Disney’s Iger: Marvel movies aren’t ‘less’ than Scorsese, Coppola classics

Iger fired back at Martin Scorsese for saying that Disney’s Marvel movies are “not cinema,” and at Francis Ford Coppola for calling the movies “despicable.”

Disney’s Iger: Marvel movies aren’t ‘less’ than Scorsese, Coppola classics
[Photo: Charley Gallay/Getty Images WSJ. Magazine]

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger fired back at filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola for their recent criticisms of Disney’s Marvel movies.


It started when Scorsese told Empire magazine in early October that the Marvel movies, like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, are more like theme parks than films. The Marvel superhero films are “not cinema,” he said.

A Twitter furor ensued, and then flared up again on Sunday when Francis Ford Coppola told journalists in Lyon, France that Scorsese was putting it lightly. “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema,” Coppola said. “He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

Iger was asked to weigh in at the Wall Street Journal‘s Tech Live conference in Laguna Beach, California Tuesday night, and he did, with gusto.

“Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are people I hold in the highest regard in terms of the films they’ve made, the films I’ve liked, the films we’ve all watched,” he began.

“But when Francis uses the words ‘those films are despicable,’ I’d reserve the word ‘despicable’ for someone who had committed mass murder,” Iger said, clearly chagrined.


He continued: “I don’t get what they’re criticizing us for when we’re making films that people are obviously enjoying going to and they’re doing so by the millions.”

The Disney CEO pointed out that the Marvel films, which are blockbusters, make lots of money throughout the film distribution system, which allows distributors and theaters to show smaller films that don’t have as big an audience.

Disney has been distributing the Marvel Studios movies since 2012. Marvel Studios was integrated into Walt Disney Studios in 2015. Disney has invested heavily in a series of Marvel shows for its new Disney+ streaming service, which will launch November 12.

Then Iger really got going.

“I’m puzzled by it,” Iger said of Scorsese’s and Coppola’s comments. “If they want to bitch about movies it’s certainly their right. It seems so disrespectful to all the people who work on those films who are working just as hard as the people who are working on their films and are putting their creative souls on the line just like they are.”


And probably went too far . . .

“Are you telling me that Ryan Coogler making Black Panther is doing something that somehow or another is less than anything Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola have ever done on any one of their movies? Come on,” Iger said.

That could be taken to mean that the Marvel movies are as good as classics like The Godfather and Taxi Driver, or, at the very least, that Coogler’s direction of Black Panther is as good as Scorsese’s and Coppola’s in any of their movies.

Iger had some spicy comments on other subjects, too:

    • Asked to comment on the current feuds between American multinationals like the NBA and Apple with China, Iger said: “The biggest thing I’ve learned from that situation is that caution is imperative . . . I’m not going to be baited into taking a position at all.”
    • He revealed that “Mickey Mouse Through The Years” will be a category in the new Disney+ streaming service.
    • He’s not big on algorithms. “I spent two hours today, alone, playing with the Disney+ app and it seemed a little too algorithmically dependent,” Iger said. He explained that algorithms should be used to personalize video suggestions based on the user’s past selections, but not to calculate what people might like without their input. 
    • Iger has said he intends to retire in 2021. Asked for clues on who his successor might be he would say only that “choosing somebody who can recognize and adapt to change is going to be an important quality,” adding: “We are discussing it on a regular basis.”

Iger then left the stage, and walked out through the opulent seaside Mirage hotel surrounded by bodyguards.

About the author

Fast Company Senior Writer Mark Sullivan covers emerging technology, politics, artificial intelligence, large tech companies, and misinformation. An award-winning San Francisco-based journalist, Sullivan's work has appeared in Wired, Al Jazeera, CNN, ABC News, CNET, and many others.