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By Kevin Nelson · November 1, 2021
Marvel Studios has ushered in a new era of mega-blockbusters through their ingenuity and cohesive cinematic universe. They’ve adapted and evolved in order to not only survive but thrive where many have failed, becoming a titan of industry that has only become more galactic after assembling forces with Disney.
Marvel Studios was founded as an independent studio by Avi Arad, who was head of Marvel’s film division at the time. With the spirit of young Stan Lee, producer Kevin Feige came along and had a vision for Marvel Studios.
Feige knew that Marvel still owned the rights to the core members of the Avengers and found a way to capitalize on them. He proposed a slate of standalone superhero films that would lead up to an unprecedented crossover film event where all of the Avengers share a Super Bowl-style film. The multiverse of superhero movies would never be the same.
The directors and writers chosen for each addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe are much like the original creators of the comics, or even the superheroes that they’re bringing to life. They’re diverse artists that have the superpower to turn their vivid imaginations into a reality.
Kevin Feige has said:
“The reason that all the filmmakers are on board is that their movies need to stand on their own. They need to have a fresh vision, a unique tone, and the fact that they can interconnect if you want to follow those breadcrumbs is a bonus.”
Let’s look at some of Marvel’s most marvelous screenplays and how they come together to tell the whole story.
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, Avengers: End Game opens on a gut-wrenching and somber note to remind you how Avengers: Infinity War ended. It calls on the emotions that audiences felt seeing their favorite characters turn to dust through a new point of view.
This short and powerful scene perfectly sets up the stakes of the film in that it’s not just our favorite heroes who disappeared, but their loved ones. Everyday people. Heck, that could have been our loved one. Just gone with a snap of the fingers. It allows the reader and viewer to assume the role of the heroes — what would you do if your loved ones disappear? How far would you go to get them back?
On page 122 you can find the moment that had crowded theaters around the world cheering in one of the greatest collective theater-going experiences ever. After over a decade of setup, this is the big payoff. This scene treated the moviegoing experience as an event, much like a sports championship. Few films and series are able to tap into a collective reaction quite like this scene. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther shattered box office records and became the highest-grossing standalone superhero movie of all time, bringing in over a billion dollars by showcasing the rich, beautiful, and complex legacy of the African diaspora. Much like the film’s protagonist King T’Challa, played by the late great Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther came into fruition when it seemed like the world needed it the most.
Marvel Comics has a long tradition of tackling social issues on the cover of their latest issues. Black Panther carried on those traditions. Cole referred to the film as a historic opportunity to depict a Black superhero, “at a time when African-Americans are affirming their identities while dealing with vilification and dehumanization.”
With Warmonger, we’re given an antagonist whose motives we ultimately agree with — which leaves us conflicted. He approaches his ideology in the wrong way, which is the only thing that prevents him from being the protagonist of the story. Still, he’s the protagonist of his own story. To him, it’s a righteous cause and his actions are justified. He’s willing to kill a king in order to share the benefits of Vibranium to Black communities outside of Wakanda.
Antagonists are always more interesting when they are multifaceted and complex characters who aren’t cartoonishly evil but misguided in how they go about achieving their goals.
By giving the antagonist a righteous goal, writers can add depth to the moral dilemma at the heart of the issue.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
On the title page, writer and showrunner Jac Schaeffer indicates the style of the pilot to be a 1950s multicam in black and white. On her opening page, the theme song is bolded and italicized, preparing the reader and viewer for an experience unlike any they’ve ever seen.
If you look close enough, the very first scene in Act One of the Pilot episode is representative of the overall arc of the season. Wanda is juggling multiple plates in the air from a distance using her spells much in the same way that she’s controlling the people of Westview as it’s later revealed.
When she accidentally hits Vision in the head when he arrives home from work, he doesn’t have a reaction. This could be a way of showing that he’s not alive and can’t feel things. She conjures the broken plate back together, kind of how she tries to fix her broken life instead of facing the grief and trauma of losing the love of her life and the prospect of what could have been if he were still here.
Much of this can be missed because the viewers and readers are too distracted by the sitcom-style delivery, but it’s all in the details from the very jump.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The script for Captain America: The First Avenger begins near the end, then loops back around before delving into the origin story that leads us to that starting point.
The script starts with the discovery of a plane crash frozen in the Arctic for over half a century. They find Captain America’s shield. We’re left with questions. How did it get there? It’s later revealed to be Steve Rogers, frozen but alive after crash landing during the climax.
We go back in time to 1942 where the main antagonist, Johann Schmidt, is introduced through the pursuit of his goal, attaining the tesseract. This is one of the earliest references to the infinity stones in the MCU chronological timeline to date. These stones will become the MacGuffins every character is trying to attain, including the big baddie of the first three phases, Thanos.
The details of this introductory scene are fantastic. When an innocent tower keeper is executed, blood gets on his skull lapel — a sign of who he is to become. The dreaded Red Skull. When Steve Rogers is introduced, he’s physically frail but brave even in the face of danger. After being deemed ineligible to join the military, he proves his worthiness through action when he sees a woman affected by a loud jerk’s heckling. He speaks up when no one else will.
