We have limited Spanish content available. View Spanish content.

Harvard Business Review

How Marvel Entertainment Unleashed Its Hidden Powers

How Marvel Entertainment Unleashed Its Hidden Powers

Bain & Company's Chris Zook discusses how old-line companies like Marvel Entertainment regenerate flagging business models.

  • min read


How Marvel Entertainment Unleashed Its Hidden Powers

Today's Conversation Starter comes from Bain & Company's Chris Zook, author of Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth. With Spider-Man 3 premiering this weekend, we asked Zook how old-line companies like Marvel Entertainment regenerate flagging business models.

The character of Peter Benjamin Parker—alias Spider-Man—had aged nearly 40 years from the time he first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962, to when he exploded on the Hollywood screen in 2001's first blockbuster Spider-Man movie. And he certainly seemed to have aged well. But perhaps even more impressive is how he rescued the firm that created him. For Marvel Entertainment's financial fate—and with it, that of Spider-Man and his Marvel superhero brethren—had been hanging by a thread.

In 1996, Marvel was in bankruptcy, its vast assemblage of 5,000 comic-book characters in a kind of hibernation. But new CEO Isaac Perlmutter understood the power of nostalgia among baby boomers and, under his direction, old characters were revived and reborn on the big screen through licensing deals. Thanks, to "Spidey," as well as Wolverine and the Incredible Hulk, by 2004 Marvel's revenues from movie licenses and merchandise accounted for more than half its $513 million in revenues and much of its $125 million in profits. Marvel's resurrection from oblivion shows that superheroes are not the only entities with hidden powers. Businesses have them, too, in the form of underutilized or underappreciated assets—assets that can reinvigorate their core businesses.

Unleashing the value of hidden assets isn't a strategy reserved for comic-book publishers, of course. In looking for your firm's untapped potential, consider these three forms of hidden assets—underutilized customer assets, undervalued growth platforms and untapped capabilities—which you can search for systematically. You might just be sitting on top of a spider web.

So, as Spider-Man turns 45—and swings into the festivities surrounding the opening of Spider-Man 3—the business lesson is that, frequently, the secret to a company's renewal doesn't have to be a fantastic and risky new venture. Rather, it can be an underutilized asset, just waiting to be unleashed.

Purchase the full text of this article from Harvard Business Online.

Bain Book


Learn more about how companies can use hidden assets to renew the core and fuel profitable growth.


Want to continue the conversation

We help global leaders with their organization's most critical issues and opportunities. Together, we create enduring change and results