Every Time a Marvel Hero Gets a New Costume, Disney Gets to Sell Another New Toy

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (also known as the MCU) culminated in a big way with Avengers: Endgame last year. Now the MCU looks forward to the release of its next slate of films as they move toward highlighting new and existing characters. 

If you’ve watched all of the MCU, you may have noticed that some of your favorite characters sport slightly different looks on a movie-by-movie basis. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look at why every time a Marvel hero gets a new costume, Disney gets to sell another toy. 

The history of Marvel and Disney’s partnership

President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, Director Cate Shortland and Rachel Weisz of Marvel Studios' 'Black Widow'
President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige, Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, Director Cate Shortland and Rachel Weisz of Marvel Studios’ Black Widow | Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

It may seem as though the Disney-Marvel partnership has existed for ages, but the MCU actually predates the Marvel-Disney merger. The first MCU film was Iron Man, released in 2008. The second was The Incredible Hulk, released later that same summer. Disney purchased Marvel for $4 billion in 2009. Then-Disney CEO Bob Iger commented on the deal at the time, noting what a huge win it was for the House of Mouse: 

“This is perfect from a strategic perspective…This treasure trove of over 5,000 characters offers Disney the ability to do what we do best.”

Iger’s prediction proved correct, as the MCU continually pumped out hit movie after hit movie. They took a B-level comic book franchise – the Avengers, never as recognizable as comic giants like Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and the X-Men – and turned it into a global phenomenon. Whether they were starring in their standalone films or together as a team, the real-life Avengers Initiative was a massive success financially for Disney. 

While the MCU has its connective tissue running through each film, it also gave its filmmakers – and costume designers – the opportunity to explore their own paths with each film. 

The importance of costumes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

One important component of the MCU films is the costumes the superheroes wear during them. One of the most compelling parts of Marvel bringing these stories to life on film are fans getting to see the characters they loved in comic books portrayed on the big screen. The costumes reflect that. If you’ve watched closely, however, you’ll notice that most of the MCU characters’ costumes tend to change from movie to movie.

In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers had his classic, WWII-era Captain America suit. In the sequel, Captain America: Winter Soldier, he had a more tactical, modernized suit. And of course, any Iron Man fan knows that Tony Stark cycles in and out of Iron Man suits as easily as t-shirts. 

This is in stark (pardon the pun) contrast to the comics, where some characters can go decades without a change to their overall look. 

Why Marvel heroes switch costumes in every MCU movie

Why is this? Some of it may reflect the evolution of the characters. One costume featured in the upcoming Black Widow movie may have specific significance to the overarching plot moving forward. According to some fans on Reddit, however, there’s a more cynical explanation: merchandising. Every time a Marvel hero updates his or her costume, that represents a new look for merchandising. Disney can then sell t-shirts, action figures, pajamas, the actual costumes themselves, or a seemingly limitless supply of items featuring the character appearing with that new look.

As one Redditor pointed out, not all the costumes change from film to film. For example, the Incredible Hulk wears the same purple pants in every MCU entry without much variation – though the “Professor Hulk” persona he adopted in Avengers: Endgame had him sporting some stylish glasses and a cardigan. 

The MCU has done a good job developing the characters behind the superheroes, and the costume changes are a big part of that depiction. But make no mistake: having more costume options isn’t bad for Disney’s bottom line either.