Empathy and honor are Steve’s anchors, and often get him in trouble. The jerk takes him out back and gives him a bruising. This is where we see Steve’s motifs of never backing down from doing the right thing, getting knocked down for it, and always getting back up. In capital letters, the action line that will eventually send audiences to their feet in Avengers: End Game is first written: THEN STEVE GETS TO HIS FEET AGAIN.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Comedy-heavy superhero movies have been well received by critics and the box office, which allowed Thor: Ragnarok to really soar to strange new heights. Written by Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle & Christopher L. Yost, and directed by Taika Waititi, the film was described as a buddy comedy road trip set entirely in space. It’s definitely a wild ride.
The first scene where Thor is dangling upside down is hilarious but also is a great bookend that connects to the resolution. In the end, he embraces his father’s prophetic words that Ragnarok, or the end of all things, is inevitable for their home planet of Asgard — because that’s the only way to defeat the main antagonist Hela.
Thor defeats the fire demon of Surtur in the opening scene and uses Surtur to defeat Hela and destroy Asgard in the climax, a clever way that the writers made the story come full circle. It’s a bittersweet ending that offsets the earlier comedy seeing Asgardians escape as refugees, but it appears that Thor and Hulk are heading to where they’re needed most: Earth-199999.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
James Gunn is the type of writer/director with a uniquely twisted imagination. He’s able to explore complex interpersonal issues like fatherhood and guardianship while taking you on a joyful thrill ride. His writing style reflects his ability to have fun on a blank page with childlike abandonment.
It’s clear that he doesn’t fear letting his creativity shine and is comfortable in his abilities. The scene headings are bold, he includes songs in the script, important actions and descriptions are capitalized, emphasis in dialogue is underlined. It goes to show that all writers are free to be creative with their formatting as long as they’re consistent and in control.
Like his character Peter Quill, Gun was destined to go where no one has dared venture:
“When I was a kid, I was obsessed with different planets in the solar system, and I used to create, for every single planet, a different alien race with a certain kind of pet, a certain kind of house, a certain kind of water system, and everything. I would draw these pictures. I had hundreds of these pictures in a box.”
If we can all access just a little bit of that youthful creative energy when we create our own worlds and stories, our voices will be undeniable.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The Avengers was the culmination of Phase I of the MCU and found all of our favorite heroes teaming up to stop an extraterrestrial threat. It was the first crossover event that brought multiple superheroes together in one star-studded affair, but also gave a small taste of what was to come. In a way, it was the first act culmination of a three-act story arc. The third act, or Phase III in the MCU, would culminate with the showdown with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
Much like the first act culmination of most films, our heroes faced off against a dire threat and ultimately succeeded. Their world is forever changed and many of them will have to journey far off to distant galaxies in order to fulfill their story arcs.
They don’t face off against the main antagonist Thanos at this point but they do have their hands full with his minions, the Chitauri. The climax of the heroes’ first major test gives them the motive to join forces but also forebodes the threat to come. The Battle of New York was a disaster felt around Earth-199999. Untold casualties, property damage, psychological damage. It led to a Civil War amongst the Avengers, gosh darn it! If they could barely defeat the Chitauri, how are they ever going to defeat the Chitauri and Thanos?
Sounds like a job for Damage Control.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The first official film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a true example of writing by committee. According to associate producer Jeremy Latcham, close to thirty writers passed on the project. After years of having the rights to the character juggled around from studio to studio and different A-List talent interested in the role, Marvel Studios started from scratch in 2005.
Once Jon Favreau became attached to direct in 2006, things really got moving. Art Marcum & Matt Holloway were initially hired to write the script while Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby wrote another draft. Favreau combined the two and John August from Script Notes was brought on to polish the combined version.
The film ended with what has become the now-famous Marvel post-credit scene. Most people know not to leave the theater before the lights come on. Nick Fury meets with Stark and tells him that there are other superheroes and that they should talk about the Avengers Initiative, showing that there was a plan to create a connected universe from the very beginning.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Although previous Marvel films touched on the larger Marvel Universe, Thor was the first film in the franchise to explore another planet through a wormhole-like bridge. Asgar is a great example of rich world-building. It opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for Marvel, including the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther.
The film also helped establish that a superhero film largely rooted in comedy can perform well at the box office. The screenplay by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, & Don Payne is hilarious as they imagine how a god would respond to living out his banishment amongst mere mortals on a strange new planet.
The post-credit scene is important here. Nick Fury reveals a mysterious cube, The Tesseract, which will be a key MacGuffin over the course of Phases I-III. Chronologically, Thor is the last standalone film before The Avengers and is used as a bridge that brings a new extraterrestrial threat that will force the heroes to join forces despite conflicting personalities.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
Yes, I know that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it’s a joint production between Sony Pictures Animation and Columbia Pictures, but the script is so good that I’d be remiss not to recommend that you read it.
Whether you write for animation or not — read this script, study it.
It’ll open your mind to new ways of approaching your craft.DOWNLOAD THE SCRIPT
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to continue to grow and shows no signs of stopping. With a large roster of characters with more being created every year, and legendary web slingers having their rights restored — we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. Once the portals to the multiverse are opened, all bets are off.
These characters will live on like the legends they represent.
Normal everyday people who possess the power to make a difference with their abilities.
Just like you and me.