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How Kevin Feige Defied Naysayers to Build a Lucrative Universe

Given its impact on Hollywood moviemaking, it’s hard to believe that the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted just over a decade ago, reviving “Iron Man” star Robert Downey Jr.’s career in the process. But Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who will receive the PGA’s David O. Selznick award for his industry-changing body of work, still vividly remembers the days when pundits and industry experts questioned the future of a business plan focusing exclusively on superhero-driven entertainment.

“Not only has there not been the quote-unquote superhero fatigue that people have been asking me about since years before ‘Iron Man,’ but here we are having our biggest year ever,” Feige tells Variety. “Our instincts have always guided us, and the successes have always just encouraged us to keep following those instincts.”

2018 was the studio’s biggest year ever, thanks to “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” top grossers whose combined haul earned the company almost $3.5 billion and counting. Feige credits this recent success to both careful planning and anticipating the appetites of an increasingly diverse worldwide audience. “We knew that giving people who hadn’t had the chance to, A, make these kinds of films or, B, see themselves up on that screen reflecting these kinds of films was important, and was the future,” Feige says. “And look what happens when people have stories to tell and they don’t always get to tell those stories? Give them the budget, give them the canvas, and they’ll paint something amazing.”

Feige’s knowledge of the Marvel Universe made him an indispensable resource on the first “X-Men” film, in which he impressed producer Lauren Shuler Donner, and later, Marvel Studios founder Avi Arad. By the time he became president of production in 2007, he’d hatched the plan for an interrelated series of films that would become the MCU.

“That was always the pinnacle of cinematic storytelling to me, something that was so enjoyed that people wanted to learn more and weave the larger mythology,” Feige says. “Marvel Comics have been doing that for 80 years.

“I wanted to replicate the experience of reading a comic book for filmgoers, and I want to continue to expand the definition of what a quote-unquote Marvel movie can be. Those were my two goals from before I even had the authority to try to implement them.”

With 20 Marvel Studios films under his belt in half as many years, three more in 2019 and at least six others in various stages of development, Feige’s output, as well as his ambition, continues to grow. But the PGA honoree says he ultimately measures success less in box office receipts than in the ability to tell stories that not only exceed, but expand, their expectations of popcorn entertainment.

“What’s most important is delivering on the promise of something that is going to bring you into the movie theater, but then giving you much more than you than you thought you were going to get.”

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