Big Data: One Key to the Success Behind the Marvel Movies

Business.com / Technology / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Learn how Marvel uses big data to create appealing movies and television.

Forget Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America; the real hero behind the smashing success of the Marvel movies is big data.

Now that might seem like a presumptuous statement to make.

After all, comic book superheroes are iconic characters recognized all over the world.

Why wouldn’t a series of movies based off of them automatically succeed?

But it’s easy to forget that it took years for comic book movies to see mainstream success, and nobody could have prepared for the incredible run Marvel has had ever since Iron Man debuted in theaters.

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These movies haven’t just been successes -- they’re an ongoing phenomenon. Marvel is producing hit after hit from even lesser known superheroes like Ant-Man. While big data analytics might not be solely responsible for these successes, it has played a key role in this cinematic explosion.

Part of the reason Marvel has developed such a loyal filmgoing audience is that the company hasn’t just produced standalone movies; they’ve put together an intricately detailed Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that spans movies, television, video games, and more. Many fans may feel compelled to consume everything in sight just to keep up with the storyline. A cinematic universe creates connections from one movie to the next, allowing characters to become more flesh out and plots to expand and grow in complexity. All of this requires a high level of organization, something that becomes more attainable with the help of big data.

Marvel Database

Marvel recognized this need very early on. Before the first MCU film debuted, Marvel Studios began building a massive database where they could compile a host of information about their characters. With seven decades of history to draw from, this was no easy task. The database showed characters relationships with each other, their interactions, story arcs, and other details to help establish where each hero and villain stood within the larger Marvel universe. Based off of the data visualization offered by the database, the studio could see which characters were most important in the larger scheme. It’s no coincidence that Iron Man was the first MCU film when Tony Stark happens to be one of the characters with the most connections across the entire Marvel comic-verse.

Based off of this database, Marvel Studios has also been able to come up with ideas about the best plotlines to follow and develop. By generating ideas from big data analysis, Marvel has created a universe movie fans want to follow and know more about. They’ve also been successful at creating archetypes of their most famous characters. Noted superheroes like Captain America, Black Widow, and the Hulk haven’t always been the same over the course of their long history, but Marvel has been able to distil the characters down into a form that provides an accessible entry point for people who may not be familiar with the comic books. Beyond that, Marvel Studios has also used big data analytics to find out what fans like most about the characters, what they particularly dislike, and what they find compelling. Using all that information, the result has been the MCU as we see it today, driven by a repeatable formula that rakes in the blockbuster bucks. It certainly helps that Marvel is also using some of the latest big data tools and platforms currently available, like Apache Spark.

Daredevil Series

This use of big data has even extended into the realm of television. By using big data analytics to gather information on their fans, Marvel Studios partnered with Netflix to create the Daredevil series, which turned out to be a wild success. In much the same way Netflix uses big data to create original content, Marvel figured out what their fans wanted and delivered it to them. Daredevil is only the first of many more Marvel series that will debut on Netflix, and if history is any indicator, they will likely see the same levels of popularity.

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Big data has been key in building the cinematic universe that has thrust Marvel into the limelight. To call the Marvel films a success is actually an understatement; the MCU has, in fact, redefined the movie industry, forcing other studios to play catch up with their own cinematic universes. What Marvel has started simply wouldn’t be possible without the aid of big data analytics. As more entertainment companies understand the true impact big data can have, we can expect many more to follow in Marvel’s impressive and groundbreaking footsteps.

Image via Deviant Art 

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