The idea that big budget movies never lose money (no matter how they bomb at the box office) because of merchandising is one of the great myths of filmmaking. The merchandising concept was best summed up by Mel Brooks in one of the few funny scenes in Spaceballs. The formula for success is simple. Make a big expensive movie full of marketable characters and gimmicks. Cut licensing deals with toy manufacturers and cereal companies and fast-food restaurants across the globe. Then kick back and watch the money pour in. Once upon a time, it actually worked that way. Years ago, I saw the living embodiment of this approach. It was just a few weeks before the opening of the 1989 Batman and, while driving across town, I noticed a gentleman waiting at a bus stop in his Batman sneakers, Batman t-shirt and Batman ball cap while sipping a large Batman Slurpee. I suspect he had also eaten a bowl of Batman cereal for breakfast. So the old school theory sometimes works.

Marvel Studios has just announced phase three of their master plan. Good, because we can now announce that the commercial Hollywood film industry is dead. All we need is for Stan Lee to play the fat lady waiting in the wing for her song. The problem isn't necessarily the Marvel Studios plan. So far, it has been a marvelous plan. Beginning with the Phase One production of Iron Man in 2008, they successfully weaved together and nurtured multiple characters and titles in a gradual development steered toward the 2012 blockbuster Marvel's The Avengers. Phase Two has repeated, and even expanded the approach (and box office) as it heads toward next summer's release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. To be honest, Marvel Studios has done an amazing feat based upon a fearless commitment and a masterful sense of long term strategy. These are exceeding rare traits in modern commercial Hollywood. For that I congratulate them. I also have to add a soft but firm “Damn you!” Why? Because Marvel Studios has taken the entire commercial American film industry hostage.