Bob Iger recalls Disney's initial attempt at acquiring Marvel, but backed out because some of the executives felt like it was too edgy for the House of Mouse's kid-friendly brand. In 2009 under Iger, The Walt Disney Company purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, becoming its parent company. However, things turned out differently, the comics brand would've joined the corporate umbrella much earlier as revealed by the company executive.
Despite not being the top executive, Iger was the main force behind the House of Mouse's expansion starting with the purchase of Pixar in 2006, followed by the acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. Aside from the printing and merchandising side of Marvel, Disney also acquired Marvel Studios which is arguably the current crown jewel of the company. It operates separately from the rest of the brand after president and MCU architect Kevin Feige's reported falling out with Marvel Entertainment Chairman Isaac Perlmutter. Feige now directly reports Disney co-chairmen Alan F. Horn and Alan Bergman.
In his new book The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Iger looks back at his days of working under then-CEO Michael Eisner and shares that there were initial rumblings about purchasing Marvel. However, there was push back on this idea from the board since some of them thought "Marvel was too edgy."
“This wasn’t the first time Marvel has been on Disney’s radar. Early in my time working for Michael, I attended a staff lunch in which he floated the idea of acquiring them. A handful of executives around the table objected, Marvel was too edgy, they said. It would tarnish the Disney brand. There was an assumption at the time — internally, and among members of the board — that Disney was a single, monolithic brand, and all of our businesses existed beneath the Disney umbrella. I sensed Michael knew better, but any negative reaction to the brand, or suggestion that it wasn’t being managed well, he took personally.”
There was no mention about when this specifically happened, but looking at the timeline, chances are that this took place sometime between 2000 and 2004 as Eisner was essentially booted out of Disney in 2005. During these years, Marvel as a comic book brand was still struggling. Most of their well-known characters like X-Men and Spider-Man thriving on the big screen with other studios (Fox and Sony) after they sold their rights to prevent from going under. It was only via 2008's Iron Man when they started funding their own films through Marvel Studios that they began their renaissance, leading to the 23-film franchise grossing $22.5 billion. Given the circumstances during the early 2000s, it's understandable why some executives were against Eisner's idea, but like his former boss, Iger saw the potential with Marvel, especially with its budding universe, that he pushed through with its acquisition several years later.
It's fascinating to learn that at one point, Hollywood executives thought Marvel was too edgy, especially given that it's dominating the mainstream popularity thanks to the MCU's wide reach. If anything, critics view the brand, particularly their films, as safe and monotonous, albeit other studios attempting to copy its business and creative model. In any case, the move to buy Marvel has proven to be the right route as its movie and TV branches play a big part in Disney's success and it may very well continue to do so as it's poised to become a pivotal part of Disney+, Disney's own streaming service.
Source: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
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