How Marvel Became the Envy (and Scourge) of Hollywood

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Marvel became the envy (and scourge) of Hollywood through its CEO, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter:

Under his tightfisted management, Marvel has become one of the most admired, envied and, in some quarters, resented entertainment companies. The 300-employee outfit has thrived despite insistence on ever-stricter creative controls and a reputation for extreme cheapness that strikes many accustomed to old-school industry dealings as disrespectful.


Perlmutter is not featured on Disney’s website (conversely, the heads of its Pixar and Lucasfilm divisions are), but he has shown no sign of relaxing on fiscal control simply because Marvel has become part of a big conglomerate. When staff moved from Manhattan Beach to the Disney lot in Burbank, a source says Perlmutter declined to upgrade the company’s worn furniture because he did not want to change the culture. “Disney owns Marvel, but Ike gets to control every budget and everything spent on marketing, down to the penny,” says a studio insider.

Disney does not disclose Marvel’s contribution to its bottom line, but a non-Disney executive says Marvel hits are more profitable than tentpoles at other studios because of the company’s deals with talent. “Avengers was a $200 million movie, but they’re not giving away a lot of their back end,” he says.

The Israel-born Perlmutter, who lives in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., with wife Laura, does not give interviews, and photos are all but nonexistent (except for a 1985 portrait in which he appears dark, handsome and slightly fearful-looking). He and fellow Israeli army veteran Avi Arad got into the Marvel business via a toy company they owned during the early 1990s. On the Marvel board, Perlmutter helped steer the company through bankruptcy protection and survived a battle with investor Carl Icahn to become CEO in 2005 — after which Marvel’s plan to produce its own movies was hatched. Perlmutter is said to have attended the Iron Man premiere in disguise and has not been spotted at a Marvel event since. He relishes his reputation as secretive and frugal, according to a top executive who has dealt with him: “It’s things like, ‘Why do you need a new pencil? There’s 2 inches left on that one!’ ”

Some at Disney are so intimidated, says one source, that they believe “he has spies or is listening in on phone calls,” though this person allows that “it could be paranoia.” (Or not: A Marvel veteran says “the way to curry favor is to tell Ike that someone spent more than he should have.”) Perlmutter once complained that journalists at a junket were allowed two sodas each instead of one, and Disney ran out of food at an Avengers media event because of Perlmutter’s constraints, causing reporters to pilfer from Universal’s nearby suite for The Five-Year Engagement.

Perlmutter allows actors traveling on Marvel business only a single companion. A source with ties to the CEO says he makes no apologies. “He’ll pay for the A-list talent — they get to travel with their entourage,” says this person. Otherwise, he rejects Hollywood excess: “He’s seen companies go into bankruptcy, and he thinks shareholders look at this stuff — and he doesn’t believe in it.”

Perlmutter is one of the top individual holders of Disney stock — the company declines to say how much he owns — and is said to have pressed Iger to dismiss studio chief Rich Ross in 2012. (Pixar’s John Lasseter also is said to have lost patience with Ross.) Perlmutter also has been identified as a force behind the 2011 departure of Andy Mooney as head of Disney’s consumer products division. (Perlmutter is said to have felt Mooney was not sufficiently focused on Marvel products and wanted more aggressive deals with licensees. Mooney, now CEO of Quiksilver, declined comment.)


And according to the FT, when Marvel replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 to save money, Perlmutter was alleged to have told colleagues that no one would notice because both actors are black.

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