Paramount Pictures technically distributed the film, and Disney owns the rights to the Marvel character—but Thor never left his home. Marvel Studios, created in the 1990s to help push movie versions of the famous comic book line, is the company behind that mighty onscreen hammer.
Marvels' Long Dark Night
Back in the 1990's, Marvel didn't have its own production company. It was simply interested in licensing the rights to their character to different studios in hopes of getting a film made.
It wasn't working out so well, and comic book characters in general were entering a twilight era thanks to the giant stink lines of Joel Schumacher's Batman films. But Marvel still ran their bunch of superheroes up the flagpole to see who would bite.
Some of them did. It started with the modest success of Blade over at New Line in 1998, and then quickly blossomed with the X-Men franchise at Fox starting in 2000. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man films, featuring Tobey Maguire as everyone's favorite wall-crawler, became a massive hit starting back in 2002, and superhero movies suddenly were everywhere.
Not all of them were well loved (Fantastic Four movies, we're looking at you), but they established the Marvel canon as a viable franchise and help revitalize superheroes as a movie genre.
"Iron Man? What a Loser!"
Now here's the funny part. Besides a few of the big names—Spidey, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Incredible Hulk—Hollywood didn't think any of the other Marvel heroes were worth owning. And the purchasing rights to the characters included a clause that said those characters reverted back to Marvel Studios if no one made a movie on them.
By the time 2008 rolled around, the rights to most of Marvel's characters had come back to them…including the likes of Thor, Captain America, the Black Widow and Iron Man. Marvel, thinking that everyone else was nuts for not doing right by those characters, decided to produce their own film.
The results surprised even them. Their first effort out of the block was Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr. as billionaire superhero Tony Stark. It became a monster hit, and the character went from being second-tier space filler into one of Marvel's most recognizable heroes.
Here's where it gets really funky. With the profits from Iron Man, Marvel naturally invested in Iron Man 2, but they also latched to a throwaway cookie at the end of the first film that hinted at a larger universe beyond Tony Stark. (Source)
It wasn't supposed to be a big deal—just a throwaway gag to the hard-core comic geeks—but with the movie raking in the bucks, it offered some options beyond another series of increasingly lazy sequels.
Thor was a part of that, as was Captain America: The First Avenger. They both showed up in 2011, and while they featured separate superheroes, they made it abundantly clear that they shared the same universe as Iron Man.
That came to a head with 2012's The Avengers, which brought together all three superheroes—along with the Hulk and a gaggle of other buddies—to defend the Earth from Loki and a whole gaggle of alien invaders. The film grossed over $1.5 billion world-wide…enough to land it at #3 on the all-time list (though it's since been bumped a couple of notches) and suddenly "shared universe" was the order of the day.
Marvel Owns the World
Marvel Studios has been quick to capitalize on that, with a slew of sequels for their core characters, a host of spin-off movies featuring the likes of Ant-Man and The Guardians of the Galaxy, and so many future movies planned that "Marvel" is now almost a genre unto itself.
Other studios have attempted to follow, with Warners awkwardly lurching a DC shared universe forward, and the X-Men franchise getting a shot in the arm with the likes of First Class. Even the Star Wars franchise has gotten in on the action with Rogue One.
They're all playing follow-the-leader on this one: created by a calculated risk with a studio that had more faith in its characters than anyone else in Hollywood…and reaped the rewards accordingly.