Chances are, you probably hadn't heard of Iron Man seven years ago unless you were a die-hard comic book fan. But now the character has headlined multiple films and become a king of the box office. The producer, Marvel Studios, wasn't even making movies before 2008. How did they transform themselves into the creators of a multibillion-dollar franchise?
Starting With Nothing
Before Marvel Studios made its own movies, its parent company, Marvel Entertainment, licensed out its most popular comic book properties to other studios. 20th Century Fox and Sony/Columbia Pictures hold the reins of the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Fantastic Four. That means that when Marvel Studios wanted to self-finance films, it didn't have access to the characters that the average moviegoer is most likely to know.
So what did the company do? It adapted. It took lesser-known characters like Iron Man and the Hulk and released two films in 2008 that made over $800 million. And it's only gotten better from there.
Marvel Studios took a creative risk by aiming to create a shared universe that would have characters crossing over into each other's movies. Now, looking back at the success of its 2012 team-up film The Avengers, it's easy to say that the idea makes sense. But at the time, there hadn't been anything like it, and no real reason to believe Marvel would succeed.
And it wasn't easy. Coordinating several multimillion-dollar films meant writers and directors had to work within certain limitations, and actors had to sign contracts for multiple movies. The 10-figure box office return from The Avengers was a pretty nice reward, though.
"Look at Marvel's competitors and it becomes clear that superhero movies are not their sole priority. There are people at Warner Bros. who never have to think about Batman.
"There is no one at Marvel Studios who doesn't have to think about Captain America."
Reaching The Audience
Wheeler also notes that Marvel Studios is targeting multiple demographics with its movies. There's something for everyone—men and women, American and overseas audiences. From the decades of comic book history at its fingertips, the studio is choosing to include female and nonwhite characters even if it means changing from the original version. It's a smart way of bringing the classic comic books into the modern era.
Universal Lessons From The Marvel Universe
You might not run a movie-making business, but that doesn't mean you can't learn from Marvel Studios' example:
Adapt to circumstances, whether it's a resource shortage, technological advances, or personnel changes.
Be bold and create goals that will challenge and advance your organization. Even if no one's done it before—especially if no one's done it before.
Get everyone on board so that your efforts all push toward the same finish line.
Reevaluate your customer base and see if you need to find new ways to reach your market.
Take your cue from Marvel, and you'll be an organizational change superhero.