Ike Perlmutter is the reclusive billionaire behind Marvel. He's an Israeli immigrant who came to America with $250 in his pocket and ended up amassing an empire; he ended up in control of Marvel in 1997 after he and Avi Arad, who had been partners in the toy company Toy Biz, fought off a bunch of other business dudes like Carl Icahn and Ron Perlmutter. He wasn't a comic guy, he wasn't even a toy guy - he was a spreadsheet guy. In 2005 he became CEO of Marvel and in 2009 he got $800 million in cash from Disney ($590 million in stock) when the company acquired Marvel. Not bad for a guy who started his career selling beauty products on the street.
Ike has overseen all of Marvel - Studios, Television, publishing, animation, etc - until today. Today Disney restructured Marvel Studios so that Kevin Feige, who runs the studio, reports directly to Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios. For Feige this has to be a huge relief - every story I have ever heard about Perlmutter has reiterated how difficult he is, how mercurial he is and how hard he is to keep happy. High level people at Marvel have told me that Perlmutter is exactly the level of rich where he can and will make decisions that seem crazy to everyone else, and more than one Marvel staffer has told me that they thought the biggest threat facing Marvel Studios was Ike capriciously firing Feige.
Perlmutter is famously cheap - Marvel's press junkets have been catered by Subway in the past - and has been known to get involved on all levels, from blockading diversity in Marvel's on-screen superheroes to getting the girlfriends of his billionaire pals roles in Marvel movies. I know that Feige has been deeply frustrated working under Perlmutter, and that for many Marvel staffers part of the job was making sure Ike didn't randomly torch the whole thing.
What does this mean for you, the nerd watching these movies? Probably not much; I don't know how much looser Marvel gets with the purse strings, as it's decisions like keeping Ant-Man at a fairly low budget that allowed the movie to be a success. It could mean that Feige has more leeway in his hiring of filmmakers, but it probably won't have much of an impact on the already-planned Phase Three. The question this shift raises is what happens to Feige when his current contract, due to be up in 2019 I believe, expires. If you had asked me this question last year I would have told he was going to leave Marvel, having created a cultural revolution that has changed the way everybody makes movies.... and being sick of dealing with Ike. Now? I've always heard whispers that Feige truly craves the Lucasfilm throne, and this move could help get him closer to being the guy chosen to take over Star Wars after Kathleen Kennedy steps down - which could be in a few years or in a decade or more. Nobody knows.
The short of it - this feels like a move that gives Feige a little breathing room as he gets through Phase Three and considers Phase Four. If Kennedy doesn't leave Star Wars by the end of the decade I might expect Feige to stick around for a whole other phase. Of course that kind of longterm prognostication is foolhardy, at best.
In the meantime Ike will maintain control over all other areas of Marvel, including the television division. There has always been a distance between Studios and Television and I wonder if it only grows wider now. Time will only tell.
And for Kevin Feige? I imagine he has to be feeling pretty good right now, as Marvel Studios moving closer to the corporate bosom only solidifies his power in Disney.