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With 'The Incredible Hulk,' Marvel Rolls Out Risky Gambit

The following was originally posted on The International Herald Tribune:

Earlier this month David Maisel, the newly minted chairman of Marvel Studios, was discussing plot points in his Beverly Hills office with Edward Norton, the Academy Award-nominated actor whom he has cast as the star of a new version of "The Incredible Hulk."

"It's a nice environment," Maisel said the next day, in an interview in that same office. "Some guys in their 30s sitting around and talking about a script, planning the movie. Edward is so into the Hulk."

No longer content to hand the actual movie making and most of the profits to the studios, Maisel and Marvel are able to go ahead with movies of their choosing at budgets as high as $165 million, backed by $525 million of financing.

"I don't think there's been a new studio making $100 million movies since DreamWorks," he said. "We're going Hollywood, but in a smart way."

Whether Maisel's claim proves true or merely another example of Hollywood hubris will be determined over the next several years, beginning in May and June of 2008 with the release of its first two self-financed films, "Iron Man" (starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow) and "The Incredible Hulk." Maisel plans to release as many as 10 self-financed films in the next five years.

By making his own movies from other Marvel characters, Maisel hopes to transform his division of Marvel Entertainment into a true filmmaking brand, maintaining control from script to release, keeping all the profits for the company and building a film library, while using someone else's capital.

Paramount will market and distribute the movies, for a fee. (Universal, which produced 2003's "Hulk" by the director Ang Lee but sold back the rights to Marvel after its disappointing box-office performance, will handle the sequels.)

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