MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is an upcoming book from Liveright covering the production history of Marvel Studios. Starting with the earliest Marvel productions in the 1970s, writers Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards take the reader through the behind-the-scenes drama, corporate scandals, and hard-fought victories that led to the creation of Marvel Studios and their unprecedented reign of success in the 21st century.
But this is more than just a long Wikipedia entry! The journalists feature several hundred exclusive quotes that reveal a whole new side to Marvel Studios. Without Disney gloss, the book talks openly about the deep dirt that really happened behind the scenes. From new interviews with big names like Bob Iger, Kevin Feige, Robert Downey Jr., and James Gunn, down to countless artists, uncredited writers, and cancelled projects, MCU reveals the real saga behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
[Note: While I am reviewing this book independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Liveright / W.W. Norton for the purpose of this review.]
The secrets of Marvel Studios revealed
Going generally in chronological order, the book is full of long-lost stories about Marvel’s production history. It is an absolute treasure trove of behind-the-scenes surprises, even for the most up-to-date MCU fans. The earth-shattering production revelations uncover the most controversial topics Marvel fans have always wanted to know, including:
- Kevin Feige opens up about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. What really happened during the development of the show? Was it ever canon?
- Nicole Perlman’s fourteen drafts of Guardians of the Galaxy, and how James Gunn fought to remove her credit
- The Runaways movie that almost happened
- Why Terence Howard was too expensive for Marvel
- How Chinese regulations radically reshaped Iron Man 3
- Marvel Studios vs. Marvel Television
- What really happened to Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man
- Marvel’s relationship with VFX vendors
- The full details of the Marvel/Sony Spider-Man contract, and every update since 1998
- How Joss Whedon became more powerful than Kevin Feige, and why it all fell apart
- Why 2014 is the most important year in Marvel Studios’ production history
- A multi-chapter breakdown of how Ike Perlmutter nearly destroyed the MCU
- How former Disney CEO Bob Chapek affected Phase 4
Reign of Marvel Studios is worth owning for the sheer volume and depth of shocking information exclusive to only this book. But in addition to their own interviews, the writers also reference a thousand other sources, including public interviews, social media posts, obscure news articles, and other books about Marvel’s production history. Robinson, Gonzales, and Edwards did their best to synthesize everything into one of the most complete and unbiased resources for the history of the MCU.
The fascinating info goes into detail on almost every single movie and TV show (yes, even Daredevil). The deep research, new quotes, personal anecdotes, and engaging writing style make the book exhaustive without ever being exhausting.
Reign of Marvel Studios presents a fresh backstage perspective into the successes, failures, and twists that have spanned Marvel’s long production history. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the MCU, but the book is filled with revelations I never imagined.
Focus on Kevin Feige and other important figures at Marvel Studios
There are also entire sections dedicated to the producers, writers, design artists, casting, and more internal teams. These are important for highlighting the significant contributions of miscredited figures like Nicole Perlman and Victoria Alonso.
For example, multiple interviews with Perlman, Gunn, and relevant third parties discuss the writing process for Guardians of the Galaxy, bringing the WGA arbitration into new light. Another highlight was the detailed breakdown of Marvel’s major producers, including their backgrounds and how they each contribute to Marvel Studios in unique ways. Especially in the wake of Victoria Alonso’s firing in March 2023, this book is an important archive of her incredible backstory and how indispensable she was to Marvel’s early years.
The absolute selling point of the book is a greater understanding of why the year 2014 is so crucial to Marvel Studios’ history. In addition to two surprise hits (Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy), Marvel’s Phase 3 streak of record-breaking success stems entirely from Kevin Feige’s seismic internal negotiations that year. The truth behind the jaw-dropping shocks involving Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright, Ike Perlmutter, Marvel Television, the fate of Civil War, the Sony Spider-Man partnership, and the triumphant rise of Phase 3 all come back to Kevin Feige’s secret summer of 2014.
