Marvel's Civil War: Why Kevin Feige Demanded Emancipation From CEO Ike Perlmutter

After friction over the budget on 'Captain America: Civil War,' the studio's film guru threatened to leave Marvel until Disney CEO Bob Iger intervened with a new plan.
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment; AP Images
Marvel's 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron'; Kevin Feige inset

In the end, and somewhat ironically, it was the upcoming Captain America: Civil War that helped catalyze a long-brewing civil war inside Marvel itself that ended with Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige breaking free from his longtime boss, Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter.

As The Hollywood Reporter first reported Aug. 30, Feige and his highly successful film division now will report to Disney Studios chief Alan Horn instead of Perlmutter, the New York-based executive who oversees the Disney-owned company. Multiple sources say that Feige's years of frustration came to a head in part over the making of the third installment of the Captain America franchise, which recently completed filming in Georgia. Others say it was a move whose time finally had come because the film division slowly has gravitated toward Disney and now will be based on the Burbank studio lot.

Civil War, set for release May 6, has been nicknamed Avengers 2.5 because its scope — and its huge cast — is more in line with the Marvel mega-movies than the studio's normal single-hero outings. Set for release in May 2016, Civil War sees the Marvel heroes pitted against each other. It features almost every actor from the Avengers movies, including Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, and introduces Tom Holland as a new screen version of Spider-Man.

Sources say the budget on Civil War ballooned accordingly, which didn't sit well with the famously frugal Perlmutter. "New York wanted to scale it down," says one insider. Marvel and Disney declined to comment.

"New York" in this case wasn't just Perlmutter, 72. It was also Marvel's so-called "creative committee," a group of execs from Marvel's various divisions including publishing as well as Alan Fine, Perlmutter's right-hand man. The collective has been around since nearly the inception of Marvel Studios in the mid-2000s, offering critiques of creative choices as well as input on business decisions. Insiders say that with Feige breaking free of Perlmutter and the New York side of the company the committee will not be disbanded, but its influence over the Marvel movies will be nominal at best.

The reorganization does not affect Marvel's television unit, which has enjoyed far less success than the film operation but does have several series on the air, including Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter on ABC and Daredevil on Netflix. The TV arm still reports to Perlmutter and the committee. Publisher Dan Buckley and chief creative officer Joe Quesada are among those who will remain on the committee for continuity purposes as some coordination and cooperation is required for Marvel's film, TV, comic book and merchandising arms to capitalize on projects and events.

"New York had a big say for a long time, but hasn't Kevin earned the right to some autonomy? He's made the company billions. Why is he reporting to a 72-year-old man who doesn't make movies?" asks one insider.

Sources say Feige, 42, contemplated leaving Marvel — certainly, he might be the industry's single most employable executive — before Disney CEO Bob Iger approved a reorganization that sees Feige reporting to Horn.

In terms of how business is done on the film side, the impact of the shake-up is not yet clear. "Why would it change?" says one top agent. "It's proven to be successful, and everyone still wants to be part of the Marvel Universe." But another top dealmaker holds out hope that the company will ease up on its notoriously tough terms in talent deals for all but the biggest Marvel stars. "I'm secretly hoping that it gets better with this realignment," this person says. "They're cheap, they're aggressive. It certainly can't get any worse."

Another person who has dealt with Marvel on numerous deals expressed hope that Marvel may loosen its tight reins on talent deal points. For example, Marvel, with several exceptions, does not pay merchandising royalties, which is not the industry norm, according to this source. Also, Marvel demands the right to use up to three minutes of an actor's performance from one movie for another, described as "bridging material," when the broader norm is 30 seconds.

Adds another top player: "I think it will be smoother and easier without Ike."

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