The underlying concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—the interconnected film series kicked off by 2008’s Iron Man, and now comprising ten feature films, several shorts, and one TV show, with more on the way—isn’t unprecedented in film history. The idea of characters in one film might share a universe with characters of another film has been done before, but it’s never been attempted on such a scale on which Marvel is operating.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is different; it’s a planned project assembled one brick at a time. Iron Man and its incredible popularity led to The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, which brought all the characters together on one big team.
It’s been, in almost every respect, successful. The films have been generally well-received by critics, and almost universally well-received by audiences. What’s more, having built a recognizable brand, Marvel can now take some chances. The gamble, and it seems like a safe one, is that viewers will show up to see these projects just because they are Marvel movies.