Marvel Entertainment International’s Simon Philips reveals how animation has helped to reinvent the superhero genre. Jesse Whittock reports.
Marvel Entertainment superhero movie Marvel’s The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble) – the first Marvel film distributed by Disney since it bought the company for US$4bn in 2009 – took a record US$207.4m at the US box office on its opening weekend in April. The film passed US$1bn globally in May.
But that’s only half the story. With the weight of Disney now behind each of Marvel’s famed characters, the opportunity to reinvent has arrived. The mounds of merchandise on show at Avengers press events, as much as anything, showed the superhero genre is stronger than ever.
“We now have Disney distributing and managing consumer products, television and DVD and they have an incredible expertise and passion that understands franchises,” says Marvel Entertainment International president Simon Philips. “Disney understands what goes into making a franchise and creating something that is front and centre of mind 365 days a year.”
The superhero revival has been big business. Disney paid top dollar for Marvel, while Time Warner bought rival DC Comics. Warner has since launched the latest Batman feature film franchise, the less successful Superman and Watchmen movies and new television series.
“When we talk about licensees, retailers and promotional partners we’re not talking about just movies anymore, we’re talking about the franchise and everything associated with it,” says Philips. “We use tentpole movies and animated series to help drive that. Television plays a key role in bringing our stories and characters to life across the Marvel universe, and cementing our family appeal.”
In April, Marvel launched its Marvel Universe branded block on the Disney XD channel in the US, which included two superhero toon series, Ultimate Spider-Man and season two of The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; shortform series such as Fury Files, Marvel Mash-Up and Animated Reality; and various Marvel-themed interstitials.
“We are going to be rolling out the block internationally,” says Philips, revealing plans for summer launches on Disney XD across Europe. Ultimate Spider-Man, which launched in the US on April 1 and will eventually have its home on the block, premiered in June in the UK. “Marvel Universe will be the ultimate place for fans of all ages to find exclusive Marvel content, including new animated series,” he adds.
At the Upfronts in May, ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee told reporters a live-action show based on The Hulk is slated for 2013/14, with Guillermo del Toro working on the project. However, the Alphabet network passed on a Marvel Studios project based on Jessica Jones, a character born out of the Spider-Man franchise. Similarly, Fox scrapped plans for a procedural drama based on The Punisher, which had Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernardo attached. This was after ordering a pilot in which the antihero character is a rising star in the New York police who moonlights as a vigilante crime fighter.
Internationally, Marvel produces animé shows based on its Iron Man, The X-Men, Blade and Wolverine properties for Sony-owned satellite channel Animax in Japan. The shows launched on US cable channel G4 last year. Philips explains: “It’s adult animé, as we have to make sure we keep developing content that appeals to all the fan base. We look at where a show should be developed and what opportunities there are around the world, not just what the opportunities are in the US.”
Meanwhile, as Marvel’s superheroes are reinvented, technology is changing at an even quicker rate. This means comics moving from print to tablet and mobile, and films and TV series moving online as younger audiences increase their use of social media like Facebook, which raised US$104bn when it floated on May 18.
Indeed, the launch of two Avengers trailers broke Apple iTunes’s 24-hour download record, with the second scoring 13.7 million. “Digital platforms do offer a good marketing tool,” says Philips, “but they are also increasingly the places where people want to consume their media. You can also see this with transmedia storytelling. In the UK alone, over 160,000 people now ‘like’ the UK Avengers Facebook page, and yet we only posted the first wall content in October 2011, while our recently launched Avengers Alliance Facebook game attracts over 1.2 million users every day.”
Technology, according to Philips, is the biggest change in the entertainment business in recent times. “Every part of entertainment is being impacted by technology. The kind of entertainment experience we deliver to our audiences will be influenced by the technology we use, and the way in which they then enjoy that content will depend on their choice of technology.”