The Marvel Cinematic Universe is unquestionably one of the most successful film franchises ever - hell, it's redefined what "film franchise" even means, filling their slate with crossovers and team-ups composed of multiple characters and settings that's allowed them to release multiple films in the same universe every year. And the REAL crazy thing? For the most part, all of them have been successful - in terms of critical acclaim, audience reception, and box office return.
How'd they manage this? Marvel matched their risky business plan by making a lot of (seemingly) risky casting and hiring choices that seemed legitimately insane at the time, but have proven to be a lot smarter than anyone could have predicted. Here are 7 of the bigger ones...
If you wanted to launch your comic book cinematic universe in 2008 using a B-list character (at the time) like Iron Man, Jon Favreau might look like an odd choice to helm the film. Actually, he'd look like a reeeal shitty choice.
At the time, Favreau had one major success under his belt as a director - Elf. And while Elf is a fun, nice movie (anchored by a real great performance by Will Ferrell), it doesn't exactly scream "PUT THIS GUY IN CHARGE OF YOUR SUPERHERO FRANCHISE!" But worse, by 2008, Favreau had the stink of a MAJOR kid-oriented sci-fi flop around him - 2005's Zathura. It had bombed so badly, Favreau hadn't made a film since. So what does Marvel do? They hire the guy whose most recent film was an unsuccessful sci-fi Jumanji starring Dax Shepard to head up their journey to cinematic glory.
...AND IT WORKED.
The degree to WHICH it worked is sorta astounding, but a LOT of the credit goes to Favreau who - on a limited budget and with basically no script (no, seriously, MUCH of the movie was improv'd with Favreau giving suggestions to Robert Downey Jr. and co.) - made a film so huge that it redefined Robert Downey Jr. as one of the biggest celebrities on Earth, brought Iron Man to the forefront of the Marvel universe, AND basically launched what is today the BIGGEST film franchise on hte planet.
Before going any further, we need to focus a little bit more on Iron Man - after all, if it had failed, that would have meant the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We'd have no Captain America, no Thor, and certainly no Avengers. But it worked - partly on the directorial vision of Jon Favreau, but MOSTLY on the raw charisma and pitch-perfect character work of Robert Downey Jr.
But, at the time, Robert Downey Jr. wasn't the untouchable, beloved superstar he is today - in fact, his name was basically poison in Hollywood at the time. He'd spent the better part of the previous decade in and out of rehab and prison, his recent movies had either flopped (Gothika, The Singing Detective) or been barely seen, despite critical acclaim (Zodiac, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). The point is, he's NOT the guy you go to to act as the centerpiece of your new universe.
Except, of course, Marvel did do that. And it worked. Incredibly well.
Back then, several studios had to get a costly insurance policy to even CAST RDJ in a film (since there was legitimate fear he would be unable to complete filming due to his vices), and thanks almost entirely to his work with Marvel, RDJ is now one of the highest-grossing actors in Hollywood, and definitely the highest-paid.
But to REALLY give you an idea of RDJ's career direction before Iron Man, HE PLAYED THE BAD GUY IN A TIM ALLEN REMAKE OF THE SHAGGY DOG TWO YEARS EARLIER (which was right about the time Marvel cast him).
Thank you, Marvel, for taking this chance.
The Russo Brothers (Joe and Anthony, in case you were confusing them with the plumbing service) were handed one of the most difficult-to-crack films in the Marvel lineup - Captain America: Winter Soldier - and knocked it out of the park. So well, that they were given the follow-up, Captain America: Civil War (which is BASICALLY an Avengers film), AND the hugest entries in the MCU ever planned, The Avengers: Infinity War Pt. 1 & 2.
You know what their ONLY widely-released feature film was before Winter Soldier? One of the most forgettable Owen Wilson films ever (and that's saying something), You, Me, and Dupree.
Yep. A shitty Owen Wilson/Kate Hudson comedy. And from that, they made Winter Soldier - an insanely difficult film, given it HAD to be wildly different from the original Captain America (which took place in the 1940s) and was so good that people started ACTUALLY really liking Captain America it stands as the 4th best-reviewed Marvel film to date!).
To be fair to the Russo Brothers, they had done more than just a bad Owen Wilson movie - they were well-regarded for directing multiple episodes of Community, Arrested Development, and a slew of other quirky, underappreciated TV comedies. But even their (really solid) episodes of Community didn't really scream "give these guys the keys to your political-thriller action movie!" (no, they didn't do the original paintball episode, if that's what you're thinking)
And yet, it all worked out. And now they're the new Joss Whedon of Marvel. Guess some good DID come of You, Me, and Dupree.