When Disney bought Marvel for $4.2 billion in 2009, it did so without two of the graphic novel publisher's most popular franchises. Spider-Man is licensed to Sony, while 21st Century Fox owns the rights to X-Men and its characters.
Even with thousands of other Marvel heroes to play with, Disney's stock sank following news of the acquisition. Analysts warned Disney's superheroes would have to fight extra hard to win box office dollars.
Under the guidance of Marvel Studios' President Kevin Feige, the team has been taking more risks and a more character-driven approach to storytelling. So far, it's paying off.
Marvel introduced audiences to potentially problematic characters such as the ultra-patriotic Captain America and Aryan Norse God, Thor, on their own terms, before rolling them together into the 2012 box office hit, The Avengers, which grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide.
Disney also inked a landmark deal with Netflix to stream four new and original Marvel series on the platform, starting from 2016.
"It's original product, not product that's off other platforms, or another network. That's a breakthrough unto itself. That shows, obviously, the strength of our intellectual property, in particular, Marvel. It's just one more example of how we expected to monetize that acquisition, which has turned out to be great for us on so many fronts," said Bob Iger, Disney's CEO and chairman.
So far, this year has been strong for the Disney/Marvel duo. Captain America: The Winter Soldier dominated at the box office on its opening weekend with over $95 million in sales. By comparison, Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2 brought in $91.6 million and Fox's latest X-Men installmentgrossed $90.6 million.
The strategy has Feige and his team poring over the back catalogue of comics, in a bid to expand Marvel's cinematic universe and create fresh potential for sequels and spinoffs. Guardians of The Galaxy is central to that plan.