Why Disney Didn't Distribute MCU Phase One

Marvel is now firmly part of Disney's media empire, but in the days of Phase 1, the franchise was distributed by a different movie studio.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is currently part of Disney's ever-growing media empire, but in the earliest days of the franchise, the Mouse House was not involved. As difficult as this is to believe, the MCU just wrapped up its first decade of existence, which started back in 2008 with the original Iron Man film. At the time, Kevin Feige's plan to combine several of the company's second tier characters into a shared cinematic universe was seen as overly ambitious, but the results proved otherwise. The MCU now stands at more than $17 billion at the worldwide box office and consistently delivers high-quality blockbusters that impress audiences and critics.

It goes without saying that Marvel was a very smart investment on the part of Disney, with the property showing no signs of slowing down as it's about to enter its fourth phase. But there was a time in history when the MCU was the cash cow for a different movie studio. As fans rewatch Phase 1 titles in preparation of Avengers: Endgame, they may notice that Disney didn't distribute those. Here, we explore why that was.

Related: An Avengers: Endgame Intermission Is A Terrible Idea

Simply put, Disney didn't acquire Marvel until 2009, so when the MCU launched one year prior, Marvel Studios was partners with a different studio. Initially, their titles were released by Paramount. The lone exception was The Incredible Hulk, which due to rights issues, was a Universal picture. The first MCU installment to be distributed by Disney was 2012's The Avengers, which was the record-breaking project that made Marvel what it is today.

Funnily enough, Paramount could have been the ones to purchase Disney and reap the incredible benefits, but they blew their chance. And while Viacom (Paramount's parent company) executives certainly enjoyed the bonuses they earned after Marvel distribution rights transitioned to Disney, that was just a short-term perk. In the longterm, Paramount was definitely damaged by allowing Disney to swoop in and take control of the MCU. Marvel remains the most viable studio tentpole in Hollywood, and Paramount is currently struggling mightily. They just pulled the plug on Star Trek 4 and their Transformers franchise is in a state of uncertainty with both The Last Knight and Bumblebee posting lukewarm box office numbers. Bumblebee was profitable enough to warrant a sequel, but it still ended its run as the lowest-grossing Transformers film.

To be fair, Paramount is home to hits like Mission: Impossible and A Quiet Place (which are both getting future installments in the next few years), but nothing really compares to Marvel these days. Black Panther grossed $1 billion at the worldwide box office and was nominated for Best Picture, while Infinity War became just the fourth movie in history to pass $2 billion globally. It's obviously impossible to say if the MCU turns out exactly the same way if their deal with Paramount remained intact and Disney never entered the picture, but those are still impressive feats that any studio would want. At least Paramount can say they were there at the beginning.

More: Avengers: Endgame Proves Thanos Failed His Mission

Key Release Dates
  • Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
  • The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
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