17 Facts, Figures and Bits of Trivia About the Marvel Movie Universe
Marvel has been making movies since 1986. Granted, many of those films aren’t the same level of quality as the interconnected flicks that led to “Avengers: Endgame,” which now has the biggest opening weekend in movie history. In fact, there have been 56 Marvel movies released to date. The Marvel universe is vast — and its inner workings are interesting.
Did you know that Chris Hemsworth signed onto the Marvel movie franchise for an astonishing low six-figure salary? Or that Sony could have bought the Marvel universe for basically pocket change 20 years ago, but decided against it? If you wanted to know more about the Marvel universe before the snap (no “Endgame” spoilers here), read on.
Sony Missed Out on the Deal of a Lifetime
In 1996, Marvel was broke. Comic book and trading card sales had lost their popularity, and the company was in the red. Execs fired one-third of its company (115 people!) and filed for bankruptcy. Despite a restructuring and $365 million from an investment firm, they were still treading water and in need of cash by 1998. So when Marvel execs were negotiating the rights for “Spider-Man” with Sony, they offered up nearly the entire Marvel universe for $25 million.
But Sony Studios executive Yair Landau thought that was a crap deal. “Nobody gives a s[***] about any of the other Marvel characters. Go back and do a deal for only Spider-Man,” he said. Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, which turned out to be a great thing, movie-quality wise. Could you imagine what kind of movies Sony would have produced?
Robert Downey Jr. Makes Ludicrous Money
Robert Downey Jr.’s 11-year career as Iron Man hasn’t quite made him a multi-billionaire like Tony Stark, but he’s getting close. Downey Jr. was paid $500,000 for the first “Iron Man” movie in 2008, but as the Marvel Universe grew, so did his paycheck (although some sources put his starting salary at $2.5 million). When the “The Avengers” assembled in 2015, Downey Jr. made $50 million for that film and then earned a $75 million payday for “Iron Man 3.” In 2012, he made a 15-minute bit part in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which earned him $10 million. But all of that pales in comparison to “Infinity War” and "Endgame," which netted him $100 million each.
Both ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Captain Marvel’ Stars Raked in Good Money
While Disney had been stingy in the past for starring roles in unproven franchises, it seems to have loosened its purse strings a bit. “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman earned $2 million for his role as the Wakanda superhero, while “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson was dealt a $5 million contract.
Both movies were huge hits. “Captain Marvel” scored $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office (and counting) while “Black Panther” earned $1.3 billion worldwide and made more money domestically than “Infinity War.”
Banking on Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson, who plays the badass superspy Black Widow, has reportedly banked a hefty sum from her role. Her first appearance in “The Avengers” netted her a “low seven figure salary,” according to Hollywood Reporter, but she is now one of the highest paid actors on set. She reportedly earned the same amount as Chris Hemsworth on the “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In all likelihood, she made the same amount (or more) as Hemsworth for “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” which would net her $15 million per flick.
Another huge payday for Johansson is for a movie that’s still in the works — Johansson recently signed on to a Black Widow movie for $15 million.
Hemsworth Earned Just $150,000 at First
It seems strange now, but when Chris Hemsworth first held up Mjölnir on the big screen, he only earned $150,000-$200,000 from 2011’s “Thor.” However, Hemsworth had little name recognition at the time, and there were likely milestone bonuses involved. His role in “The Avengers” made him $2-$3 million, while “Thor: Ragnarok” banked him $15 million. For his appearances “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” he also earned $15 million per movie.
Chris Evans Started Out at $300,000
Chris Evans reportedly made just $300,000 in 2011 for his leading role in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” which went on to make $370.5 million worldwide. His salary jumped to $6.9 million for “Age of Ultron” and he is currently said to make $15 million each for “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”
But Terrence Howard Made the Most — Briefly
You might remember Terrence Howard for being Col. James Rhodes (who would later become War Machine) in the original “Iron Man.” Howard was the first one to sign on to the film, and also received the largest salary, to the tune of $4.5 million. He also brought the most drama.
Reports came out that Howard was being difficult on set and had his role minimized, and then cut his pay down to $1 million for the sequel. Howard says he refused to sign on and Don Cheadle replaced him. Howard also alleges that even though he helped Downey Jr. nab the role as Iron Man, Downey Jr. opted to take Howard’s money and “pushed [him] out” of the movie. Not cool, Mr. Stark.
Marvel Movies Used to Suck
With a few exceptions, like Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” series and the original “X-Men” movie, Marvel movies used to be quite bad. Notable box office flops from old Marvel movies include:
- 2005’s “Elektra,” which was eviscerated by critics and reportedly couldn’t even make enough money to pay for its marketing, earning $56 million on a $43 million budget.
- 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” which had a disastrous run at the box office, only making $8 million at home and another $2 million worldwide against a $35 million budget.
