Everyone knows that Kevin Feige is the go-to guy behind Marvel Studios. He is the keeper of the master plan that will see Marvel through its Phase 3 films and beyond – he’s also likely the one who has Marvel’s infamous NDA snipers on speed dial.
Looking back at the history of Marvel Studios, however, we can see that Feige wasn’t alone in crafting the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It turns out that a man named David Maisel not only played a big part but may have actually been the one responsible for Marvel’s winning formula.
According to THR, Maisel was an essential part of the plan to change Marvel Studios from a licensing shop for Marvel Comics characters to a full-blown production powerhouse. He joined Marvel in 2003, and it was during his tenure that the Marvel Cinematic Universe was conceived and launched. According to some sources, the idea to make films like Iron Man and connect them together in the MCU came entirely from Maisel. This claim is disputed by Avi Arad (Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man) and some others, but there is little actual evidence that Maisel wasn’t a key part of the MCU’s creation if not the initial creator. According to one executive who was around for Maisel’s tenure:
The concept of Marvel making its own movies and the financial model that allowed it, came entirely out of David’s head. It was the most impressive piece of pure intellectual structuring I’d ever seen.
Supposedly, Maisel approached Arad in 2003 and claimed that he could improve Marvel’s returns on its properties (since licensing characters doesn’t necessarily bring in a whole lot of money). Arad arranged a meeting with Ike Perlmutter where Maisel claimed he would at the very least be able to increase Marvel’s share of box office returns (which at the time was less than 5 percent) for future films. Perlmutter apparently liked Maisel’s ideas, because he hired him to serve as President and COO of Marvel Studios soon after.
Inspired by how George Lucas made the Star Wars films, Maisel sought to bring Marvel’s remaining characters to the big screen in a way that would tell a larger story though a series of largely self-contained films. He successfully blocked the licensing of Captain America and Thor to other studios, helped bring Iron Man back from New Line, and negotiated a deal with Merrill Lynch to fund film productions without Marvel having to pay out a dime. The movie rights to 10 characters and concepts were put up for collateral, so if the films had bombed then Merrill Lynch would have gotten the rights to Captain America, The Avengers, and several other characters (including Shang Chi and Power Pack).
The deal almost went south, but some creative maneuvering managed to save Marvel’s plan and get Iron Man made and out into theaters. Maisel climbed the ranks on the board, even as tensions grew between himself and Arad. This tension may be why Arad disputes Maisel being the creator of the MCU as we know it; the closest he comes to acknowledging Maisel’s contributions are stating, “Success has many parents. I respect David’s interesting mind.”
Maisel left Marvel when Disney bought the company, a deal that he helped to bring about as chairman of the board. Since then he’s largely been written out of the Marvel success story, though he doesn’t seem to mind; he’s been described as not being a “Hollywood guy,” and might have stayed largely out of the spotlight if he hadn’t noticed his mother playing Angry Birds one day. Now, he’s bringing that property to the big screen in this summer’s Angry Birds movie – which he pitched, negotiated, and created the backstory.
He admits, “It did hurt, that history was being rewritten a little bit” in regard to his seeming erasure from Marvel’s history. The credits scroll for Avengers: Age of Ultron did include a note saying, “Special Thanks to Marvel Studios Founding Chairman David Maisel,” though, which Maisel said helped him a lot.
The Angry Birds Movie opens on May 20th, 2016.
Captain America: Civil War is in theaters now, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on July 12, 2019, and on May 1, July 10, and November 6 in 2020.