Stuffy academics wearing tweed jackets with reinforced elbows (seriously? are your elbows so worn out they need leather patches?) may scoff at superhero movies, but let's be clear: the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed the way movies were made.
It used to be that a good movie turned out sequels. Sometimes the second one was really good—and you occasionally even had decent part threes like Return of the Jedi—but make no mistake: it was a loser's game.
Each successive movie usually got worse and worse until the whole thing became an embarrassment for everyone involved and we all decided—collectively, as a nation—that the whole thing should just go away.
There was one exception—the James Bond movies—and even they had their share of dumpster fires amid all the 007 Awesome. That's the way it was since the dawn of time…and Hollywood saw no reason to change it.
But then something happened: a little boy named Harry Potter appeared on our movie screens and, with a whopping seven books behind him, his sequels looked a lot less like naked cash grabs and more like a single huge saga giving us a full decade of awesomeness.
They didn't get worse with Part Four, Five or Six. In fact, they seemed to get better each time.
It was a big deal—and if you've seen the grosses for the Harry Potter movies, you know just how big—but it was still a franchise centered around one character (and his very cool friends).
Marvel—specifically Kevin Feige, the evil genius behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe—thought they could do that with more than one character. Each hero could have his own movie series: Iron Man could (and did) have its share of sequels, as could Captain America, Thor and any hero who proved viable.
But then they could come together for periodic teams-ups before returning to their own series.
It was par for the course with the comics, but it had never been tried on such a grand scale before. It got around the logistics of having one actor play the only hero, meaning that they could crank them out two a year. In essence, they copied the experience people had reading comic books, except instead of paying $2.95 every month for a new issue, you paid twelve bucks twice a year.
Oh yeah, and got a $150 million movie instead of a 32-page funnybook.
Iron Man set the pace for that grand experiment, but Thor had to take the brunt of it. It was the first MCU movie out of the gate after Robert Downey's first two outings...and the first real test to see if this nutty idea was going to work. It did: not quite as big as Iron Man, granted, but with a healthy $450 million box office gross against a $150 million budget.
And did that with a character who wasn't too well known outside of comic book fandoms…and without a big star like Downey Jr.
Take that, stuffy academics.