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|Birth Place:||Israel||Profession:||Producer ... President-CEO Producer Writer|
As CEO and president of Marvel Studios, Avi Arad, a self-professed comic book fanatic, was largely responsible for the groundswell of interest in superheroes on both television and in film. Starting off as a toy designer, his successful track record - a line of X-Men action figures were massive bestsellers - allowed Arad to branch out into television animation, producing cartoon series such as "Spider-Man" (Fox, 1994-98). He put himself on the map as executive producer on successful feature film adaptations of "Blade" (1998), "X-Men" (2000), "Spider-Man" (2002) and "The Hulk" (2003). Aside from his filmmaking duties, the multi-talented Arad also oversaw the merchandising lines from these movies, in addition to those from the epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. While some efforts like "Elektra" (2005) proved less satisfactory, hits on the order of "Iron Man" (2008), bore out Arad's assertion that, if done right, comic book heroes provided nearly limitless franchise - and merchandizing - opportunities. It was Arad's passion and vision that not only placed him at the table of Hollywood's elite filmmakers, but also helped transform a company once perilously close to bankruptcy into an entertainment juggernaut at the forefront of pop culture evolution.
Born in August of 1948 in Ramat Gan, Israel, Arad came to the United States to attend Hofstra University where he earned his degree in industrial business management in 1972. After graduation, Arad worked in the toy design industry, soon becoming one of the most successful toy inventors in the business, earning credit for such designs as "Zap-It," "Skip-It" and "My Pretty Ballerina." So influential was Arad on the toy industry that major manufacturers, like Nintendo, Hasbro and Mattel, continued to sell his products for over 20 years. Later, he signed a deal that gave him part ownership of the company Toy Biz, which was a subsidiary of Marvel Enterprises, at the time. Meanwhile, Arad became interested in the entertainment industry and began executive producing numerous animated series, including "X-Men" (Fox, 1992-98), "Biker Mice from Mars" (UPN, 1993-96) and "Iron Man" (syndicated, 1994-96). Arad segued into the live action realm with "Generation X" (Fox, 1996), a made-for-TV movie based on the comic book of the same name. Next came "Nick Fury: Agent of Shield" (Fox, 1997), an adaptation of the comic series following the exploits of the cyclopean super spy, played to the campy hilt by David Hasselhoff. Arad was making strides with his television endeavors, but he had his sights set even higher, and so began actively pursuing major motion picture projects.
When Arad began running Marvel Studios, Hollywood was none-too interested in adapting comic books. So bad was business for Marvel that by the time "Blade" (1998) was produced, the comic book giant was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Incredibly, Arad pulled the company back from the brink and not only sold Hollywood on its properties, but greatly influenced one of the biggest trends in mainstream filmmaking as the 20th-Century drew to a close. Though "Blade" was Arad's first feature film production for Marvel and a modest box office hit, major success did not arrive until the release of "X-Men" (2000). While not as well known in the mainstream as comic book properties like "Spider-Man" and "Superman," "X-Men" was a conscious choice for an early release due to its hardcore fan following and the empathetic nature of its ensemble of young societal outcasts. Helmed by A-list director Bryan Singer, modestly budgeted, and starring popular actors Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan and Halle Berry - whose salary demands had not yet reached stratospheric heights - "X-Men" went on to take in over $150 million in domestic box office, making a superstar of Hugh Jackman and launching a blockbuster franchise for 20th Century Fox. Indeed, "X-Men 2" (2003) was even more commercially successful and considered by many to be superior to its predecessor.
