In 2009, when Disney struck a $4-billion deal to buy Marvel, I asked the company's mastermind editor and co-creator Stan Lee to size up the meaning behind the moolah. Just what was the Mouse House getting, exactly?

Lee replied without missing a beat: Disney was gaining custody of roughly 5,000 characters. "Certainly half of them would make great movies," he said. "These are colourful characters that are unique and have different backgrounds and you now have them available in your library."

I laughed instinctively because it seemed absurd that Disney would have occasion to mine so many characters.

Now, as we know, Disney is laughing all the way to big bank, and plotting out its heroic fantasies many years into the future.


Latest word comes from Disney chairman Bob Iger, who helped lead Disney's purchases of Marvel and Lucasfilm - twin $4-billion deals in recent years that Disney will profit from many, many, many times over. Iger tells BBC's Newsbeat: "Marvel, you're dealing with thousands and thousands of characters - that will go on forever."

I'd laugh, but I've learned better. If one day the world looks like an apocalyptic scene out of WALL*E, humankind's last movies may well be new Marvel adaptations. At least the ones that aren't new Star Wars episodes. After all, Iger, commenting on what's beyond the next four Star Wars films - which are scheduled for the next four years - said: "There will be more after that. I don't know how many, I don't know how often."

The safe money, though, is on "often."

At the crux of this ongoing conversation, of course, is The Fatigue Question. Will moviegoers ever tire of superheroes and space heroes? Directors like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan have fielded this question frequently, and all anticipate big changes, with Spielberg saying that the superhero trend will eventually go the way of the Western.

Disney-owned characters like Han Solo and Peter Quill are essentially space gunslingers inspired by comics and Westerns. But there's a bigger difference this time around: Whether it was John Ford or Howard Hawks or Sergio Leone in the director's chair, the Western never had what Disney bought and is building: interconnected filmic universes that unspool over decades, all overseen by a brain trust or two. Some studios think in sequels. Disney, on the other hand, is now building cinematic empires that will be passed down generation to generation, franchise to franchise, with all the multimedia and merchandising power that the Mouse House can so amazingly amass.

All rising to make Iger's kingdom of dreams a reality.

Daisy Ridley as Rey, and BB-8, in a scene from the film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Daisy Ridley as Rey, and BB-8, in a scene from the film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars

and Marvel films aren't just films anymore. Fitting for Disney, they are like theme-park rides that'll exist for decades, but with continual renovations.

Buckle in. This ride, in some ways, is just beginning.