It's 2008. I'm in a car driving to Leicester Square with my mum, going to see what I think is a remake of Iron Giant, armed with a recommendation off a review from someone I've never spoken to on the internet to wait until the end of the credits. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be on my way to witnessing history being made; the birth of what is ultimately the first ever Shared Cinematic Universe.
Iron Man, started off a revolutionary wave of filmmaking that now, nearly a decade on, has culminated in two billion dollar films, one film that's currently on it's way to a billion, two phases, one more on it's way and the crowning of the new highest grossing film franchise in history (not accounting for inflation of course).
We probably all know the history by now. Marvel were broke, defeated and needed a way out, and so they sold some of the film rights to their most beloved characters and superheroes returned to the big screen, but ultimately, Marvel were financially wrecked. It seemed like the end for many comic book fans back then I'm sure (me only being two months old in 1996). However as we would later find out, and to quote a line from the beloved Iron Man 2: "Never has a greater phoenix metaphor been personified in human history", and Marvel decided to do something risky, unheard of and insane and the brainchild was this guy:
Kevin "Godfather of MCU" Feige along with some friends decided to bring to the big screen what we saw in the comic books: The Shared Universe. In Hollywood, what they could have done for their first film (after they got the funding of course) was find the best director around for the job. They ultimately needed money. This was the ultimate 'throw all your chips in one basket' scheme, it was pretty much all or nothing. So, they went to the best director they could think of to film one of the most important films in Marvel history.
Jon "Director Of First MCU Film and all round Marvel Legend" Favreau. Yes. They recruited some indie filmmaker to make their most riskiest film ever. He brought on the best actor to play the titular Iron Man/Tony Stark and one of the safest bets in film history, as a big Hollywood director working on a super important project does.
Robert Downey "Basically Tony Stark" Junior. The guy who nearly went to prison and had massive drug and alcohol problems and had also gone into rehab.
Together, with an amazing cast and crew, these ultimately c-list filmmakers (we're going by where RDJ was back then, with a near stagnant career) made a film that grossed $500+ million and also introduced the coming of the Avengers.
Marvel had seemingly done the impossible. They'd taken raw but ultimately unproven and untrusted (at the time, with anything major) talent and created a success story. So, they then decided to say "thanks" and with their new found fame and fortune, call on the most recognisable filmmakers. Nope. They called on filmmakers like Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston to make their new films, and they recruited actors like Edward Norton (who at the time in phase 1 was probably the biggest lead actor they had), Chris "Previously Johnny Storm in the relatively crap F4 film" Evans, and Chris "you don't have any clue who I am" Hemsworth to act in these films. Yet, somehow, they kept creating hit after hit after hit. Ok some of the films weren't amazing but they were still pretty good films.
So, finally, it came to the end of Phase 1 and the most ambitious superhero film in modern history: The Avengers. People speculated, and speculated. Who would really be the creative force behind the film? Will it be successful? Staying true to the formula that had got them to this point, Marvel made one of their biggest gambles yet. If not, their biggest.
Previously, the filmmakers had made relatively modest successes. Kenneth Branagh and Joe Johnston probably being their biggest ones (yes Joe made Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, but he also made Jurassic Park 2 and Jumanji, which let's be honest, most of us can't remember). This time, they asked a guy who had co-written (or rather came in and neatened up and then left again) some amazing films (Toy Story, Speed) created a cult TV Show or two: Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and written and directed a film that is my personal favourite but is by no means a massive hit: Serenity. Ultimately, if you'd asked any big studio or producer who they'd want to handle a film like Avengers, it probably and most likely wouldn't be him. Yet, that's what Marvel did, and ultimately, I think it worked pretty well.
Joss Whedon wrote and directed Marvels first billion dollar film and a film that just so happens to currently be (until his sequel) the third highest grossing film in history. The Great Gamble had paid off. So, Marvel stuck to their formula and they took bigger risks.
Guardians of The Galaxy. A pretty much completely unknown comic book line, so they hired James Gunn of "Slither" and "Super" fame to direct it, and it's one of the most beloved and brilliant MCU films.
Captain America: Winter Soldier. A well known storyline, a massive twist in the middle, they called on guys who had created a well known and beloved TV show, but ultimately guys who hadn't made a hit film, at all, and they created arguably the best MCU film to date; a political thriller rather than a superhero film and a film that had critics raving.
By this point, Marvel had effectively rewritten the way films could be made. With the success of Phase 1, they showed to Hollywood, that unrecognised talent could actually make something amazing, and that risks aren't something to be shied away from, they were something that should be taken, because ultimately if you trust the filmmakers it's not really a risk.
However, as we all know, it wasn't over there. Phase 2 pretty much culminates with Avengers: Age of Ultron. It's the second risk: The sequel to the billion dollar film Avengers. Will it work? Will it be as good? Ultimately, the film is currently being viewed as either marmite, or a small step down from Avengers, but it's currently grossed $600+ in about 12 days and has been tracking for a higher gross already than Avengers. Would we call it a success? Yes.
Once again, Marvel have pushed the boundaries of what can be done in film. But, it's not just the risks they took which have revolutionised film. It's the nature of the franchise itself.
The MCU, is the FIRST Shared Cinematic Universe in history. I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again. Star Wars was a franchise of non-continuity-shared films e.g. they happened one after the other in the same timeline but not the same continuity. Star Trek - same thing, and it was a TV show, not a film franchise. Same with X-Men as well.
The MCU basically shoved a load of stories onto the screen, and made them all happen at the same time as each other (or around the same time anyway) made them link up to each other and connect with each other, also made them separate franchises in their own right and brought them all together in an epic finale film that also was a part of it's own franchise of epic-come-together-finale-films. This idea had nearly come to fruition with the Justice League film of the early 2000s but ultimately, the faith wasn't put into the film and it ended in development hell, Marvel, however dared to do it and it actually worked.
It's now 2015 and Marvel, from their small beginning film Iron Man, have developed into one of the richest and most lucrative film studios. They have done the impossible on multiple occasions and have consistently, and continue to, put their faith in up and coming filmmakers, actors and risk in general rather than opting for the risk averse model that most of Hollywood still adheres to.
Yet, up until today, Marvel have ultimately not been able to truly say they've revolutionised film, because they've been missing one final crown, and today they got it.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is now the highest grossing film franchise in HISTORY.
Marvel have finally claimed a crown, a mantle and a title they probably weren't actually aiming for, but one that actually, should shake Hollywood to it's core. In creating the highest grossing film franchise in history, in the way they did (with multiple risks being taken; financially, casting wise and crew wise) they have basically proven that the previously unthinkable model: believing in new, raw and/or untapped talent could actually lead to financial success.
Forget if the films are good or not, because that's ultimately not what Hollywood is looking at, the one thing they're looking for is financial success, and if an idea or a script is not likely to a financial success they're not at all very likely to look at it or even give it any oxygen.
Marvel, destroyed that thinking, because now, they have undeniable proof that their method works, financially.
This triumph of filmmaking spirit, over studio consistency should now, hopefully be the break masses of filmmakers need, because it should show to producers that maybe if they have a little faith, they can create something that will be amazing and a financial and critical success.
In a way, it already has, with the rise of Shared Cinematic Universes, so much so that people are worried the bubble will burst.
Film has changed, and ultimately, it's Marvel who changed it.