Disney Almost Bought Marvel Studios Before 2009, But Executives Thought It Would "Tarnish" The Brand

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Marvel Studios is the most lucrative motion picture studio acquisition that The Walt Disney Company has ever made. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has raked in over $22.5 billion worldwide (though some of that went to Sony Pictures for Spider-Man movies) while Pixar Animation has only pulled in $14.2 billion, and the former only has two more movies than the latter. And the success of Star Wars at the box office so far pales in comparison (though the merchandise surely helps much more). Regardless, it's safe to say that the Disney purchase of Marvel Studios is one of the best things Disney ever did, and they could have done it even sooner if their executives were a little more open-minded.

In current Disney CEO Bob Iger's recently-released book, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, he remembers when former Disney CEO Michael Eisner brought up the idea of acquiring Marvel Studios, even before Iron Man had been released. Here's what Iger wrote in his book (via ComicBook.com) when reminiscing about the time Disney was considering buying Marvel when the Marvel Cinematic Universe had barely started in 2009:

"This wasn't the first time Marvel has been on Disney's radar. Early in my time working for Michael, I attended a staff lunch in which he floated the idea of acquiring them. A handful of executives around the table objected. Marvel was too edgy, they said. It would tarnish the Disney brand. There was an assumption at the time — internally, and among members of the board — that Disney was a single, monolithic brand, and all of our businesses existed beneath the Disney umbrella. I sensed Michael knew better, but any negative reaction to the brand, or suggestion that it wasn't being managed well, he took personally."

Say what you will about Michael Eisner, but his foresight to buy Marvel Studios was right on the money. Often times, Eisner pushed the limits of what Disney could be as a company, trying to take them beyond family friendly properties, movies, and attractions. Eisner had already pushed Disney into more mature territory with Hollywood Pictures, a division that released adult-oriented fare like Judge Dredd, The Rock, and Nixon. But since that wasn't exactly a massive success for Disney, it's understandable why the board might have been leery about acquiring Marvel. Plus, if they had made that purchase, we might not have gotten the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it.

Flash forward 10 years and 23 movies later, Marvel Studios is a massive success for Disney, and it's one of the biggest reasons the studio is as successful as it is today. Not bad for a purchase that cost Disney $4.24 billion. That's just a couple hundred million more than they paid for Lucasfilm, and the Marvel deal has worked out for them much more lucratively at the box office. The real test will be seeing if fans keep turning out just as they did for the movies of The Infinity Saga in the wake of Avengers: Endgame. Can the next era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe bring the same kind of success for Marvel Studios and Disney?