Leadership

How the man behind Marvel's 'Avengers' went from washing cars to a $1 billion blockbuster

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige speaks during a fan event at in Los Angeles, Oct. 28, 2014.
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Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige speaks during a fan event at in Los Angeles, Oct. 28, 2014.

Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity Wars" has been a box office smash since its release. And the third movie in the Avengers franchise broke a new record this weekend, too, becoming the fastest film to cross the $1 billion mark.

"This speedy sprint toward the coveted and exclusive $1 billion club is a testament to the undeniable global appeal and drawing power of the Marvel brand," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

Fans of the latest Avengers film have one primary person to thank for the series: Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige. Under his leadership, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has released some of the most highly anticipated, hugely successful and generally well-reviewed superhero films.

However, the 44-year-old's rise to the executive suite was largely accidental. It even had a humbling start.

As a child in New Jersey, Feige enjoyed playing with action figures, reading comic books and watching movies, so he knew he wanted to get into Entertainment. After getting rejected five times, he finally gained admission to USC's film school and graduated in 1995.

"I applied every semester, basically, until I got in," he tells Vanity Fair.

While at USC, Feige scored an internship working under producers Richard and Lauren Shuler Donner. Two years later, they hired him as a production assistant. "That job was walking dogs, and getting lunches and washing cars," says the exec. But at the time, Feige thought his lowly position was a big deal. "I thought I'd made it," he tells NPR. "I thought I had reached the pinnacle of success in Hollywood."

As a PA, Feige helped Donner with films like "You've Got Mail" and "Volcano." When she began work on the "X-Men" movies, he became a producer. It was there that he caught the eye of Avi Arad, the former Marvel Entertainment CEO and founder of Marvel Studios.

Feige joined Marvel in 2000, where he served as a producer for films like "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk." In 2007, he was promoted to his current position as the Marvel Studios president.

While he still works as a producer, Feige also oversees the studios' feature film productions, which have all opened at No. 1 at the box office, including "Infinity War," which is the 19th MCU film in 10 years. The film set a new opening weekend record, previously held by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

And its success comes just months after Marvel's "Black Panther" shattered both box office records and cultural preconceptions in the entertainment industry.

Feige is now arguably one of the most powerful people in Entertainment. He attributes his most recent box office wins to hiring directors who, like him, are superhero fanatics and can make the characters relatable to viewers. "All of us at Marvel Studios look at ourselves as fans first," he tells NPR. "That's what we were before we were filmmakers."

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