While its hard to imagine now, the idea of a cinematic universe seemed like a fleeting concept 10 years ago. Marvel Studios was an unproven production company hedging their bets on Iron Man, a Marvel character that, while popular, didn't have the same recognition as other Marvel heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men. However, this gamble became the foundation that would make Marvel Studios one of the most dominant powers in Hollywood today. A report by Vanity Fair presented most of the information used in this article.

The early days

What some people don't realize is that Marvel Studios has been around longer than most think.

The studio was originally born out of the early Marvel Films division from the early 90s under the leadership of Jerry Calabrese and Avi Arad. The original idea was that the studio would handle pre-production and sell packages to studios for potential films.

It would take a few years, but Marvel's fledgling film division would help bring early films like "Blade" and "X-Men" to the big screen. However, this also came around the time Marvel was going through severe financial issues, leading to Marvel selling the film rights of the X-Men and Spider-Man to Fox and Sony, respectively. This would help Marvel sustain itself for the next few years while the studio helped bring other characters like Daredevil and Punisher to the big screen, with varying success.

However, this approach would change in the late 2000s.

A Universe of Potential

In 2006, after gaining back the rights to several major characters, Marvel Studios decided to bet on itself with its first self-financed film, "Iron Man," with production headed up by future studio president, Kevin Feige. To direct, Marvel brought on Jon Favreau to direct, whose previous credits were mainly comedies and family adventure films.

That was the first gamble, but that was nothing compared to the lead actor Favreau wanted.

Around 2006/2007, Robert Downey Jr.'s legal and personal issues had made him a toxic name within Hollywood and Marvel Studios were not confident in Downey as a leading man. Favreau, on the other hand, thought Downey's very public issues would help him identify with Stark and held his ground on his choice.

Marvel Studios ended up caving which, in retrospect, was the best decision they ever made.

"Iron Man" released in 2008 and proved to be the sleeper hit of that year. The film launched Marvel Studios into the stratosphere and brought Robert Downey Jr. back to the forefront. It would also plant the seed for what would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

10 years of dominance

Following "Iron Man's" release in May, Marvel Studios followed up with "The Incredible Hulk" a month later, directed by Louis Leterrier and starring Edward Norton, who would later be replaced by Mark Ruffalo. While not on the same level of success as "Iron Man," it was generally regarded as a massive improvement over the dud that was Ang-Lee's 2003 adaptation.

But these were just the first steps.

Over the next three years, Marvel Studios would continue building out the universe with "Iron Man 2" and by introducing Captain America and Thor in their own films. Other characters like Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, and War Machine were also introduced as supporting characters or cameos in said films. These characters would be the building block to 2012's massive team-up epic, "Marvel's The Avengers," which pit the heroes against Loki and also teased the possibility of Thanos appearing later on.

In 2013, Marvel Studios began what was called "Phase 2," which continued the stories of the The Avengers with sequels like "Thor: The Dark World," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and "Avengers: Age of Ultron," introducing more characters like Falcon, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.

This phase also saw Marvel Studios take two of its biggest risks since the first "Iron Man."

"Phase 2" saw the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a cosmic team of heroes that had always been a B-level team in the comics. The film, under the leadership of James Gunn, opened the door to the cosmic side of Marvel, further building the universe and teasing Thanos as the ultimate baddie. Marvel's smallest hero also made his big screen debut with "Ant-Man," which went through a big director shake-up after losing Edgar Wright. However, the film managed to recover and continued Marvel Studios' winning streak.

2016 kicked off "Phase 3" the current phase of MCU films starting with "Captain America: Civil War," splitting The Avengers in two, led by Iron Man and Captain America respectively.

This also served as the vehicle to introduce Black Panther and Spider-Man into the MCU, the latter of which as a result of a shared deal between Marvel and Sony. This was followed by "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Spider-Man: Homecoming," "Doctor Strange," and "Thor: Ragnarok" as the studio continued building to its biggest film to date.

What lies shead

2018 will see the release of three more "Phase 3" films - "Black Panther," "Ant-Man and the Wasp," and the biggest MCU film to date, "Avengers: Infinity War," which will finally pit the universe of heroes against Thanos on his quest to gather the Infinity Stones. But that won't mark the end of "Phase 3", with "Captain Marvel" and "Avengers 4" still on the horizon.

Ultimately though, these next two Avengers films will serve as a bookend to the first 10 years of the MCU, which Kevin Feige has said will look a bit different at the end of "Avengers 4." And while it may serve as a goodbye for many of the characters and actors that fans have come to love, it is exciting to think what is to come. Marvel is filled with characters that are ripe for big screen adaptations under the studio. Also, Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox means the X-Men and Fantastic Four may finally make inroads into the MCU, though it would take a few years.

Regardless of what happens, it's incredible to think that it's been 10 years since this grand experiment started. And with everything that lies ahead, Marvel Studios shows no signs of slowing down.