Marvel Hopes to Conjure Up Streaming Magic With 'WandaVision'

Kevin Feige looks at the landscape as he embarks on Marvel's Disney+ journey, and also weighs in on the fate of Netflix's MCU characters: "Everything is on the board."

More than a decade ago, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige and filmmaker Jon Favreau were sitting in a Beverly Hills conference room, deep into preproduction on the first Iron Man film. Feige remarked they'd be working together a lot over the next few years on the film.

Favreau had a more expansive perspective on their relationship.

"He goes, 'No, if this goes well, we'll be together for the next 10 years,'" recalls Feige. "That was about 13 years ago, so he was right."

However many later, The Mandalorian creator Favreau and Feige are not only behind giant films, they are also key to Disney+'s strategy of bringing big-budget projects from the worlds of Star Wars and Marvel to the small screen.

On Friday, Favreau's friend and former boss Feige is following in his footsteps by debuting WandaVision, Marvel's first scripted series for Disney+. WandaVision comes 14 months after Disney+ launched with The Mandalorian, the hit Star Wars series that has helped power the streaming service to 86.8 million paid subscribers. Though Disney+ has released a number of titles since its November 2019 launch, WandaVision is just the second high-profile series to debut on the service, with COVID-19 delaying last summer's planned release of Marvel's Falcon & the Winter Soldier and pushing WandaVision into 2021.

WandaVision centers on Avengers heroes Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), living in 1950s sitcom-inspired suburban bliss until they begin to question their picture-perfect lives together. It's Marvel's most offbeat project yet and by far its smallest, following the sprawling, 23-film saga that saw Avengers: Endgame (2019) crowned the highest-grossing film of all time.

Feige believes that by going to the small screen, he can still make a cultural impact akin to what Marvel is accustomed to.

"Mandalorian has proven that team and that platform can hit the cultural zeitgeist in a way that our films have as well," Feige says.

Feige is the highest-grossing film producer of all time with a global haul of $22.55 billion. While he will not be getting box office receipts with WandaVision, he says he is feeling excitement and nervousness similar to an opening weekend. He is also looking to answer the same questions.

"Does the audience enjoy it? Did it meet or exceed expectations? Did it subvert expectations? And are they still thinking about it and talking about it weeks or months or years after they've first seen it?" says Feige. "The specific barometers for success are very different in streaming than they are in box office, of course, and I'll leave that to the experts at Disney+ to know what their formulas are."

Though Feige might be privy to those formulas, observers can expect to learn very little about the performance of the show for Disney+, which has followed the Netflix playbook and opted not to widely share metrics around the performance of its streaming films and TV shows. Third-party measurement, however, shows just how much is at stake with the WandaVision release for Disney+, which thus far has relied heavily on its catalog of new and classic films to attract subscribers. According to data from Antenna, the filmed version of Broadway musical Hamilton and Pixar Christmas release Soul have been the two biggest drivers of sign-ups. The only series to make Antenna's list was The Mandalorian, which came in at No. 3. And according to Nielsen, The Mandalorian was the only Disney+ series among the top 10 most-streamed original shows of 2020. (Disney+ led Nielsen's list of most-streamed films with seven of the 10 titles.)

Marvel has previously had a number of TV shows set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though they never truly felt like they connected to the films directly. WandaVision is the first Marvel show overseen by Feige, which signals to audiences that the Disney+ series truly will count toward the larger MCU story.

"Comic creators can take things where they want it, which is why there are 48 different Batmans," says Michael Niederman, a television professor at Columbia College Chicago. "But when people want to invest in a TV series and in a series of movies, they crave more continuity. They crave a more holistic approach."

Feige has 10 Disney+ shows planned over the next few years, with the series — also including Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Tom Hiddleston's Loki — weaving in and out of the films. WandaVision, for example, will directly tie into Sam Raimi's film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, due out March 25, 2022.

From 2015-19, Marvel has had multiple Netflix shows set in the MCU, including Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Punisher. Netflix pulled the plug on those series as Disney prepared to launch its own streaming competitor. While the focus has been to introduce new characters, such as She-Hulk and Ms. Marvel, as well as to bring in MCU film actors, characters from the Netflix shows are still in play.

"Everything is on the board," says Feige. "That's one of the fun things about the comics is that characters would appear and disappear and come and go. All of it is inspiration for the future. There are some great characters and actors from those shows."

While 2020 was the first year in more than a decade without a Marvel Studios release, 2021 is potentially looking to be its busiest ever.  Falcon & the Winter Soldier hits Disney+ March 19, with Loki following in May and the animated What If …?, featuring MCU voice talent, launching this summer. Both Ms. Marvel and Hawkeye are slated for late 2021 Disney+ bows. On the big screen, the studio calendar includes Black Widow (May 7), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (July 9), Eternals (Nov. 5) and the Sony co-production Spider-Man 3 (Dec. 17), though those plans could change due to continued COVID-19 theater closures.

Those are big plans, and Feige is positive about kicking it all off with something a little more intimate in WandaVision.

Says Feige: "It was created and produced purposefully for the medium of television, as a celebration and homage to the medium of television."

— Natalie Jarvey contributed to this story.

Jan. 13, 5:18 p.m.: A previous version misstated the release date for Eternals. THR regrets the error.