We all know we can thank Steve Jobs for iPads, iPhones, and a catastrophic reshaping of the music industry, but did you know you might also want to give the late Apple co-founder a bit of props for Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers? Here’s why.
Marvel Studios is currently on top of the world, having raked in billions at the box office with a seemingly endless string of hits. Next summer, Marvel will build upon that success with the highly anticipated Avengers: Age of Ultron, even as it tries to turn yet another second-tier character into a bankable franchise with Ant-Man. By most accounts, the House of Ideas is a (non-Fox-owned) juggernaut, but that hasn’t always been the case.
Back before Robert Downey Jr. turned Iron Man into a household name and kickstarted the Marvel Studios streak, Marvel had already tried its hand at the movie business. Partnering with other movie studios, Marvel put out 22 films prior to the first Iron Man flick. Some, like the Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man films, were commercial successes, but none accomplished anything on the level of the latter Marvel movies.
The reason for that is simple: most of them were terrible. Marvel’s first Fantastic Four movie, made back in the 90s, was so bad that it was never even released.
Then, of course, Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, and there’s been no turning back since.
So where does Steve Jobs fit into this? To figure out the Steve Jobs influence on the Marvel brand, one has to go back to one of Jobs’ darkest moments.
Apple hasn’t always been the technology juggernaut it is today. Decades before Apple’s iPhone started pulling in more money than several gods, Apple was an also-ran in the computer market; flashy, stylish, but of dwindling importance. The year 1984 saw the release of the Apple Macintosh, which got rave reviews but saw disappointing sales. Apple shareholders wanted the company to produce a better return on their investment, and CEO John Sculley – whom Jobs had personally recruited to head up Apple – figured that showing Jobs the door was a good way to start.
Part of the problem was a character trait that we’ve now all come to admire in Jobs: the endless drive for perfectionism in everything Jobs attached his name to.
Jobs “demanded so much from the people who worked for him. That was part of his greatness,” author William Simon told ABC News in 2011. “But he drove people too hard… being gentle and polite was not part of his demeanor.”
Jobs’ apparent inability to play nice with others contributed to his ouster from Apple in 1985, as the board sided with Sculley and removed Jobs from his position heading the Macintosh group. Feeling betrayed, Jobs left the company in the summer of 1985.
From there, there’s a little bit of Jobs wandering in the desert, but what’s important is that Jobs went on to help launch Pixar Animation Studios, makers of Toy Story, Brave, and numerous other animated box office hits. Jobs purchased the Computer Graphics Division of Lucasfilm in 1986, christening it “Pixar,” and would go on to give Pixar animator John Lasseter the advice that would guide the company from unknown to animation giant.
“Just make it great.”
Lasseter took Jobs’ words to heart, and that “just make it great” aesthetic went into everything that Pixar has made to date. Except for Cars. Just kidding. But no, really.
Jobs purchased Pixar for $10 million, and by the time Disney bought it off him, Jobs’ devotion to excellence and attention to detail had infused every level of the animator. When Disney bought Pixar off Jobs, that “make it great” mantra began to influence the House That Walt Built. Lasseter went on to become the chief creative officer for not only Pixar, but also Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios.
Lest you doubt the power of the Steve Jobs effect, Lasseter himself will still point back to Jobs as an inspiration.
“[Jobs] was looking,” he’s quoted as saying in Forbes, “not at the drawings on the board I was pitching, he was staring off into the future. At the end of the meeting, he asked me to do something that was the only thing Steve ever asked me to do. John, make it great.”
Jobs pushed the Pixar crew to sweat the small stuff, and his fingerprints are all over Pixar in the same way that they’re all over Apple. It’s not too wild, then, to imagine that Pixar influenced Disney in the same way that Jobs influenced Pixar, and that Disney in turn influenced Marvel in the same way.
Then again, maybe this is giving Jobs a bit too much credit. After all, Marvel didn’t need a Steve Jobs to produce 1990’s Captain America, did it? And that turned out just fine without the Steve Jobs touch, right?
Okay, nevermind. Thank you, Steve Jobs; not only for the iPod, but also for Iron Man.
[Lead image via Forbes.]