One of the most important new sources in the book is Craig Kyle, an original Marvel producer and long-time friend of Kevin Feige. In addition to discussing his own contributions, Kyle gave extensive, candid interviews about the first decade of Marvel Studios and brought an inside perspective into the life of Kevin Feige.
Readers of the book will also gain a greater understanding of Kevin Feige as a producer: Not just a creative lead or public figure, but a genuine behind-the-scenes dealmaker and production manager. Through interviews with Feige’s early mentors, the book shows how a humble movie fan could earn so much respect over two decades, synthesizing Avi Arad’s nerd passion with David Maisel’s smart production acumen. One of Feige’s central rules is “Do not air your problems publicly,” which is why most of his greatest triumphs have never been shared with the public. But now, thanks to this incredible tell-all book, they will be.
And more than just an encyclopedic retelling of history and anecdotes, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is an enjoyable read too. Despite featuring almost thirty years of interviews from nearly fifty film/TV productions, the book reads as a dramatic, emotional saga. The writers use the interviews to add new layers of sentimentality, conflict, and creative euphoria into the backstory of nearly every project while also bringing a refreshing sense of humor to the twists and turns. The book is so interesting that even casual readers might find themselves drawn in for the sheer drama and entertainment value (complete with cliffhanger chapter endings!). Reign of Marvel Studios is not only enlightening, but enthralling.
Great quotes, messy organization
But as I was reading and working on this review, I realized that all my thoughts boil down to two points: “great quotes, messy organization.” And that is where the problems begin. For all the wonderful insight and effort the authors provide, reading the book itself is a chaotic endeavor.
Due to the authors’ diligent over-research, the book suffers from the writers’ struggle to organize their notes linearly. While most of the book is chronological, some sections are simply out of order. There are frequent tangents that last for sentences, paragraphs, or even chapters, breaking the flow of the story and jumping around in time. The worst examples of this are the convoluted prologue and the sections for each of the three Thor movies. For example, the section about Thor: The Dark World (2013) comes alongside events from 2015, and Thor: Ragnarok (2017) comes after the 2020 COVID pandemic. Even having read the book, the order just doesn’t make sense.
However, the most egregious crimes are the omissions. While the book languishes in the details of certain production histories, it sprints past other events and even other movies. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) barely get a paragraph, and the first Doctor Strange movie is skipped over entirely.
And lastly, despite hundreds of interviews across multiple departments, the book barely acknowledges the music of Marvel. I would have appreciated insider quotes from MCU veterans like Michael Giacchino, Christophe Becke, Ludwig Göransson, Brian Tyler, Tyler Bates, and Ramin Djawadi. I’m astonished that the authors didn’t even reference the Every Frame a Painting video that radically shifted the film scores of Phase 3.
Yet, in the end, the book is still really, really good. The information from the authors’ research is just too valuable to be dismissed for a few complaints. MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is still absolutely worth reading for any fan looking for serious insight into the most successful production studio in history.
Reign of Marvel Studios is the ultimate unbiased resource for MCU
As a huge fan of Jo Robinson and Dave Gonzales’ podcasts (House of R, Fighting in the War Room, Trial by Content, Prestige TV, Still Watching, etc.) I have eagerly anticipated this book for over two years. And organization struggles aside, this book delivered everything I hoped it would.
The depth and breadth of exclusive uncensored details in this book will make it a vital archive for years to come. While still incomplete and imperfect, this is undoubtedly the ultimate unbiased resource for studying the rise of the MCU. There are quotes here that are authentic, raw, and negative, and there are quotes that are genuinely joyful. Distinct from a Disney publication, this is a real book made by real people about real history. Not a polished corporate product just for fans. If you’re interested in the true production history of Marvel Studios, this is the book for you.
MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios releases on October 10. You can pre-order it on Amazon or many places where books are available. Are you excited to pick up a copy?
Be sure to stick around for the endnotes, which have the source info for each quote. As a companion piece, I also recommend the Wall Street Journal’s With Great Power, an audio special that focuses on Ike Perlmutter with four hours of exclusive interviews, including MCU author Joanna Robinson.