Marvel: Leveraging Biggest Draws to Rise and Rule the Cinemas

Pity Captain America. After getting its start in 1939 as Timely Comics, the company that eventually adopted the name Marvel became a titan of publishing from the 1960s to the ’80s. The Spider-Man series alone has sold more than 360 million copies to date.

But by 1996, the tide had turned. Kids were becoming bored with comics, sales were collapsing, and some iffy financial decisions led to the company declaring bankruptcy. The poor Captain was facing the prospect of dishonorable discharge.

But like one of its own super heroes, Marvel rose from the ashes. Restructured and revitalized after a legendary legal battle, the new Marvel made a swift change of direction from old media to new. While it would still publish comic books, Marvel made a bold move to the big screen, beginning with film versions of the X-Men, Blade, and – ultimately – Spider-Man, a franchise that would go on to gross nearly $4 billion at the box office worldwide.

You can thank advances in high-tech computer graphics for a lot of this success, as what used to be a static representation of an artist’s idea can now come into vivid focus on the big screen. As a result, Marvel’s larger-than-life movies have captured the attention of billions of fans.

The gamble ultimately paid off enormously for Marvel’s investors, when Disney acquired the company in 2009 for $4.2 billion. A company that only 20 years ago was flailing at finding customers for colorful scraps of paper is now a juggernaut that utterly dominates cinemas every summer.


In the multi-part feature with WIRED Brand Lab, we look at Eight Global Brands That Stand for Spectacular Reinvention. Check all eight stories from the series here.

Rahil Arora leads Lenovo’s Customer Stories program.