- 2005’s weirdly obscure “Man Thing.” The film had its budget hacked down to $7.5 million and was filmed in Australia — with actors pretending they were from the bayous of Louisiana — and was so perplexingly bad it only aired on SyFy. The titular character, and the movie’s only draw, is apparently on screen for only 10 minutes.
- 1986’s “Howard the Duck,” an infamously laughable movie about a talking duck who knows kung-fu and must defeat the Dark Overlord of the Universe. It cost $36 million to make and made $37 million worldwide.
- 1990’s “Captain America,” which was so awful it didn’t even get released in theaters, and instead was sent straight to cable television and VHS. The film cost over $10 million to produce and stars Matt Salinger (J.D. Salinger’s son) as Cap.
Vin Diesel Said ‘I Am Groot’ Over 1,000 Times
Vin Diesel, whose only lines in “Guardians of the Galaxy” are variations on “I am Groot,” said the phrase over 1,000 times — with as many nuances as possible — for his voice acting role as Groot. Of course, if all those 1,000 instances made “Infinity War,” it probably wouldn’t have made $773 million at the box office (or maybe it would have made even more). Diesel said it took one week in a recording studio. How much he made for those three magic words hasn’t been leaked or revealed.
Marvel Makes No Money from Spider-Man Movies
At least, not directly. Marvel fully gave up the rights to Sony in 2011, and while Sony had owned the rights prior to this, Marvel still received a 5 percent revenue from the older Spider-Man films, or about $125 million. Another deal, signed in 2017, has Sony taking all the profits while Disney holds the rights for merchandising. For Disney, the movies are just big advertisements.
How They Made Thanos
Thanos just feels real when he’s on screen, and not some soulless CGI monster. So how did they do it? The FX team used 150 data points on Josh Brolin’s mug and turned that into about 40,000 points of face motion, creating a very realistic face for a purple space alien with a huge jaw. Brolin was also outfitted with a helmet strapped with two HD cameras and a motion-capture body suit; combined, the data is pushed into a huge database that basically learned his motions. Here’s a cool video on it (Warning: the video includes “Infinity War” spoilers, but not spoilers for “Endgame”).
The Movies Make More Money than Some Countries
Starting with “Howard the Duck” in 1986, there have been 56 Marvel movies (57 if you count the Imax presentation of “Inhumans,” which we don’t). In total, they have made over $33.6 billion worldwide. If these movies were a country, they would rival the GDP of Zimbabwe, which has a GDP of $34.5 billion.
They Made Britain a Ton of Money
Luring Hollywood to your home can be very lucrative, since a big wallet accompanies big budget movies. The seven Marvel films that were made or partially filmed in Britain have given the country an influx of £1.3 billion (about $1.7 billion).
An Arm (or Hand) Gets Lopped Off in Every ‘Phase 2’ Movie
Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, loves “Star Wars.” He loves “Star Wars” so much, that as a tribute, someone in every single Marvel movie gets a hand or an arm chopped off in every single Phase 2 Marvel movie — meaning the six films starting with “Iron Man 3” and ending with “Ant Man.”
'Venom’ Was Awesomely Awful
Critics chewed up Sony’s “Venom,” but theater-goers loved it — especially those in other countries. The movie had a $100 million budget and made $855 million worldwide. The 2018 popcorn flick holds just a 29 percent critical rating at Rotten Tomatoes, but also a whopping 81 percent audience score. It’s bad, but it’s a good kind of bad.
The ‘Fantastic Four’ Series Is Troubled
Not everything Marvel prints money. In 2015, Fox attempted to cash in on the superhero craze with a 2015 “Fantastic Four” reboot, which absolutely bombed at the box office. The film made an embarrassing $25.7 million weekend opening, and only earned $56 million domestically. Worldwide, the movie made $168 million against a $120 million budget, making it a huge flop.
Before the reboot, the 2005 “Fantastic Four” film looked promising, with a worldwide gross of $330.5 million on a $100 million budget. Fox execs hoping for a series cash cow increased the sequel’s budget by $30 million, but it wasn’t clobberin’ time at the box office for 2007’s “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which made only $289 million worldwide. Plans for a third movie were cancelled.
There Are More Movies on the Horizon
Fox is still looking for its own multi-billion-dollar Marvel franchise, so it’s going “100 miles per hour” on a few spinoff films, according to a Fox executive quoted in the Hollywood Reporter. This includes a Silver Surfer movie, a Dr. Doom movie, an X-Men movie, an X-Force movie, a Gambit film and another Deadpool romp.
On the Disney side of things, we’re sure to get another “Black Panther,” “Captain Marvel,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and possibly another “Doctor Strange.” What else do you think Disney will make — or can make — after “Endgame”?