Meet Marvel's Ebullient Man

Chairman Maisel calls firm's summer debut 'the most successful ever'

You could say David Maisel is bullish on Marvel Studios, of which he is chairman, but you'd be understating his enthusiasm.

Maisel on Wednesday not only called the studio's summer performance "historic," but he also said the new studio's launch was "arguably the most successful" in modern history, and he backed up his assertion with numbers.

"Iron Man," he said, has earned $575 million at the worldwide boxoffice, with Japan still to come, and it is the 21st-biggest film of all time domestically. Plus, the first two films financed and produced by Marvel, "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk," have earned $835 million, and counting, worldwide.

Maisel, speaking at a Merrill Lynch investors conference, compared Marvel's "Thor" story to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. "Thor" is set for release June 4, 2010.

Then Maisel upped the ante further, suggesting that Marvel's intention to tie several of its movies together with common characters will make them feel like different episodes of the same story, just like "Star Wars."

He used the appearance of "Iron Man" star Robert Downey Jr. in a cameo at the end of "Hulk" as an example, calling the device "a taste of what's to follow."

Maisel said that one advantage of Marvel being its own studio is that it no longer has to go through an uncertain greenlight process, allowing it to grab release dates early. To wit, the studio set "Iron Man 2" for April 30, 2010, and insiders said Wednesday that "The First Avenger: Captain America" will bow May 6, 2011, a Friday, and "The Avengers" is set for July of that year.

"And with our track record, we can normally keep those release dates pretty clean," Maisel said.

As a full-fledged film studio that "controls its own destiny," Marvel is able to commit early on that it will make movies featuring Thor, Captain America and the Avengers, which has allowed it to strike lucrative deals for toys and theme park rides based on those characters.

Regarding the latter, Marvel already has struck partnerships for theme parks in Dubai and in South Korea, where Marvel does not risk its own capital but maintains creative control and the potential for hefty profits. (partialdiff)
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