After the success of "X-Men," Arad produced "Blade II" (2002), his first sequel under the Marvel banner. Less than two months later, Marvel followed with the highly-anticipated big screen adaptation of its premier character, "Spider-Man" (2002). Under the kinetic, stylized direction of Sam Raimi, the film starred Tobey Maguire as the teenage wall crawler, Kirsten Dunst as his love-interest, and Willem Dafoe as his nemesis, The Green Goblin. A massive success, the movie not only became Marvel's biggest theatrical hit, but one of the highest-grossing films ever at the time, establishing "Spider-Man" as their third franchise-in-the-making. More No. 1 openings for Marvel and Arad followed. "The Hulk" (2003), directed by Ang Lee, brought an unexpected depth to the character of the green-skinned behemoth, but ultimately failed to satiate the appetite of fans who had long been hungering for a smashing big screen adaptation and were none too happy with the computer-generated hero. That same year, Arad also produced "Daredevil" (2003), starring Ben Affleck as the blind crime fighter, and future wife Jennifer Garner as his deadly nemesis/love interest, Elektra. Although the film opened well, it, too, was not highly regarded in the growing pantheon of superhero movies. Arad amassed seven consecutive No. 1 openers - including "Spider-Man 2" (2004) - until the release of the ill-fated adaptation of "The Punisher" (2004), starring relative unknown Thomas Jane as the movie's namesake, and the ubiquitous John Travolta as the villain, crime lord Howard Saint. While Jane gave it his all in a suitably hard-as-nails performance, a lackluster script and weak directorial hand placed the film firmly in the "near miss" category, with both fans and critics handing Arad a rare misfire.
Even more disappointing creatively and commercially was "Elektra" (2005) the "Daredevil" spin-off focusing on Jennifer Garner as the titular ninja assassin, which failed to capture any of the mysterious, noir charm infused by character creator Frank Miller in the graphic novels. Other attempts to mine the vast Marvel catalogue included "Man-Thing" (2005), about a swamp creature with a conscience, which went straight to DVD. Another highly-anticipated property was Marvel's first family, the "Fantastic Four" (2005), directed by Tim Story and starring Michael Chiklis, Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba and Chris Evans. Surprisingly bland and uneven, the movie played well with the youth audience and performed satisfactorily at the box office, but was, nonetheless, regarded as a missed opportunity by longtime followers of the source material. The third installment of the mutant hero franchise "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006) was widely viewed in a similar light. With directorial duties taken over by action-comedy helmer Brett Ratner after original director Bryan Singer left the project in order to make the ill-fated "Superman Returns" (2006), most fans felt that Ratner did not hold the characters in high enough esteem, giving them, and the story, short shrift in favor of action set-pieces. Even as Arad's producer credits continued to rack up impressive box-office returns, critical reception was on the decline, illustrated perfectly with "Spider-Man 3" (2007), which earned impressive receipts, but mostly scorn from audiences who had enthusiastically embraced the first two offerings.
Although he had relinquished his post as Marvel Entertainment CEO the year prior, Arad continued to produce films in conjuncture with the comic book giant, collaborating on projects such as "Ghost Rider" (2007). Starring Nicholas Cage as a motorcycle stuntman cursed by the devil, the film did little to buck Arad's trend of films that performed well upon initial release, only to be largely dismissed by the core fan base soon afterward. The sequel "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" (2007) came and went in similar fashion, earning money for the studio, but little enthusiasm for a follow-up. Arad's first producer credit outside the Marvel brand came in the form of the vacuous, superficial teen musical comedy "Bratz" (2007). Reviled by critics and ignored by audiences, the doll-inspired feature was more of a step backward than a return to the former toy designer's roots. His track record was soon back on the upswing with the release of "Iron Man" (2008), starring Robert Downey, Jr. as the high-tech hero battling personal demons and an extremely hostile takeover of the family business. Directed with zeal by Jon Favreau, the film was not only action-packed and intelligent, but perfectly utilized Downey, Jr.'s rapid-fire wit in a performance lauded even by those who had initially expressed serious doubts about his being cast as millionaire genius Tony Stark. A month later "The Incredible Hulk" (2008) smashed into theaters, this time with Edward Norton portraying Bruce Banner, the scientist-turned-monster. While not as well-crafted as "Iron Man" the sequel was largely seen as a vast improvement over the first film with Eric Bana in the title role, performing quite well during its run.
Unfortunately, Arad could not quite pull off a perfect record for the year, when the sequel "Punisher: War Zone" (2008) made its bullet-ridden premiere after a problem-plagued development process. Actor Ray Stevenson took over the role of vigilante Frank Castle after previous lead Thomas Jane dropped out due to dissatisfaction with the script. Exceedingly violent, garish, and cartoony, the film was uniformly panned and became one of lowest grossing features based on a Marvel character. Regardless, many more Marvel properties were still ripe for exploitation, and as the decade came to an end, Arad was hard at work overseeing filmed versions of comic book icons such as Captain America, Thor, and the superhero team The Avengers.
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