STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
"Avengers: Infinity War" may break box-office records when it opens this weekend, has a chance to anyway. Its over the top all-star cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chadwick Boseman. They team up against super villain Thanos played by Josh Brolin.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR")
JOSH BROLIN: (As Thanos) This (laughter) does put a smile on my face.
INSKEEP: OK. The man who shaped this cinematic universe for the past 10 years is Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios. NPR's Mandalit del Barco offers this profile of the "Avengers'" head honcho.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The nerve center of Marvel's Cinematic Universe can be found in Kevin Feige's corner office on the Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank. Here, he's surrounded by toys. Iron Man figures line the windowsills. Captain America's shield is framed on the wall. Thor's hammer rests on the coffee table. Feige lights up as he dons Marvel's most-powerful weapon.
KEVIN FEIGE: This is the greatest toy that we've made. This is Thanos's Infinity Gauntlet. It's pretty cool.
DEL BARCO: Whether it's playing with toys or overseeing interconnected superhero blockbusters, Feige says he sees himself as a fan first. He delights in a young fan's question.
OZZIE BATES: Hello. I am Ozzie Bates (ph). I want to know if Thanos kills Vision.
FEIGE: It's an excellent question because Thanos is in search of all of the Infinity Stones. And our 8-year-old friend there is well aware that Vision has one of those Infinity Stones in his head.
DEL BARCO: For the past decade, Feige has presided over 19 Marvel films that have an average global box office of more than $820 million. From the original comic books, he took the idea of mashing up all the superheroes in the same movies.
FEIGE: The notion of a shared ongoing fictional narrative with characters inhabiting the same shared universe. Spiderman could pop up in Thor's comic, and Hulk could come running through the street through an Iron Man comic. That is what was great about the Marvel Universe.
BEN FRITZ: Having somebody who knows and respects the comic books who is a nerd is actually an asset.
DEL BARCO: Journalist Ben Fritz is the author of the new book "The Big Picture: The Fight For The Future Of Movies."
FRITZ: Kevin Feige is rare breed where he's both a corporate executive and a creative producer. He's managed to balance being this seemingly affable fanboy with also being a very successful executive in an industry where the corporate politics are vicious.
DEL BARCO: The chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, Alan Horn, says Feige has an innate sense of story and what is commercially viable. He marvels at how Feige manages to keep track of the complicated franchises.
ALAN HORN: The sheer logistical challenge of managing all of those superheroes is really a challenge and would be, I would say, daunting. But I find he's always calm. He's undaunted.
DEL BARCO: The 44-year-old Feige grew up in New Jersey watching movies, reading comic books and playing with action figures. Then he headed to LA, where he started out as a production assistant.
FEIGE: Within the first couple of weeks of moving from New Jersey to Hollywood, I was in the back seat of a film student's car driving out to the desert to PA on a 2-minute student film. I thought I'd made it. I thought I had reached the pinnacle of success in Hollywood. I couldn't believe.
DEL BARCO: After five rejections, Feige got into film school at USC. And soon, he was washing cars and taking lunch orders on the Warner Brothers lot. He worked his way up to get an associate producer credit on the first "X-Men" film with 20th Century Fox. In 2008, after working on more superhero movies, he became the hands-on president of the newly-formed Marvel Studios. Feige ushered in Marvel's signature cliffhangers at the end of the first "Iron Man" movie. After the credits, Samuel Jackson came on screen as Nick Fury to school Tony Stark.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "IRON MAN")
SAMUEL L. JACKSON: (As Nick Fury) You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet.
JON FAVREAU: We were able to surprise people. And in each successive iteration since then, those expectations have risen.
DEL BARCO: Jon Favreau directed the first "Iron Man." He tips his hat to Feige for evolving the Marvel movies from "Iron Man" to the culturally and financially successful "Black Panther" to this newest film.
FAVREAU: What started off as something we were feeling our way through turned into a set of techniques and formulas for approaching the material in a way that created tremendous consistency and also left a lot of room for originality and input from new partnerships and new filmmakers. So everybody was able to leave their stamp on it, but yet the whole thing feels consistent.
DEL BARCO: Kevin Feige says he looks for directors who, like him, are not cynical about comic books or movie toys, directors with unique voices.
FEIGE: Most recently with "Black Panther," Ryan Coogler, 31-year-old filmmaking genius, was able to step in with us at Marvel Studios and answer questions he's been struggling with his whole life and bring a extremely personal touch to that film while at the same time having armored rhinos run across Wakandan fields and armies blast vibranium weapons at each other.
DEL BARCO: He says the key job of Marvel's directors, writers and actors is to make the characters accessible.
FEIGE: A billionaire genius industrialist, a World War II soldier who'd been frozen in ice for 70 years, a Norse god. How do you make them relatable? That's the job. We try to find the humanity in them. A lot of that is right there in the comics to pull from. You know, we try to instill a little bit of ourselves in all of them.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: He really is a kid at heart.
DEL BARCO: Scarlett Johansson, who plays superhero Black Widow, shares a passion for Marvel's baseball-cap-wearing leader.
JOHANSSON: Kevin seems to have limitless enthusiasm, energy and vision. And he has a lot of humility. He may actually have the superpower of humility, I would say.
DEL BARCO: At the "Avengers" premiere in Hollywood on Monday, actors Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dave Bautista revealed more.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DON CHEADLE: Kevin Feige's superpower is being an awesome goalkeeper.
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: Being able to build an absolutely unique cinematic empire.
DAVE BAUTISTA: He is a big old geek, and he just gets it.
DEL BARCO: One of the biggest criticisms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the exclusion of women on screen and behind the camera. Feige says that's changing. Next up for Marvel is "Ant-Man And The Wasp," followed by "Captain Marvel," starring Brie Larson. Feige says no matter how many films they announce, fans always want more.
FEIGE: In the case of "Black Panther," literally the Monday after "Panther" opened, people start asking, where's the Shuri movie? Are you going to do a Shuri movie? That's the greatest thing in the world. So believe me, we think about all those things. And we have plans for the characters. And the notion of more female leads, more people of color leads, that is 100 percent the future, I think the future of all films, certainly the future of Marvel Studios.
DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALAN SILVESTRI'S "THE AVENGERS")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.