Zak Penn was told that writing The Avengers for Marvel Studios might kill his career. Such a declaration seems insane in these days when the Marvel Cinematic Universe is shattering box-office records left and right, but working with the newly formed Marvel Studios back in 2007 (before Iron Man even released) was seen as “risky” by many Hollywood insiders.
Penn, for his part, seems to have thrived on such risks. The writer/director got his start co-writing the first script for The Last Action Hero and was fired when the project switched studios. Despite this, Penn went on to get a small acting role in the movie in defiance of conventional wisdom and unwisely told the Columbia Studios head that releasing the movie opposite Jurassic Park would be a big mistake. Despite this frankness (and, perhaps, because of it), Penn went on to work on other big movies such as Men In Black, X2: X-Men United, and most recently, Ready Player One.
Penn spoke about these and other movies as part of a retrospective on his career by THR. In the interview, Penn confirmed reports that few people in Hollywood thought that Marvel Studios, who recently celebrated their tenth anniversary, would stand the test of time.
“It was considered risky, believe it or not. I know that seems crazy right now, but a number of people said, ‘You’re really going to to go with this startup company and they’re going to make [and finance] their own movies? That never works out.”
Both Penn and Marvel Studios would go on to prove the naysayers wrong. Penn’s early work on Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe helped to build the bedrock for what many have called the most ambitious crossover project in history. The movies made by Marvel Studios have proven that the popularity of superhero movies are more than a passing fad, going on to box office success as well as critical acclaim. But there was a time when Marvel Studios’ took significant risks in obtaining enough capital to get their studio off the ground – and it wasn’t that long ago. Penn, for his part, believed in Marvel Studios’s future success from the very beginning.
“It wasn’t just me. I would say myself, Kevin Feige, Avi Arad, Ari Arad, all of us [said], ‘This is going to last.’ This isn’t going anywhere.”
Now, more than a decade after Penn was warned away from working with Marvel Studios and working on The Avengers, superhero movies are gaining respect. Logan was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2018 Oscars. Marvel’s Black Panther has broken multiple box-office records regarding ticket pre-orders and opening weekend numbers, becoming the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time. Black Panther is also seriously being considered as an Oscar contender for 2019. Penn’s fortunes are looking bright as well, with Ready Player One promising to be a huge hit.