, but we’re influenced by the world around us.” 

One of the amazing things about the Marvel comics is that they reflect the time period in which they were created, and I think some of that was conscious and some of that was unconscious at the time. I think it’s the exact same thing with us at Marvel Studios now. We’re all a product of our time. I don’t think we set out to make any overt political statements in our movies, but we’re influenced by the world around us as we’re sitting in a room and developing the stories and creating the stories.”

Civil War came at a time in 2016 before an election. For us it was, ‘Hey there’s this great storyline from the comics that pit Iron Man and Captain America against each other.’ You could only do that storyline when you had enough movies behind you for that to mean anything. To know enough about Tony Stark’s point of view, to know enough about Steve Rogers’ point of view, to believe they could face off with each other that way and have it be heartbreaking and emotional. Not knowing, of course, that when the film was released, the world would be divided in much the same way. I think it’s another one of those things where, even below the surface, we’re influenced by real life, as we make these movies. And I think that was one of the reasons Civil War touched such a nerve: We were looking at these two people we love in a way that [we were looking at] two halves of the country, which clearly love each other as a country as a whole, but [are] facing off. How do we deal with these differences? In a superhero movie, they punch.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange (2016). (Photo by © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection)

“People would say: Down the line, what characters do you want to see come to the screen? I would always mention Black Panther and Doctor Strange.”

“Both of those characters tap into entirely new worlds within the Marvel Universe. And Doctor Strange, the Master of the Mystic Arts, Sorcerer Supreme — the whole notion of sorcerers, the whole notion of the multiverse and these parallel dimensions, is really important in the comic storylines, and we wanted to have access to that in our stories. Doctor Strange was always the in-point. It was in the visual effects reviews, in post-production, after we had shot most of the movie, that we really realized the mindbending was going to work.”

“Taika always knew he wanted to do a movie like this – he always knew he had a bigger scale movie in him.”

“It was really Boy that convinced us [to hire Taika Waititi to direct Thor: Ragnarok]. And it was the meetings with Taika. He always knew he wanted to do a movie like this; he always knew he had a bigger scale movie in him. And I think he trusted that we wanted to do different things with the characters. He had done a sizzle reel that he had brought to our first meeting, that was hilarious — just clips from other movies, clips from other Thor movies, cut together with his own unique take, and tone. And he used [Led Zeppelin’s] ‘Immigrant Song’ in that sizzle reel. And it just unlocked a whole new thing for us. We went: ‘This is it, this has got to be in the movie, this song’s got to be in the marketing.’ And, of course, it was.”

Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, director Taika Waititi, and Jeff Goldblum on the set of Thor: Ragnarok. (Photo by Jasin Boland/© Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection)

“Spider-Man was not created in a vacuum in a world without superheroes; Spider-Man was never the only superhero in his universe.”

“I was lucky enough to be involved on the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films, and was low man on the totem pole, and just got to watch Sam work. When it came time that Sony was talking about additional Spider-Man films, it was really gracious of [then head of Sony] Amy Pascal to hear me out when I suggested incorporating him into the MCU. Having Spider-Man on set those early days of Civil War, and then doing an MCU Spider-Man film, with Tony Stark as his mentor, and tapping into a Spider-Man that nobody had seen before outside of the comic books…. Spider-Man was not created in a vacuum in a world without superheroes; Spider-Man was never the only superhero in his universe. He was part of the Marvel universe. He grew up in a world where Iron Man would fly over his head and Hulk would smash cars in the streets. We’d never seen that version of Peter Parker on screen before. It was an unbelievable privilege to include him in the MCU. And one of those sort of pinch-yourself-I-can’t-believe-this-is-actually happening moments.”

“We’ve been surprised at Marvel Studios two or three times – none more so than by the amazing response to Black Panther.”

“We believed in the character, introducing him in Civil War, seeing the audience response to Chadwick [Boseman] as that character. We knew Wakanda, which we had been seeding in Easter Eggs since Iron Man 2 within our universe, should be an amazing place. And we knew the notion of a movie of this scale, featuring primarily African and African-American actors, had never been seen before. We had high expectations for what the movie could be. What Ryan Coogler ended up doing, and the way the audience responded, and then the acclaim and the box office numbers behind it, exceeded even our wildest expectations.”

Danai Gurira with director Ryan Coogler on the set of 2018’s Black Panther. (Photo by Matt Kennedy /© Marvel / © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures /Courtesy Everett Collection)

“And it’s a tribute to Coogler, who is a brilliant, brilliant filmmaker and a humble, humble man. He tapped into very real questions that he had growing up, and still has growing up today, and he answered them in a cinematic way that I think ranks as one of the best ways that a filmmaker has ever expressed himself or his questions or his views on life in a feature. It was astounding to watch and astounding to see him put it together. And the response to it! I would say we’ve been surprised at Marvel Studios two or three times — none more so than [by] the amazing response, and the continued response, to Black Panther.”

“If there’s a good idea, you find any way — possible, or impossible — to get it in the movie.”

“It’s too hard to say what my favorite [end credits scene] is, because it’s something that’s so personal to me — I love those tags. As a kid I would always watch the end credits on a movie, hoping that there’d be something. I think it was Ferris Bueler coming out of the shower that I went, ‘Whoa, there could be more?!‘ And usually there wasn’t. So, I said when we do our movies, let’s do it.

I have great fondness for the first one, with Sam Jackson agreeing to come in on a Saturday to shoot this quick scene. I also love ‘Shawarma’ in Avengers, because I love seeing all of those characters finally united around a table, silently chewing. And I also love that that idea didn’t come about until the final days on post; we didn’t shoot that scene until after the premiere. Which taught us: If there’s a good idea, you find any way — possible, or impossible — to get it in the movie.”


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