When Kevin Feige started at Marvel 19 years ago, it was as a whip-smart junior producer making his mark on the set of X-Men by impressing his coworkers with the depth of his comics knowledge. Now he’s the head of Marvel Studios, where he’s taken viewers through the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the course of 21 incredibly beloved—and profitable—films. Ahead of Avengers: Endgame, which brings the third phase—and potentially some of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes—to an end, The A.V. Club sat down with Feige to talk about how The Avengers have grown from second-tier superheroes to deep and diverse icons.
The A.V. Club: Is this where you thought you’d be when you started at Marvel Studios—as in, did you think it would be this big?
Kevin Feige: I was just excited to be a part of the movies. I was just excited to be in the room where it happens, as Lin-Manuel Miranda would say. I still feel that way. The creative process is always about dreaming about what could be, dreaming about “You know, one day we could do this.” I remember being on set of the first X-Men film when the greatest show of power that Magneto could do was that he would lift his hands and have police cars lift into the air. We had actual police cars with cranes pulling them up, and then you erase the wire in post. I don’t know if this is a random story, but you remember that scene, right? Anyway, I think the police are there and he takes one of the guns, turns it around, and points it at the police officer’s head.
I had a comic image from around that time, or maybe a few years before where Magneto had taken a gun and split it into all of its component parts. I kept walking around with that picture going, “Look at this. That’s what we should do. Wouldn’t that be cool?” And people were like, “We don’t have the budget for that. We can put a shotgun on wires and have it turn around and point at his head.” I remember thinking, “Man, in the comics they go to space and they do lots of other stuff. Wouldn’t it be amazing one day to be able to really showcase what these characters can do?” Not just the X-Men, but what all these characters can do and really deeply explore how deep the Marvel Universe is.
It’s not just a kid who puts on a costume in an alleyway or a group of mutants in a mansion in upstate New York. It’s a literal universe, and there are so many different areas to explore. So I would always dream of those kinds of things. Even on Iron Man one, having Nick Fury come in, that was me saying, “Let’s see if we can get people excited by this notion of there being a bigger universe, but [Iron Man] just doesn’t know it yet.” It’s all because of Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau and the audience that came out for Iron Man one that we could solidify our plan and start moving ahead towards Avengers.
AVC: Now you can split the gun into its component parts. How much of that is due to technological advances, and how much of that is because you’re given more of a leash given that you’re producing some of the biggest movies on the planet?
KF: It’s all of the above. X-Men one was a unique example, because it was from so long ago when we were working with a very limited budget. So that was a big part of it. The other big part of it was that just because I thought something was cool didn’t mean anyone was going to do it.
I think they had the technology then to do it, but it would be much more difficult. It wouldn’t have looked as good.
AVC: You needed time to pass so that you could make the effects—from the splitting gun to the Avengers in space—look the way they really should.
KF: Have they done it now? Has Magneto done that in an X-Men movie? Probably.
AVC: Avengers: Endgame is the end of Marvel’s third phase. How far do you have everything planned out in your head? Whether it’s stated within the company or just in your mind, do you know where things are going five, 10, 20 years from now?
KF: You know, between five and 10 in a very broad 35,000-foot way. The next three or four years, much more specifically than that. We do have the plan that we’ve been working on now for many years and will eventually be talking about when this film and Spider-Man: Far From Home are released.
AVC: In the past couple of years, the MCU has gotten more diverse with the film introduction of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the fleshing out of characters like Black Widow. How has your vision of the franchise or the universe changed over the course of your run? When you were introducing The Avengers, by nature, that’s a lot of guys. How have you used the MCU to respond to the public’s cry for more diversity, both on- and off-screen?
KF: The Marvel comics have always had a deep bench, but when we were starting, people didn’t even think Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America were heavy hitters. They thought they were the deep bench because most people—and I’m mainly talking about the press—thought that without X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, or Daredevil, what movies is Marvel going to make? That was how they looked at the announcement of Iron Man and Captain America. So we had to prove that those characters were interesting, that those characters could compete with the films that had already been been based on the other quote-unquote “more popular” characters. Those were the roster of characters leading up to The Avengers, which we very much wanted to do.
The advantage of the success of that is we could keep going. And, you know, it’s not a secret. We were putting Wakanda Easter eggs back in Iron Man 2, because we wanted to get there someday. We’re now there. The timing of that has coincided with the audience saying, “Let’s have more diversity. Let’s see more.” There’s also the films being more popular around the world and people of all different types wanting to see them.
There are parts of me that wanted both those movies—but Captain Marvel in particular—to have happened earlier. But in hindsight, I’m happy they happened when they did, because I can’t imagine it would have been more successful if they had come out a few years earlier.
AVC: AMC is screening every MCU movie as a marathon in the run-up to Endgame. Do you think you could sit through the whole thing?
KF: It’s a lot of movies. It’s something like 59 hours, though that cannot even be right. That would be hard. I mean, I could watch all these movies in a row, but I’d like to get a night’s sleep in between them. Go get a meal.
AVC: Maybe take a bus from AMC to AMC.
KF: I did hear that actually they are moving around from theater to theater because the projectors can’t hold all of the movies on one of the DCP chips. So they will be moving to different theaters. I mean, at least they won’t get bedsores if they’re able to walk around. And I believe there are meal breaks planned. By the way, I’ve been doing this for 19 years, so 59 hours seems like nothing.
AVC: We interviewed Sam Jackson at the Captain Marvel junket, and he said something to the effect that when he signed a nine-picture deal, he thought it would take 20 years. In 19 years, you’ve actually made 22 movies.
KF: We always planned for two movies a year from the start. There are some years we didn’t get there. I think that in 2009 we didn’t do anything. 2012, we only did one. Now we’ve gotten up to three. So we did get there.
The thing that I remember about that is that when people—and, again, this is mainly in the press—would go, “They’re signing their life away for nine pictures” And I always say, “Well, we’ll only get to nine pictures if it works.” We’ll only get to nine pictures if the audience is having a good time. And we’re having a good time and the actors are having a good time, so that we’ve actually gotten there now with Sam, I think Scarlett [Johansson] and Downey, though Downey wasn’t a nine-picture deal.
It was a privilege, though. It was a sign that it was all working that we got to that many movies. And nobody’s a better example of that than Sam. Sam was as enthusiastic and involved with that Captain Marvel junket than I’ve ever seen him, nine movies in or whatever it was.
AVC: Also, the way you’ve woven the universe together, no single person has to carry nine movies. They’re not doing nine months or a year of work on every single movie.
KF: It’s exciting that nine movies or however many movies in for Sam, that’s probably the biggest part Nick Fury had in any of the movies, right? It was Captain Marvel, I think. And how fun for that to be eight or nine or whatever movies in.
AVC: Last question. You have a daughter.
KF: Yes. She’s 10 years old.
AVC: Has she dressed up as an Avenger?
KF: She likes to make her own costumes and a lot of them involve versions of cats. She went as a cat witch a couple of years ago. I do have a memory from not too long ago of her wearing a Black Panther mask and running around. It only now occurs to me that maybe she thought it was a cat. That was probably around Civil War, and I remember thinking, “That will be one of many signs that that’s a success if you have people of all types and all colors dressing up as that character.” It’s finding the wish fulfillment, yes, in people that look like you, which is an important thing for people to have, but also identifying and tapping into the wish fulfillment of people that do not look like you. Ryan Coogler says that when he was growing up, he did that all the time with white heroes, but now people get the opportunity to do that with all different types.