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3 OF 5 REASONS: Why The Avengers Succeeded

In taking a closer look at Joss Whedon's The Avengers, The Hollywood Reporter is offering up a look at just why the film has connected with people around the world in the way that it has. They offer five reasons, and we're presenting the first three.
Avengers benefited from something no movie had before: It has been marketed to audiences since Iron Man first appeared at Comic-Con in 2007. When that movie became a surprise hit in May 2008 with a $98.6 million opening weekend, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige quickly unveiled his intention to make four more movies -- The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America -- all of which would lead to a giant team-up. Avengers characters like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) popped up in those movies, and the original Iron Man featured a coda segment devoted to the Avengers initiative. At the time, only comic-book fanboys understood the reference.

"They established character equity that, when combined, makes one and one equal a lot more than two," notes Disney distribution head Dave Hollis. "This is Feige's six-year vision to get to a place where people would want to watch these characters assemble."

Grouping several heroes in one movie also primed a wider swath of moviegoers to show up opening weekend. Not a fan of Chris Evans as Captain America? How about Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man or Chris Hemsworth as Thor?

"Every movie that they released was prepping for this one," says a top producer. "That's never been done before, and it was ingenious."

Marvel operates in a way other studios do not: under the direction of one man, Feige, 39, who shapes its movies in a singular way.

Feige has been Marvel's lead producer since Iron Man, and the self-professed comics nerd supervises a dedicated crew with consistency. Along with executive producer Louis D'Esposito, Feige hires actors, writers and directors, keeps talent costs relatively low and executes a Marvel vision across all its films in a way traditional studio executives -- most of whom juggle diverse slates including romantic comedies and dramas -- cannot.

Warner Bros., for instance, has for years wanted to create a universe of films around its DC Comics heroes like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. But a Justice League movie has stalled, in part because there isn't a Feige type to keep the elements together. Warners' recent success with Christopher Nolan's Batman series led the studio to assign him producing duties on its Superman reboot and a planned relaunch of Batman after his The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters in July. Given Marvel's success with Avengers, don't be surprised if Warners -- and Nolan -- take on a Justice League movie soon.

Fox could be in a similar position with X-Men. The franchise was successfully rebooted with 2011's X-Men: First Class, and spin-offs for Wolverine and others are in the works. But these movies lack the cohesive universe that contributed to Avengers' mega-gross.

The Avengers audience breakdown -- 50 percent over 25, 40 percent female, 55 percent couples, 24 percent families -- shows the film's wide appeal. That's a testament to casting. Fortysomething leading men Downey, Renner and Mark Ruffalo signaled to adults that the movie wasn't just for kids. Hemsworth, 28, and Evans, 30, appealed to young adults, and Samuel L. Jackson, 63, has a huge African-American fan base. At the same time, colorful costumes helped sell the movie to youngsters.

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The Hollywood Reporter

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