Have you ever been to a baseball game and watched the people sitting behind home plate? They are always jumping to their feet because they think every single ball that is hit into the air is a home run.
“Oh! Oh! OH! Awwww…”
The point is that our culture hypes up things to make them feel huge in the moment, but when you give things a little time and perspective, you realize they weren’t really home runs, they were caught in shallow center field.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Greatest Achievement of All Time
But the Marvel Cinematic Universe really is a home run. In fact, it’s a World Series game 7 walk off grand slam. Indeed, the MCU is the greatest accomplishment in the history of cinema and pop culture. And that’s no exaggeration or fit of hyperbole.
So let’s back up this bold claim, starting by defining our parameters. While there are other films that feature Marvel characters, when I talk about the MCU, I am talking about the films that are specifically written by, directed by, and produced by Marvel Studios talent. (We’ve written about the architects of the MCU before.)
The MCU consists of 14 movies. In 2008 (put a pin in that date) Marvel released Iron Man, starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark. He wasn’t a bankable star at the time, nor was Iron Man their most popular character, so it was a gamble with a $186 million dollar production budget.
But Marvel Studios got a huge payout with their gamble, earning a $584 million worldwide return. It also created a bankable star who would appear in future Marvel movies like Captain America and the Avengers, setting up the idea of a shared movie universe.
Look to the right. As of this writing, those are all 14 MCU movies, plus the future movies that have a determined schedule (everything after Doctor Strange).
Compared to other movie franchises, the MCU crushes them all. While the Marvel movie slate is indeed impressive, that doesn’t necessarily make it the greatest. What if other movie franchises have a more lucrative slate?
Well, look below to the top ten movie franchises of all time, using worldwide box office (adjusted for inflation) (Get full numbers here.):
Let’s quickly note several things:
- The MCU is the new kid on the block, with their first movie only coming in 2008.
- The MCU has more than a 2 BILLION dollar lead over number two.
- The number of movies include announced projects for the future. For example, the MCU only has 14 movies that contributed toward the $10.9 billion dollar total, but they have 8 more movies scheduled. These include 2 more Avengers movies, plus movies that feature characters new to the big screen, like Black panther and Captain Marvel. That’s how you get to that 22 movie figure.
- The only number that looks bad in the table above is that Star Wars beats Marvel domestically when adjusted for inflation since 1977. Everywhere else, Marvel pulls away from the pack.
But what of the quality of the movies? Sure, Marvel has made billions more in much less time than the others, but what if money doesn’t impress you? You are an artist; the currencies of this world mean nothing to you!
Are the movies any good, in other words?
Out of the 14 MCU movies, there are five…FIVE!…of them that have a Rotten Tomatoes score at 90 or above. That’s pretty darned good, folks.
What’s more, the lowest rated Marvel movie according to RT is Thor: The Dark World at 66%. That’s not a great score, but it’s hardly a stinker as compared to many franchise movies. Besides, that 66% even feels like an outlier as in addition to the 90%+ Marvel movies, most of the other s hit in the solid 70s or even high 80s.
But do other franchises top those Rotten Tomatoes scores? Outside of a couple franchises, it’s not even close. The Harry Potter franchise actually scores a little higher than Marvel, so it competes in terms of quality. The Star Wars franchise scores positively as well, except the Prequels pull down the overall aggregate.
By comparison, the X-Men, Batman, Spider-Man, and Transformers franchises have some real stinkers. Batman v Superman got an embarrassing 27 tomatoes, X-Men: Apocalypse came in at 48, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen got 19.
They invented the shared universe model. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has made more money faster than any other movie franchise. What’s more, the quality of the movies stack up against genre stalwarts like Harry Potter and Star Wars.
But the greatest achievement is that Marvel has done this by weaving a narrative through line in their movies. When a character is introduced in one movie, you can bet you’ll see them later in another story. Each story stands alone but the incontrovertibly add up to a greater whole. All this is done using the same actors with zero reboots. They haven’t had to take a mulligan yet.
The kicker is that they aren’t even done. While the Avengers brought the heroes together, Captain America: Civil War tore them apart. Now we have future Avengers movies to look forward to when they’ll come back together. When they do, it will be with new heroes such as Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel.
What the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done truly is a home run. They’ve made highly regarded movies that has generated more money in a shorter time than Hollywood has ever seen. Can they widen their lead? Based on what they’ve already achieved, I wouldn’t bet against them.